The Church's Position On Gay Catholics Just Saw A Tiny But Incredibly Important Shift

The Synod of Bishops on the Family has been underway at the Vatican since Oct. 5. It's the Catholic event of the year — or perhaps even of the new millennium — because the bishops have taken on some difficult topics that could potentially open up previously uncharted avenues in the Catholic Church. With a focus on familial lifestyles thought upon as "irregular" in the eyes of the Church — cohabitation, divorced couples remarrying and receiving Communion, same-sex relationships — developments from the meeting of bishops could steer the Catholic Church in a new direction. After seven days of discussion, we're already starting to see this change: A synod report released by the Vatican invites LGBT Catholics into the Church, calling for greater acceptance of people who have long been shunned by the stringent anti-gay dogma.

In the report, which sums up the debate from the first leg of the two-week synod, the Vatican provides a more inclusive guideline for parish priests and pastors. Under the banner "Welcoming homosexual persons," the Vatican affirms the dignity of LGBT members by emphasizing their "gifts," as well as their life partners:

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony? ... 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. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
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It's a small yet critical step for the Catholic Church, which is not only opposed to same-sex marriage, but traditionally views being gay as a "moral disorder." The Church has frequently called homosexuality a "condition," which in itself is not sinful until it's acted upon; when individuals engage in same-sex activity and relationships, the Church has considered it "disordered sexual inclination." Many Catholic clergy and ministries, such as Courage, label homosexuality as "same-sex attraction," insisting that it's possible to overcome the "condition."

If you're still wondering why it's a big deal that the Vatican, under the ruling of Pope Francis, is advocating for acceptance of LGBT members while still morally disagreeing with same-sex marriage, it's worth highlighting passages from 1986's Letters to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. Here, the Vatican, under Pope John Paul II, fires back at the Catholics who want more inclusion in the Church:

Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. These latter groups are guided by a vision opposed to the truth about the human person, which is fully disclosed in the mystery of Christ. They reflect, even if not entirely consciously, a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual.

And...

[T]he proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.

Pretty big tone change, isn't it?

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It's not perfect, but the shift is certainly a step in the direction of equality.

However, it's unlikely that any Church doctrine will change over the next week. Although a final report is still to come once the synod wraps up on Oct. 19, this first report reaffirms the Church is content with its dogma. But as Francis said during the pre-synod prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square, there may be more room "at the same table" for all Catholics.

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