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What They're Saying: Vatican's New Tolerance On Gays And The Divorced

Pope Francis attends a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, on Monday.
Massimiliano Migliorato/CP
PA Photos /Landov
Pope Francis attends a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, on Monday.

Updated at 11:00 a.m. ET

As we reported earlier, a synod of Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican has released an interim document that signals the likelihood of a dramatic overhaul in the church's stance on gays and lesbians, as well as its view on divorced members.

The Associated Press writes: "Tuesday's official summary of the closed-door discussions that followed the document's release said that while the report was 'appreciated,' some bishops offered additional reflections 'to bring together various points of view' that should be reflected in a final version being released Saturday."

The National Catholic Reporter's Vatican correspondent Joshua McElwee tells NPR's Morning Edition that the preliminary report is "certainly a dramatic and decided shift in tone for the Church.

"The bishops said they want to reach out to modern society and the church at large to walk with people in different situations, to accompany them and to apply church doctrine alongside mercy," McElwee says.

That shift has elicited much excitement and some consternation. Here's a sampling of opinion from the Catholic and secular media:

Catholic News Service:

"The statement represents a marked shift in tone on the subject for an official Vatican document. While the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for 'respect, compassion and sensitivity' toward homosexuals, it calls their inclination "objectively disordered." A 1986 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called homosexuality a 'more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.' In 2003, the doctrinal congregation stated that permitting adoption by same-sex couples is 'gravely immoral' and 'would actually mean doing violence to these children.' "

CNS further notes: "The synod is not supposed to reach any definitive conclusions, but set the agenda for a larger world synod to be held Oct. 4-25, 2015, which will make recommendations to the pope. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, announced Oct. 13 that the theme of [next year's] assembly will be: 'The vocation and mission of the family in the church and in the modern world.' "

National Catholic Reporter Online: "Monday's document ... appears to reflect a move among the prelates from legal exactness in adherence to church teaching to graduality, a theological notion that people can grow in their holiness or in their adherence to church teaching over time."

America Magazine:

"A new wind is blowing at the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family. A wind that is bringing back 'the spirit' and even 'the letter' of the Second Vatican Council, several synod fathers said. It's a wind that reveals a clear desire for the Church to dialogue in a fresh, positive and hopeful way with the family as it is in today's world with its variations and problems and, in this context, with the issue of homosexuality. ...

"It is indeed highly significant that this provisional text looks for the positive elements in the various and diversified situations in which couples live: from cohabitation, to marriage and irregular unions, to homosexual unions (which it states clearly are not to be equated with matrimony). Rather than engaging in finger wagging or pointing to the limitations, failures or defects (from the Church's point of view) in these situations, it looks at them with tenderness and mercy while maintaining the clarity of a teacher, and insists on the importance of accompanying them in their different and often complex situations."

USA Today:

"Maria Madise, coordinator of Voice of the Family, another conservative group, asked: 'Will parents now have to tell their children that the Vatican teaches that there are positive and constructive aspects to these mortal sins' of contraception, cohabitation and homosexuality?

" 'It's an astonishing document for several reasons,' said Charles Reid, a canon law expert at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis and a frequent commentator on church-related issues. 'The biggest is that it abandons the abstract rule-making of the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and it looks at the individual person, the way Jesus looked at individual people.'

"The Vatican and experts stressed that the document itself is not a change in church doctrine, but rather is what Reid called 'a starting point for discussion.' "

The New York Times:

"Some conservative bishops who oppose any change have been outspoken. Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, an American now serving in the Vatican, said in an interview that will be published Tuesday in the Italian daily newspaper Il Foglio that 'worrying tendencies' were emerging from the synod because they 'are supporting the possibility of adopting a practice that deviates from the truth of the faith.'

"Many conservatives have complained that because the media has been excluded from the synod sessions, the synod discussions are being spun by the Vatican spokesmen charged with summarizing the proceedings in daily news conferences.

" 'A large number of bishops do not accept the ideas of openness, but few know that,' Cardinal Burke told Il Foglio."

The AP: "Conservative Catholic bishops concerned about an unprecedented opening to gays and divorced people are seeking to make their voices heard at a Vatican meeting on family life, emphasizing the benefits of faithful Catholics, the fundamentals of church doctrine and the dangers of sin."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.