As has often been the case when Catholic leaders have voiced pro-gay sentiments, Vatican officials today offered “clarification” on the landmark document released yesterday that called for greater acceptance of gay people, emphasizing that it is an interim report from the Synod of Bishops and not the final word on the matter.
The document, called a relatio, is “a discussion of the members of the synod,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told a press conference this morning, quoting Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the head of the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
There has been outcry by conservatives against the document, which says, among other things, “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? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home.” It also notes that there can be positive aspects to same-sex relationships, although the church does not consider them equal to heterosexual marriages.
The document is a summary of the proceedings so far of the bishops’ meeting, which began last week at the Vatican, and will be the basis for discussion in the second week and at another synod next year, in which the bishops will make final determinations about how to proceed with pastoral and policy actions on family issues.
“I certainly hope that this document will be set aside completely, and there will be an effort made to present the church’s true teaching and pastoral practice, the two of which always go together in a new document,” Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s highest court and the former archbishop of St. Louis, said in an interview with the Catholic News Agency.
Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, said the document has put the bishops in “a position that is virtually irredeemable” but did not call for it to be withrdrawn, according to the Reporter. “It would be like saying, ‘Let’s take back the words that the synod fathers used in the synod hall,’” he said. “A lot of it is what was actually said.”
LGBT-supportive Catholics remained encouraged by the relatio. “I actually don’t think this is as much of a backtrack as we usually see!” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of LGBT Catholic group DignityUSA, CNN reports. “I think that response to this report was swift and intense, and I’m sure many bishops want to be sure people aren’t reading more into it than is there,” she added. “However, it is undeniable that there has never been any Vatican document that made positive, respectful statements about same-sex relationships, so that is an undeniable breakthrough.”
CNN also quoted Francis DeBernardo, executive director of pro-LGBT New Ways Ministry, who said, “Regardless of the fact that this is a working document, it is still significant in that it reveals a strong current of affirmative attitudes at high levels in the church towards lesbians and gay people.” DeBernardo has contributed an op-ed to The Advocate on the matter; read it here.
Among other reactions to the relatio:
- “Those who are controlling the Synod have betrayed Catholic parents worldwide. We believe that the Synod’s mid-way report is one of the worst official documents drafted in Church history. … Catholic families are clinging to Christ’s teaching on marriage and chastity by their finger-tips.” — John Smeaton, cofounder of Voice of the Family, an anti-LGBT laity organization
- “The Tablet [a U.K. Catholic newspaper] rightly sees this as the earth-shattering revolution that it is, and [veteran religion writer] John Thavis calls it an ‘earthquake.’ It should also go down really well as well in Africa, where the Catholic Church will now be known as ‘the Gay Church.’ Fr. Dariuzs Oko was right: it is a heresy, the Homoheresy, a New Gospel, promoted by perverted clerics themselves, and it is destroying the Church from the inside as strongly as the Church is being persecuted from the outside.” — Rotate Caeli, a conservative Catholic blog
- “The Spirit was clearly at work in the Synod. We pray that this positive shift in tone and language will also mean changes in hurtful and dated policies.” — Jim FitzGerald, executive director of Call to Action, an inclusive antiracism and anti-oppression Catholic organization
STEVIE ST. JOHN is a freelance writer and editor in Los Angeles, where she is the vice president of communications for the local chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA-LA). She is a contributing editor for WEHOville.com, and her byline has appeared in Instinct Magazine, A&U Magazine, and L.A. Weekly.