At the request of Pope Francis, an assembly of 200 bishops, known as a Synod, was held last month to discuss family and the Church’s attitude towards homosexual couples. Although the initial tone of the conference seemed more welcoming, it ended without any consensus among the bishops on gays or whether Communion should be given to divorced and remarried Catholics.
The final report was a shift from the first week’s document, entitled “Relatio”, that proposed contained finding “a fraternal space” for homosexuals while still adhering to the Church’s doctrine on family and marriage. While it did not change the longstanding opposition to gay marriage and homosexuality, it offered a more compassionate view than previous statements.
“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 document said.
The document also said that homosexuals have “gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community” and questioned whether the Church is capable of welcoming those who hope to find “a Church that offers them a welcoming home.”
It also considered opening up to heterosexual couples who were married in civil services or who were living together, saying such unions could have positive aspects, especially as a prelude to marriage in the Church. Bishops were urged not use the term “living in sin” when discussing these unions.
During a press conference summarizing the Synod’s first week of discussions Monsignor Bruno Forte, the Synod’s Special Secretary, responded to a question on legislation to protect cohabiting gay couples:
“The Church does not believe that the term “family” can be used to refer both to a union between a man and a woman that is open to procreation and same-sex union. Having said this, it seems obvious to me that humans have different experiences and have rights that must all be protected. The issue here therefore, is not equating the two in all senses, including in terminological terms. Naturally, this does not mean that we should rule out looking for a way to describe the rights of people living in same-sex unions. It is a question – I think – of being civilized and respecting people’s dignity.”
In contrast, the final report contained less welcoming language and expressed alarm from conservative bishops who accused the church of sending an unclear message on marriage and homosexuality. Pope Francis also made an uncommon decision to allow the publishing of the final report, which shows vote tallies on each passage.
In a final session the Pope, who previously said the Church must be more compassionate with homosexuals, warned the assembly against “hostile rigidity” by “so-called traditionalists,” and cautioning “progressives” who would “bandage a wound before treating it.” According to a Vatican spokesman, the bishops responded with a four-minute standing ovation in the closed-door meeting.
Although no final say was made on the issues at hand, the Synod served the purpose intended by Pope Francis: to open up discussion among the Church and its officials before next year’s gathering.