VATICAN CITY (AP) — Catholic bishops on Saturday approved a revised document laying out the church’s position on gays, sex, marriage and divorce, saying the report was a “balanced” reflection of church teaching and pastoral needs.
But participants said some of the more contentious paragraphs didn’t pass a majority vote and were cut from the final version.
The report of the two-week meeting of bishops had been rewritten to incorporate amendments to a draft released earlier in the week which had shown an unprecedented openness toward gays and Catholics who live together without being married.
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.
Bishops filed out of the Vatican audience hall after sunset saying the text had passed. It’s expected to be released later Saturday.
“We could see that there were different viewpoints,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracis of India, when asked about the most contentious sections of the report on homosexuals and divorced and remarried Catholics. He said the vote went paragraph by paragraph and that some didn’t pass.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the leader of the progressive camp, said he was “realistic” about the outcome, suggesting that the boldness of the draft document had been watered down significantly.
In an unexpected gesture, Pope Francis approached a group of journalists waiting outside the synod hall to thank them for their work covering the synod.
“Thanks to you and your colleagues for the work you have done,” he said. “Grazie tante.” Conservative bishops have harshly criticized journalists for reporting on the dramatic shift in tone in the draft, even though the media reports reflected the document’s content.
Before the vote, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Brazil, Gracias and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy, the Vatican’s culture minister, said they all would approve the revised text and that they expected the majority of their fellow bishops would do the same.
They said the document was “balanced,” ”positive” and “open.”
“It’s accepting everybody, embracing everybody, wanting to embrace everybody, a pastoral approach of the church today,” Gracias said.
At the same time, though, some hot-button issues weren’t settled and will be put off for further discussion, he said. The bishops will meet again next year to close out the debate.
The draft report had signaled a radical shift in tone, saying gays had gifts to offer the church and their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support. The church, it added, must welcome divorced people and recognize the “positive” aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who live together without being married.
The proposed amendments to the draft were nearly unanimous in insisting that church doctrine on family life be more fully asserted and that faithful Catholic families should be held up as models and encouraged rather than focus on family problems and “irregular” unions.
The bishops signaled a similar tone in a separate message directed at Christian families released Saturday. There was no mention whatsoever of families with gay children, much less gay parents, and it spoke of the “complex and problematic” issues that arise when marriages fail and new relationships begin.
“Christ wanted his church to be a house with the door always open to welcome everyone, without excluding anyone,” the message read. (Oddly, the English translation was less welcoming than the official Italian, ending the sentence after ‘everyone.’)
Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa, who helped draft the revised final report, told Vatican Radio the final document showed a “common vision” that was lacking in the draft.
He said the key areas for concern were “presenting homosexual unions as if they were a very positive thing” and the suggestion that divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion without an annulment.
He complained that the draft was presented as the opinion of the whole synod, when it was “one or two people.”
“And that made people very angry,” he said.