VATICAN CITY, Vatican– Today, the Vatican released the controversial compilation document that will guide the Synod of Bishops next year. The document was put together by a committee and was intended as a distillation of the speeches given by Bishops and laymen last week.
At the press conference today no other section of the document received more questions for three Cardinals and an Archbishop than the section called “Welcoming Homosexuals.”
The section begins by asserting, “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community; are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing 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 of the family and matrimony?”
The document goes on, “The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension…”
The opening question of the packed press conference was from noted Rome-based journalist Sandro Magister who asked what the term “sexual dimension” meant. He wanted to know if it referred to the orientation of same-sex desire or sexual relations between those of the same sex.
Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary and who is the head communicator for the Synod said the term came about as a result of consultation during the previous week and then started talking about education in general. Magister and many others in the room were left obviously confused since Erdo didn’t’ come close to answering the question.
One questioner pointed out that this is the first time the concept of homosexuality has occurred in a Synod document and wondered if homosexual couples should be given a place at next year’s Synod. Cardinal Antony Tagle of Manila, described by one seasoned Vatican observer as friendly to liberation theology, started talking about the “spirit of Vatican II” and “dialoging with the world.” He also did not answer the question.
Michael Voris, from the conservative Church Militant TV in Michigan, asked a pointed question about whether Synod fathers were proposing that the “gifts and qualities” of homosexuals to the Church flow from their homosexuality. Archbishop Bruno Forte from the diocese of Chieti and Vasto in Italy joked, “It is not easy to answer such an ‘ontological discussions’ but that we must respect the dignity of all human persons quite separate from their sexual orientation.”
The other controversial topic that received great attention today was on the Church’s attitude toward divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. The Church teaches that marriage is forever and that remarriage after divorce are not allowed unless the Church agrees that the first marriage was invalid. The new document suggests this Church teaching could change and allow for such persons to receive communion after a taking a “penitential path.”
Delia Gallagher of CNN wanted to know what this “penitential path” might be. Archbishop Forte said it would be similar to the debate in the early Church about whether widows could remarry and that the Church allowed after she had trod a “penitential path.” Forte did not answer the question.
This was the feeling of many of the journalists afterwards; that the document is not only controversial but also confusing and the press conference did not clear up much of anything.
Respected Vatican journalist John Allen of the Boston Globe said the document is promoting a kind of “lifestyle ecumenism” similar to the ecumenism that grew out of the Second Vatican Council where the Church recognized the partial truth existing in other Christian denominations and even other religions while understanding the whole truth resides in the Catholic Church.
In this document and in the subsequent Synod, Allen is suggesting that the Church will maintain that a married man and women with children is the Church teaching and the gold standard but that the Church will recognize at least the partial the truth and goodness in other couplings including the divorced and civilly remarried and homosexual couples.
The document presented today will inform the rest of this week’s meetings where the bishops will divide into language groups and make further recommendations for the whole Synod to take place next year.