Bishops Reject Pope Francis' LGBT Acceptance, Revealing Deep Divides In The Catholic Church

On Monday, it was a watershed moment: The Catholic Church, an institution that has long considered homosexuality a moral disorder that can only be "treated" through a life of celibacy, welcomed LGBT members into the Church. This did not mean the Vatican approved of same-sex marriage, nor did it change any Catholic doctrine. But the preliminary summary from the Synod of Bishops on the Family was the first time in Church history that gay and lesbian Catholics — and their families — were treated with positivity and acceptance. It was a great departure from the seemingly draconian views from past Catholic proclamations, a shift that reverberated across parishes from East to West. It was, however, a tease, as the synod's final report dilutes the Vatican's welcome to LGBT members, revealing the deep divide that still remains between conservative and progressive bishops.

The bishops failed to see eye-to-eye on the preliminary report's progressive, life-affirming stance on welcoming LGBT Catholics and their families into the Church without discrimination or intimidation. Although the preliminary report — which was a working document — noted that same-sex marriage was morally wrong in the eyes of the Vatican, the report's findings saw that as secondary to the faith and lives of gay Catholics:

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? … 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.

But the final draft of the report, released by the Vatican on Saturday as the synod closed, water downs the language — reversing, in just a few short days, the progress Pope Francis and the Church has made.

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The New York Times reports that when the final vote came around on Saturday, the paragraphs accepting LGBT members into the Church failed to pass the two-third majority needed. “It shows that it’s a work in progress,” Vatican spokesperson Father Thomas Rosica told reporters.

The final report revised its language considerably. The initial title for the LGBT segment went from "Welcoming homosexuals" to "Pastoral attention towards persons with homosexual orientations." Meanwhile, the language valuing the gifts of LGBT Catholics and providing them with a "welcoming home" was dropped. Instead, the final report falls back on past Vatican language, using vague indicators such as "sensitivity" and "respect."

The report also pulls from a 10-year-old Vatican document that describes same-sex marriage as "violence" toward children — a big departure from the preliminary report's emphasis on accepting and providing for the children of gay couples. Progress, it seems, has halted.

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So what does this mean, exactly? Well, it shows that there was no consensus at the synod when it comes to LGBT equality, indicating that the Church's more conservative members are still very vocal— and divisive. As Vatican reporter John Allen Jr. writes for The Boston Globe's Crux website:

The synod’s final report, released by the bishops Saturday night, was called a “compromise document” by Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis. In context, he meant an attempt to reconcile a moderate-to-progressive camp that pushed for greater openness, and conservatives worried about blurring church teaching.

Although this final report is not dogma, it's still a blow for many progressive Catholics who saw the new wording as an indicator of a more inclusive Church. However, many progressives are still hopeful, knowing that a dialogue has opened within the halls of the Vatican. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the LGBT Catholic organization New Ways Ministry, said on Saturday in a statement:

What was good about this two-week long meeting? The real value of this synod is that it has started the discussion among the hierarchy on LGBT issues which has been going on for decades among the lay people and theologians in the Church. The bishops began to catch up, and I don’t think that the discussion will stop here, but will only continue, with more promising outcomes for LGBT people and their families in the future.

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