One year on from a meeting in which the Vatican amazed observers by surveying Catholics’ opinion on the issues facing modern families, one veteran journalist has called the proposed language in a new Synod report on same and civil marriages as a ‘pastoral earthquake’.
Attendees at an ‘Extraordinary Synod of Bishops’ looked forward twelve months when the Pope will offer further responses to questions regarding homosexuality, cohabitation, contraception and divorce. Pope Francis continues to receive widespread praise, and criticism from conservatives, for his comments about gay people, women, atheists and priestly celibacy.
According to a CNN report, John Thavis, a former Rome bureau chief for the Catholic News Service said : “Regarding homosexuals, [the report] went so far as to pose the question whether the church could accept and value their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine.”
Meanwhile, the Rev. James Martin, an author and Jesuit priest, called the report’s language on gays and lesbians “revolutionary.” Certainly Pope Francis continues to imply a more liberal future for the Catholic church on a range of issues.
“This is a stunning change in the way that the Catholic Church speaks about gay people.”
The Catholic Catechism calls homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered” and calls on gays and lesbians to live in chastity. But Pope Francis famously signaled a gentler tone in 2013, askking “Who am I to judge?” gays and lesbians.
The new Vatican report says the church should welcome and appreciate gays, and offers a solution for divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.
On the hotly debated question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, the synod’s report offers a solution of the “penitential path”, or a period of reflection and penance which would allow the partners in a second marriage to receive communion.
This solution, it says, must not be a “general possibility” but one which could be applied in certain cases. It would be up to the local bishop to make the decision.
“The speeding up of the procedure” of granting annulments was requested by many, according to the report. Various ways to make annulments “more accessible and flexible” were also suggested by the Synod.
Citing economic factors which sometimes contribute to the decision not to have children, the synod nonetheless states that “being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love.” The synod re-iterated the church’s “appropriate teaching regarding natural methods” of birth control.
On the Catholic Church’s position regarding same sex marriages it reiterated its position that “unions between people of the same-sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between a man and a woman.”
However it notes that, there are examples of good gay relationships “in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of 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.”
The synod recognised the “positive reality” of civil weddings and cohabitation which, while not the ideal of Christian marriage, nonetheless contain “constructive elements.” Many couples who choose to live together, according to the synod, do so for economic reasons.
“Simple cohabitation is often a choice inspired by a general attitude, which is opposed to institutions and definitive undertakings, but also while waiting for a secure existence (a steady job and income).”
The report continued:
“In other countries common-law marriages are very numerous… because getting married is a luxury, so that material poverty encourages people to live in common-law marriages.”