Vatican Recognizes ‘Positive Aspects’ of Gay Followers

Top Catholic clergy members soften their stance on homosexuality in a new report welcoming the gay community.

Pope Francis leaves the synod hall at the end of a session on the themes of family on Oct. 13 in Vatican City. (Photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Oct 13, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Religious leaders have long used biblical doctrine to back up their stances against homosexuality, divorce, and birth control. But a new report from the Vatican may offer some relief from the hellfire-and-brimstone response to gay followers. Instead, Pope Francis and a team of Catholic officials suggest a compassionate alternative.

Pope Francis gathered 200 bishops from around the world last week to discuss family issues, including homosexuality, couples who choose not to marry, and birth control. The assembly, or synod, released a report on Monday that features a more welcoming attitude toward same-sex relationships; gay rights’ groups have called it a “seismic shift,” The Associated Press reports.

Along with acknowledging the “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation,” the Relatio post disceptationem (Report after debate) stated that gay people have “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community.” With gay marriage legal in 26 states, that might not read as a revolutionary statement—but coming from an organization that has long referred to homosexuals as “intrinsically disordered,” it’s historic.

Pope Francis, who called the meeting, has been hailed as a progressive leader since he was elected to the papacy in March 2013. When asked about the sexual orientation of priests last year, he responded, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Such thinking is reflected in this document, however much of the excitement stems from tone rather than proposed policy changes. The Vatican isn’t recommending any drastic amendments to religious doctrine and maintains that gay marriage "cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman." While the document urges allowing divorced churchgoers to receive Communion, it does not extend the sacrament to the gay community.

The Vatican also recommends softer stances on other “sinful” activities, including birth control, as the church seeks to stay relevant in modern society. As with gay marriage, the document asks for more sympathy and less judgment; in it leaders call out “the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control."

“These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view,” the document concludes. Rather, they’re recommendations, often phrased as questions, that will lead to further conversation in this, the final week of this year’s assembly, and in future meetings. A second synod is already on the books for late 2015, with the possibility of pastoral doctrine changes to come.