The Vatican recently released a report outlining the closed-door debate between bishops regarding family life. The report was a divisive one with many hailing it a positive shift in attitude from condemnation to support. However, not everyone thought the report was a positive change for the church. Many conservative groups denounced the report, stating it was heresy and a “betrayal” that would confuse those in the Catholic faith.
The report summarized the closed-door debate that Pope Francis initiated to discuss a host of hot-button family issues such as marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control. No decisions were announced but the tone of the report was one of almost-revolutionary acceptance rather than condemnation, and it will guide discussions until a final document is issued Saturday. The president of Human Rights Campaign (the biggest LGBT rights organization in the U.S.), Chad Griffin, said that it was a positive report for LGBT Catholics.
“For the LGBT Catholics in the United States and around the world, this new document is a light in the darkness — a dramatic new tone from a church hierarchy that has long denied the very existence of committed and loving gay and lesbian partnerships.”
CBS News reports that the bishops said gays had “gifts and qualities” to offer and asked rhetorically if the church was ready to provide them a welcoming place, “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.” The bishops repeated that gay marriage was off the table. But it acknowledged that gay partnerships had merit.
“Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”
The original report caused so much controversy in the English-speaking world, that a new version of the report was released in English. According to CBS News, the report was altered to sound a bit more “cold” in regards to homosexual relations. A section initially entitled “Welcoming homosexuals” is now “Providing for homosexual persons.”
The first English version asked if the church was capable of “welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities.” The new version asks if the church is “capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing… them… a place of fellowship in our communities.” The first version said homosexual unions can often constitute a “precious support in the life of the partners.” The new one says gay unions often constitute “valuable support in the life of these persons.”
However, the original report didn’t just discuss homosexual relationships. For heterosexuals, the bishops said the church must grasp the “positive reality of civil weddings” and even cohabitation, with the aim of helping the couple commit eventually to a church wedding. The bishops also called for a re-reading of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that outlined the church’s opposition to artificial birth control. The bishops said couples should be unconditionally open to having children, but that the message of Humanae Vitae “underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control.”
There has been much talk inside the synod about applying the theological concept of the “law of gradualness” in difficult family situations, including over contraception. The concept encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.
The overall theme of the report indicates that the church is not drastically altering its principles or beliefs, but rather finding a way to accept those who are living in sin to help them onto a more holy path. The “law of gradualness” is the key to this acceptance and gradual removal of sin from couple’s lives.
What do you think? Is the new revision drastically different from the older version? Does the report drastically shift Catholic principles?