Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group said that though the report repeats doctrine about gay marriage, “the move toward accepting and valuing the gifts of gay and lesbian people is a major step forward.”
Conservative groups rejected the report as a “betrayal” and even heresy.
“What will Catholic parents now have to tell their children about contraception, cohabiting with partners or living homosexual lifestyles?” asked Maria Madise, coordinator of the Voice of the Family, which says it is representing several pro-life and conservative groups. “Will those parents now have to tell their children that the Vatican teaches that there are positive and constructive aspects to these mortal sins? This approach destroys grace in souls.”
The tradition-minded blog Rorate Caeli called the report “heresy, homoheresy.”
For heterosexuals, the bishops said the church must grasp the “positive reality of civil weddings” and even cohabitation, with the aim of helping the couple commit eventually to a church wedding.
The bishops also called for a re-reading of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that outlined the church’s opposition to artificial birth control. The bishops said couples should be unconditionally open to having children, but that the message of Humanae Vitae “underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control.”
There has been much talk inside the synod about applying the theological concept of the “law of gradualness” in difficult family situations, including over contraception. The concept encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.
In matters of birth control, the concept amounts to a tacit acknowledgement that most Catholics already use artificial contraception in violation of church teaching. But applying the concept pastorally would encourage priests to meet these couples where they are, and then help them come to understand the full reasoning behind the ban and then adopt it themselves.
Bishops also called for “courageous” new ways to minister to families, especially those “damaged” by divorce. The document didn’t take sides in the most divisive issue at the synod, whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment can receive Communion.
Church teaching holds that without an annulment, these Catholics are living in sin and thus ineligible to receive the sacraments.
The document said these Catholics deserve respect and should not be discriminated against, and then laid out the positions of both sides: those who want to maintain the status quo barring them from the sacraments, and those who favor a case-by-case approach, in which the couple undertake a path of penance.
Pope Francis has called for a more merciful approach to these couples, but conservatives have insisted there is no getting around Jesus’ words that marriage is indissoluble.
There have been suggestions that the conservatives were being sidelined, if not silenced, behind the synod walls given Francis’ known position on the matter.
Asked about the perceived sidelining of conservatives at the synod, Filippino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said Monday there had been “ample space” for people to speak their minds.
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