VATICAN CITY, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The Vatican, holding a global synod of Catholic bishops, backtracked from a statement that offered positive views of cohabitating couples and gay Catholics.
The report Monday, issued midway through the two-week conference of nearly 200 bishops, said gay people have "gifts to offer" the world, and added same-sex couples living together without marriage can provide "precious support" to each other. It added the church needs to treat the faithful who are gay, cohabitating or divorced with more respect and to treat them with compassion. Observers said the statement is believed be the Vatican's first positive assessment of gay people.
While praised worldwide by liberal religious leaders, the Vatican said Tuesday the report was merely a non-binding "working document" not intended to offer "the impression of a positive evaluation" of non-traditional relationships, and not a new policy of the Catholic Church.
"The message has gone out that this is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic Church is saying. It's not what we're saying at all," said Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa.
Vatican news services attempted to clarify the synod's report, suggesting in a summary of bishops' reactions that less progress than expected will result.
"In general, the (report) was appreciated for...capturing the spirit of the assembly and highlighting acceptance and welcome as the principle theme of the works. In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for a welcome was highlighted, but with the right care, in order not to create the impression of a positive evaluation of this approach on the part of the Church. The same attention had been called for in respect of cohabitation."
It added some bishops were upset the word "sin" was never mentioned, and that it placed more emphasis on families in distress than on stable families. The call for openness, though, suggests the bishops are working to deal with issues of concern to many Catholic families, and that the imprint of Pope Francis' regular references to compassion have made an impact.
The synod was convened to discuss the role of the Catholic Church in the modern world, particularly as it applies to families. Another major meeting of bishops will take place in October 2015.