A row has broken out between the Catholic Bishops attending the Church’s Synod on the Family in Vatican City, after a report on the proceedings – which included references to the “gifts and qualities” that homosexual people can bring to the church – was criticised as a manipulation of what was actually said.
The report document, known as the ‘relatio post disceptationem’ (report after the debate) contains a passage reading: “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to 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.
“Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?” Commenting on the report at a press briefing, the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Bruno Forte said “We must respect the dignity of every person.
“The fact to be homosexual does not mean that this dignity must be not recognized and promoted. So the fundamental idea is the centrality of the person independently of the sexual orientation.”
Some within the church have welcomed the ideas being offered up in the report. “Some of the language was very good”, Peter Williams of Catholic Voices told Breitbart London. “Recognising that same-sex attracted people have ‘gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,’ and asking if the Church can welcome them and give them ‘fraternal space’ is spot on, and very positive given the frequent mistake made within our culture of seeing the Church as antipathetic towards such people.
“Moreover, of the section noting that ‘mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support’ in the lives of same-sex partners, Archbishop Forte (who reportedly drafted the language) has a point when he said that ‘giving value to all that is positive… is an exercise in intellectual honesty and spiritual charity’.”
According to Williams, the report “carries no teaching authority, and in no way changes the teaching, practice, or even mode of communication, of the Catholic Church.”
Nonetheless, many Bishops were unhappy with what they saw as a misrepresentation of their discussion, and an unhelpful and even false framing of the Catholic approach to this issue.
Cardinal Gadecki, head of the Polish bishops’ conference said that report constituted a deviation from church teaching, whilst the American cardinal Raymond Burke said that the report “manipulated” what was said at synod, effectively censoring the “many bishops who are saying that changes cannot be allowed”.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster was more diplomatic in his approach, suggesting that the document “requires further work”, and that misunderstandings had come about thanks to a poor translation between the Italian and English, The Times has reported.
The content on homosexuality is particularly contentious in light of the many references in the report to “gradualness” – the idea that “just because someone’s current situation falls short of perfection doesn’t mean it has no moral value, and it’s often better to encourage the positive elements in someone’s life rather than to chastise their flaws,” as John Allen put it in the online Catholic magazine Crux.
Gradualness had been falling out of fashion over the last few years, but is “back with a vengeance” at this Synod, according to Allen. Whilst some see the idea as merely common sense, others are concerned that it is being used to undermine Catholic teaching on morality. As Pope John Paul phrased it at the last Synod of Bishops on the family, back in 1980, “What is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’.”
There can be little doubt that any attempt by liberal elements within the Church, including by all accounts the Pope himself, to water down the traditional teachings of the Church will be met with a passionate defence of those teachings and values by the more Conservative elements. But for now, most are sanguine on the stance being taken on homosexual people. As Williams told Breitbart London, “if in the future the language that the Church uses on this issue is more sensitive and less scandalising (however unintentionally), then that would be a positive development.”