Vatican sets stage for family debate with document

Nicole Winfield
Associated Press

Vatican City — The Vatican has set the stage for more debate on hot-button issues like gays, remarried Catholics and unmarried couples living together by publishing the working document for its meeting on family issues.

The document released Tuesday breaks no major ground on the most divisive issues, although it offers some nuances that may prove key when bishops gather in October for the three-week synod.

It repeats that gays should be respected and welcomed, as church teaching requires, and that the church should provide special pastoral care for gays and their families. But it goes no further.

The first big meeting on family issues last October was marked by a remarkable openness to gays, with an interim document saying they had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided “precious” support.

After an outcry by conservative bishops, that language was watered down in the final document, and the whole paragraph on gays failed to win approval in the final vote.

The new working document stresses the idea of the church accompanying all Catholics in a path toward living model Catholic lives. It considers, for example, that couples who live together but aren’t married aren’t living in sin but are rather potential candidates for church marriage.

After soliciting input from bishops, academics and ordinary Catholics, the synod organizers said in the document there was “common agreement” about the need to offer divorced and civilly remarried Catholics a “path of forgiveness” to better integrate them into the life of the church.

Currently, these Catholics — who haven’t obtained a church annulment declaring their first marriage null — are forbidden from receiving the sacraments.

The document doesn’t provide a clear fix, but suggests some wiggle room through this penitential process, even while stressing that the couple must decide to not have sex.

Monsignor Bruno Forte, a top synod organizer, said the key to the document was the concept of the “law of gradualness,” which encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness. The decision by civilly remarried Catholics to not have sex, for example, could come at the end of the path of penitence and not the beginning, he said.