Less than a year after Pope Francis was named The Advocate’s Person of the Year for 2013, the Vatican this week said that “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 released Monday by the Vatican asks. “Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home.”
The document is far from unequivocally supportive — it says the Roman Catholic Church can’t accept same-sex relationships as equivalent to opposite-sex marriages — but it has been hailed as “a breakthrough.” And even as some Vatican news remains problematic for LGBT people, such as the pope asserting that children have a right to a mother and a father, and there’s already some hedging going on regarding the document, several other developments seem to mark at the very least a change in the tone used by the Vatican in regard to LGBT people.
Here are four steps that the Vatican has taken in the past year that reflect the shifting tone and seem to indicate the church making progress toward greater acceptance of LGBT people:
1. The pope talked about ministering to children whose parents are in “nontraditional relationships” and said, “We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.”
2. The pope asked to hear from lay Catholics on issues regarding family, marriage and birth control. The Vatican specifically directed bishops to collect data from laity about how well they think the church cares for families headed by same-sex couples and the issue of divorce and remarriage.
3. Pope Francis called on church leaders to explore civil unions. He didn’t actually offer an endorsement of the idea, but he did refer to ways they help same-sex couples — such as improving access to health care and offering other economic benefits. “We have to look at the different cases and evaluate them in their variety,” he said, according to a translation from Vatican Insider.
4. A Vatican document released in June called on the Catholic Church to be less judgmental toward gay people and to welcome children of same-sex couples to participate in church activities.
We will be eager to see what more happens in the wake of Monday’s news.
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.