In a document that's being called a breakthrough, the Vatican is saying gay people have "gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community" and that the Roman Catholic Church should recognize the positive aspects of same-sex relationships.
The document, released today, was "prepared after a week of discussions at an assembly of 200 bishops on the family," Reuters reports. This assembly, the Synod of Bishops, is in its second and final week.
"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?" the document reads in part. "Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home."
The document further asks: "Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"
On same-sex relationships, while saying the church cannot consider them equal to male-female marriages, it says, "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 is indicative of the more conciliatory attitude toward LGBT people taken by Pope Francis, who was named The Advocate's Person of the Year for 2013. It will serve as the basis for further discussion this week at the bishops' synod and at another synod next year, in which the bishops will make final determinations about how to proceeds with pastoral and policy actions on family issues.
"This represents a revolutionary change in how the church addresses the LGBT community," writes the Rev. James Martin in the Catholic magazineAmerica. "Nowhere in the document are such terms as 'intrinsically disordered,' 'objectively disordered,' or even the idea of 'disinterested friendships' among gays and lesbians, which was used just recently. The veteran Vaticanologist John Thavis rightly called the document an 'earthquake.'"
The document is "a breakthrough in that they acknowledge that [same-sex] unions have an intrinsic goodness and constitute a valuable contribution to wider society and the common good," said London-based Catholic LGBT rights group QUEST, according to Reuters. The U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT equality in the church, called it a "major step forward."
The LGBT Catholic group DignityUSA likewise offered praise. "The specific language used about lesbian and gay people is ... astonishingly new," said executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke in a press release. "To begin with the recognition that 'homosexual persons have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community' is a far different starting point than saying we are 'objectively disordered,' which has been the mantra for almost 30 years. That positive language is more affirming and will give many people hope. It is much more respectful, and offers a sense of welcome that LGBT people have been seeking for decades."
"Church leaders are still clearly struggling with how to deal with same-sex marriage," Duddy-Burke continued. "But the recognition that for many same-sex couples 'mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners' is an unanticipated step forward."
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin issued a statement saying, "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."
"It is clear that Pope Francis's message of mercy and inclusion is alive and well," Griffin added, "and I hope the American Catholic bishops who have recently spent millions of parishioner dollars in political campaigns targeting their LGBT brothers and sisters are listening closely."
Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, the HRC Foundation's Director of Latino/a and Catholic initiatives, noted, While this isn't by any means a full acceptance of LGBT equality within the church, it's a huge step toward making LGBT Catholics feel welcomed in their communities of faith, rather than approaching them with judgment."
Conservative activists, however, denounced the stances taken. "Those who are controlling the synod have betrayed Catholic parents worldwide," Voice of the Family cofounder John Smeaton told Reuters. He said the document is "one of the worst official documents drafted in church history."
Check back for updates and more reaction.