Under Francis, Catholic Church Embraces a More Modern Definition of Family

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Catholic bishops are showing remarkable openness to accepting the real lives of many Catholics today, saying gays have gifts to offer the church and that there are “positive” aspects of a couple living together with being married.

A two-week meeting of bishops on family issues arrived at its half-way point Monday with a document summarizing the closed-door debate so far. No decisions were announced, but the tone was one of almost revolutionary acceptance rather than condemnation, with the aim of guiding Catholics toward the ideal of a lasting marriage.

Remarkably, the bishops said gays had “gifts and qualities” to offer and asked rhetorically if the church was ready to provide them a place “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

For a 2,000-year-old institution that believes gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” even posing the question is significant. The bishops, however, repeated that gay marriage was off the table.

The bishops said they 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. The concept encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.

Applying the concept to matters of birth control would be an acknowledgement that most Catholics already use artificial contraception in violation of church teaching.

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.

(Copyright 2014, KRON 4 and the Associated Press, All rights reserved.)

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