The big question hanging over Pope Francis has been whether he would deliver on his rhetoric when it comes to LGBT issues. After all, it’s one thing to say “who am I to judge” and another to actually get the Church behind that sentiment. But a new Vatican document suggests that Francis really is serious about moving the Church away from its outright hostility toward gays and lesbians, although not about changing Church policy.
The document is a 75-page working paper put together by Catholic bishops in response to a worldwide survey of Catholics conducted last fall. The paper uses notably less harsh language than the Vatican has traditionally employed when discussing homosexuality. (You know, words like “disordered” and “intrinsically evil”)
For example, while the bishops don’t waver in their opposition to marriage equality, the paper expresses far more tolerance than the U.S. bishops have in their campaign against marriage. Instead, the paper calls for the Church to strike a balance between its teachings “and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions.”
In part, the change reflects the attitude of the laity. The paper says that the folks in the pew expressed “a certain unease at the challenge of accepting these people with a merciful spirit and, at the same time, holding to the moral teaching of the Church …” In fact, that’s probably a generous interpretation, given how quick American Catholics have been to embrace marriage equality.
The bishops also write in the paper that the children of same-sex couples should be “received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children,”
The document covers a number of other issues, but it’s clearly meant to send a signal to the hierarchy that the pope has a new program in mind. It will be interesting to see how willing his bishops will be to get with the program.