Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Conservative bishops move away from gay overture

Published:Wednesday | October 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller arrives for a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, yesterday. AP

VATICAN CITY (AP): A fight for the soul of the Catholic Church has broken out, and the first battlefield is a document on family values that pits increasingly alarmed conservatives against more progressive bishops emboldened by Pope Francis' vision of a church that is more merciful than moralistic.

On Tuesday, conservative bishops distanced themselves from the document's unprecedented opening towards gays and divorced Catholics, calling it an "unacceptable" deviation from church teaching that doesn't reflect their views and vowing to make changes to the final version.

The report, released midway through a Vatican meeting on such hot-button family issues as marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control, signalled a radical shift in tone about welcoming gays, divorced Catholics and unmarried couples into the church.

Its message was one of almost-revolutionary acceptance and understanding rather than condemnation. Gays, it said, had gifts to offer the church and their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with "precious" support. The church, it added, must welcome divorced people and recognise the "positive" aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who live together without being married.

working paper

The leaders of the bishops' meeting, or synod, that produced it, stressed Tuesday that it was merely a working paper and was never intended to be a statement of church doctrine, but rather a reflection of bishops' views that will be debated and amended before a final version is released on Saturday.

Still, its dramatic shift in tone thrilled progressives and gay rights groups, and dismayed conservatives already deeply uncomfortable with Francis' aim to make the church a "field hospital" for wounded souls that focuses far less on the rules and regulations emphasised by his two predecessors.

The document was remarkable both in what it said and what it didn't say: Absent were assertions of Catholic doctrine present in most church documents that gay sex is "intrinsically disordered" and that couples who cohabitate are "living in sin". In their place were words of affirmation and welcome.

"The report, obviously composed under pressure, has easily given rise to some misinterpretation," British Cardinal Vincent Nichols said Tuesday. "It is not a doctrinal or decisive document. It is, as stated in its conclusion, 'intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer on reflection'."