Catholic bishops scrap welcome to gays in sign of church split

Pope Francis talks to prelates as he arrives at the morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Andrew Medichini, AP

Pope Francis talks to prelates as he arrives at the morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014.Andrew Medichini, AP

Pope Francis talks to prelates as he arrives at the morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014.

Updated: 11:15 p.m. CEST

VATICAN CITY — Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals that stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week.

Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families have to confront. It said “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy,” but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between man and woman. The paragraph failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot-button issue at the synod of bishops – whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion – also failed to pass.

The outcome showed a deeply divided church on some of the most pressing issues facing Catholic families.

It appeared that the 118-62 vote on the gay section might have been a protest vote by progressive bishops who refused to back the watered-down wording. The original draft had said gays had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support.

New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group, said it was “very disappointing” that the final report had backtracked from the welcoming words contained in the draft. Nevertheless, it said the synod’s process “and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the makeup of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.”

The draft had been written by a Francis appointee, Monsignor Bruno Forte, a theologian known for pushing the pastoral envelope on ministering to people in “irregular” unions. The draft was supposed to have been a synopsis of the bishops’ interventions, but many conservatives complained that it reflected a minority and overly progressive view.

Francis insisted in the name of transparency that the full document – including the paragraphs that failed to pass – be published along with the voting tally. The document will serve as the basis for future debate leading up to another meeting of bishops next October that will produce a final report to be sent to Francis.

“Personally I would have been very worried and saddened if there hadn’t been these … animated discussions … or if everyone had been in agreement or silent in a false and acquiescent peace,” Francis told the synod hall after the vote.

Conservatives had harshly criticized the draft and proposed extensive revisions to restate church doctrine, which holds that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” but that gays themselves are to be respected, and that marriage is only between a man and woman.

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