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Catholic Bishops Reject Plan to 'Welcome' Gays

Pope Francis leads the synod of bishops in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican, Oct. 6, 2014.

Pope Francis leads the synod of bishops in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican, Oct. 6, 2014.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have decided not to approve a plan to welcome homosexuals into the church. Two hundred bishops from around the world met for two weeks at Vatican City. They released a final statement on Saturday at the end of the meeting. The meeting is called a synod.

A document released after the first week of the synod suggested the Catholic Church would be more welcoming to people who have same-sex love relationships. It said the church should accept and value homosexuals and should give them what it called a “welcoming home.”

But the final document says only that homosexuals should, in its words, “be welcomed with respect and sensitivity.” It said that acting against gays “is to be avoided.”

Conservatives both inside and outside the church had strongly criticized the earlier document. They called for major changes in it. This showed a large difference of opinion between conservatives and liberals in the church.

Earlier in the week, church officials made changes to the English version of the first document. It had been written in Italian. The first version said the church should “welcome” homosexuals. The changed document -- the translation -- said it should “provide for” homosexuals.

Liberals praised the earlier document. They included New Ways Ministry, a leading U.S. Catholic gay rights group. It said the document was a “major step forward.” The London-based Catholic gay rights group QUEST called parts of it “a breakthrough in that they acknowledge that such unions have an intrinsic goodness and constitute a valuable contribution to wider society and the common good.”

But conservatives reacted strongly against it. They said it was a rejection of traditional family values. John Smeaton is one of the founders of the conservative group Voice of the Family. He said “those who are controlling the synod have betrayed Catholic parents worldwide.” He said the earlier document was one of the worst in church history.

Some observers called the early document a "revolution" and a "pastoral earthquake."

The earlier document was very different from past Catholic statements on homosexuality. Those statements often strongly criticized same-sex love relationships. Instead, it said homosexuals had “gifts and qualities to offer” the Christian community. And it said homosexual relationships give aid and support to people in them. It asked if the Catholic faith could accept gays, and recognize positive aspects of people living together before they are married.

The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual feelings are not sinful. But it says homosexual acts are sinful. It opposes divorce, gay marriage and polygamy -- people being married to more than one person. And it does not approve of people living together or having sexual intercourse before they are married.

The synod was not called to change official church policy. But some people inside the church and others wanted the church to change how it serves people who are gay, divorced or living with someone before being married. And they wanted to make the language of the church less critical of homosexuals. Church documents written before the election of Pope Francis in 2013 had strongly criticized homosexuals.

Documents were released on Thursday from 10 groups at the synod. They showed that many bishops wanted to make changes to the earlier statement. Pope Francis was believed to support the earlier document. But parts of it did not receive the two-thirds vote needed to be included in the final statement.

The bishops also rejected a plan that would have let Catholics who had divorced and remarried outside the church to receive Holy Communion. They believe this ceremony of bread and wine represents the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

The final document from the synod will be studied by Catholics around the world as the 1.2 billion members of the faith prepare for more changes next year. That is when another, larger synod is to meet at the Vatican.

On Sunday, after the synod ended, Pope Francis spoke during a Catholic religious ceremony called a Mass. He said “God is not afraid of new things. This is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

Some observers said the Pope’s words might have been a criticism of some of the church leaders who had rejected a new approach to homosexuals and divorced couples during the synod. Some of those leaders were at the Mass.

Pope Francis has said the Church must be more compassionate with homosexuals. Last year he said “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by the VOA newsroom in Washington. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. He also narrated and produced the report. Jeri Watson edited the story.


Words in This Story

homosexual – n. a person sexually attracted to people of the same sex

synod – n. a formal meeting of church leaders

divorce – n. the ending of a marriage by a legal process

polygamy – n. the state or practice of being married to more than one person at the same time

approach – n. the act of speaking to someone for some purpose

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