Rollback: Conservative Catholic bishops distance themselves from gay overture

Bishops attend a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Gregorio Borgia, AP

Bishops attend a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014.Gregorio Borgia, AP

Bishops attend a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014.

VATICAN CITY — Conservative Catholic bishops distanced themselves Tuesday from a document showing an unprecedented opening toward gays and divorced people, saying it doesn’t reflect their views and vowing to make changes to the final version.

The provisional document produced at the halfway point of a two-week meeting on family life said gays had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support.

It said the church must welcome divorced people and recognize the “positive” aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who live together without being married.

Amid an outcry from conservatives over the document, organizers of the synod insisted Tuesday that the report was merely a working paper that would be amended and that its value had been overstated by the media.

The document was remarkable both in what it said and what it didn’t say: Gone were assertions of Catholic doctrine present in most church documents that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered” and that couples who cohabitate are living in sin. In their place were words of acceptance and welcome.

Several known conservatives who participated in the synod immediately came out against the report. The head of the Polish bishops’ conference, Cardinal Stanislaw Gadecki, called it “unacceptable” and a deviation from church teaching.

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier said the report didn’t reflect the opinion of the synod in its entirety, and said he was sure the final report “will show the vision of the synod as a whole and not the vision of a particular group.”

Hard-line American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s supreme court, accused the Vatican press operation of releasing “manipulated” information about the synod debate that didn’t reflect the “consistent number of bishops” who opposed such a tone.

To some extent, the conservatives had a point. The Vatican’s briefings about the goings-on of the closed-door synod had made scant reference to gays, and yet the provisional report gave significant ink to the issue.

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