Outreach to gay couples not on agenda for Vatican meeting

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A working paper for a Vatican meeting on the family indicated on Tuesday that organizers do not want the issue of how the Church should reach out to homosexual couples to be a key topic.

Members of a gay activist group hold signs in front of St. Peter's square in the Vatican December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The gathering of world bishops, or synod, will be held at the Vatican on Oct. 4-25 and its preparations have been peppered with debate about possible reforms, particularly on issues concerning gay people and divorced Catholics.

Gay rights activists had hoped the working document, the final one before the meeting, might resurrect at least some of the conciliatory language on the pastoral care of gay couples that surfaced during a preparatory meeting last year.

The document also indicated that there would be no change anytime soon to the rule that bans Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the Church from receiving communion unless they abstain from sexual relations.

In an interim report during a preparatory meeting last October, bishops spoke more positively of homosexuals than ever before. But that wording was watered down or eliminated at the end of the meeting after a backlash by conservatives.

The 80-page “Instrumentum Laboris”, a road map for issues to be debated by the assembly, repeated the Church’s opposition to gay marriage and to adoption of children by gay people but made no specific reference to the pastoral care of gay couples.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, an umbrella organization of about a dozen Catholic gay rights groups, said in a statement that it was “disappointed”.

It said the paper did not “reflect the rich discussions which have taken place, internationally and at all levels in the Church, on the welcome, respect, and value which should be afforded to lesbian and gay people in the Catholic community”.

The document did re-state the Church’s stand that “everyone, regardless of their sexual tendencies, should be respected in their dignity and welcomed with sensitivity and tact”.

It called for Catholic dioceses around the world to develop programs to “accompany” individual homosexuals and heterosexual parents with homosexual children to help them understand Church teachings.

The Church teaches that homosexual tendencies are not sinful but homosexual acts are.

The original wording of the section on homosexuals at the mid-point of last year’s preparatory meeting spoke of “accepting and valuing their (homosexuals’) sexual orientations” and giving gays “a welcoming home”.

That wording also said the Church should acknowledge that couples in same-sex relations offered “mutual aid” and “precious support” for each other in times of difficulty.

At a news conference presenting the working paper, Archbishop Bruno Forte, the synod’s secretary, said bishops will not be prohibited from raising any topic at the gathering.

It will produce a document for Pope Francis, who has the final say on all issues. He then will write an “Apostolic Exhortation” which the faithful are obliged to adhere to.

Editing by Alison Williams