The Roman Catholic Church is signaling that it soon may ease its uncompromising stance on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.
Senior bishops handpicked by Pope Francis suggested in Rome on Monday that the church adopt a more positive perspective on gay couples, unmarried couples and civil marriages in which one or both of the partners is divorced.
The bishops offered their views in an interim report as they examine issues related to the family in contemporary society. They expect to issue a final report next week.
One Vatican expert called the apparent changed attitude of key church officials "a pastoral earthquake." The Catholic Church has long condemned same-sex relationships, sex outside of marriage and divorce.
But yesterday’s report said "homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community." it asked whether the church, with 1.2 billion members worldwide, is "capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities."
The report, however, defended traditional marriage, saying that same-sex marriages "cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman."
It did however question the “new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also co-habitation,” calling on pastors to treat remarried couples with respect avoiding language to make them feel discriminated against.
Father Nigel Johnson of the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe said the document reflects Pope Francis’ tone to change the Catholic Church ever since taking over from Pope Benedict.
“What you’ve got is the sort of angle of approach that Pope Francis has been sort of talking of since he came in as Pope, which is a more compassionate approach, a more human approach and a less legalistic approach,” said Father Johnson.
Father Johnson said it’s not so much what the Catholic Church believes to be right or true but in its attempt to recognize the reality happening in some areas in the world.
He said however, in Zimbabwe or in most countries in Africa, the decision by the church would not have effect on the popular opinion of people in regardless to homosexuality and same-sex couples in the church.
“It’s the same thing, you will not get the Catholic church saying it’s okay to have a marriage between to people of the same sex, said Johnson, “but it’s to say there are people living in that sort of relationship and that they need to be ministered to by the church and not excluded.”
The document which was largely phrased in questions will be the basis for discussion during the final two weeks of the assembly, and serve for further reflection among Catholics ahead of a synod planned by Pope Francis next year.