Catholic Church Signals More Acceptance of Gays

by Al Pessin

October 15, 2014

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A special meeting of Roman Catholic bishops and lay advisers at the Vatican is moving the Catholic Church toward a more tolerant relationship with homosexuals, divorcees and others it has shunned and marginalized in the past.

A mass opened the conference that Pope Francis called in an apparent effort to change the way the Catholic Church deals with people it considers to be in irregular situations, while not changing its doctrine. The synod will not alter the Churchs official positions against homosexuality and same-sex marriage, its ban on divorce and polygamy, or its opposition to people living together without getting married.

But in a preliminary document, participants have indicated they want a change in the way priests and churches interact with such people.

Specifically, it says homosexuals have gifts and qualities that can benefit the Church, and that homosexual relationships can provide mutual aid and support.

It also says there are positive aspects to the relationship of heterosexual couples who live together out of wedlock - what the Church used to call living in sin.

I think its a very great impact. Its going to affect many, many peoples lives," said Father Evans.

Father Joe Evans is the Catholic chaplain of Londons Kings College.

Were telling people with same sex attraction: 'You are welcome in church, no to marriage, but you have a great role.' For us, what really matters in the church is sanctity, holiness, and a homosexual person can be as holy as anybody else," he said.

And even though that approach does not alter the Churchs view that homosexuality is immoral, the move is being called a revolution and an earthquake.

Theres no change in the doctrine, but theres a change in the approach. Its very much Pope Francis. Pope Francis is insisting on continuity but with a strong focus on mercy and love," said Evans.

That has been Pope Francis emphasis ever since he took office 18 months ago, and this synod will make his approach formal policy. But that doesnt mean it will be welcomed worldwide, says Anna Abram, the head of pastoral and social studies at the University of Londons Heythrop College.

I think in some countries it will be harder to implement this kind of guidance, where there is perhaps more, lets label [it] conservative approach in the church, because it is a big shift in the language at least, if its not in the doctrine," said Abram.

But Abram says for many Catholics this will indicate their Church is finally evolving on issues on which many societies have changed their views in recent decades.

That is a big breakthrough that people who are in this so-called irregular situations can be more welcome, can be active, can be recognized. They dont have to feel they are sinners. In fact, I think it was sinful probably for the church to be using that kind of language in the past," she said.

Abram says for the first time the Roman Catholic Church is focusing on the people in those irregular situations, rather than what they do. And that, she says, is worthy of terms like revolution and earthquake.