A few days ago, I woke up to headlines with the words “Vatican” and “gays,” without “condemn” or a variation thereof snuck in there somewhere. People who bet that hell would freeze over the day the Catholic Church takes a less-than-hostile stance against homosexuality must have had visions of snowflakes landing on the devil’s nose when it was reported that a Vatican document had some surprisingly compassionate things to say about gay people.
"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?” said the document. “Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
"Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners," the document added.
Even if you don’t follow religious news, this is a pretty big deal. It’s like your hopelessly homophobic Tito Boyet Or Lolo Badong—that crusty old relative who warned you that being gay is a sin—suddenly popping into the neighborhood parlor and proclaiming that getting a haircut from Trizsha isn’t so bad.
The faithful hold candles during a vigil to mark the start of the synod
Image from rt.com
To put this into perspective, ex-Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger) was, in the past, quoted as saying that gay people are “intrinsically disordered.” Then again, Benedict was a hardline conservative, in as much as the Pope we have now is, well, not. Francis was reportedly present at the synod (the bishop’s assembly happening at the Vatican this week) when the document was read.
Of course, it didn’t take long for people to make their feelings about this bit of news known. My social media feed was inundated with virtual “thumbs up” for this groundbreaking pronouncement. That was expected; most people would see this shift on the Church’s policy about homosexuality as nothing less than extraordinarily welcome news. On the other hand, there were also voices of displeasure and dissatisfaction. Ultra-conservatives are naturally bewildered and disappointed, believing there should be no wiggle room when it comes to the issue of same-sex relationships. Liberals (those who identify with the label, at least), say it’s not enough. It’s a weak yelp in what should otherwise be a scream advocating social equality.
I have nothing to say to the conservatives, except perhaps that they make like Oprah and get with the program. This is more for the liberals rolling their eyes and being all unimpressed. Yes, the Church stops short of actually condoning homosexuality, and still see the acts related to it as immoral and unconscionable. Being gay is fine, official Church policy states, as long as you do nothing about it. But lest people forget, we’re talking about a 2000-year old institution, with tenets and traditions that have been so deeply ingrained in the psyche of its most ardent followers they may as well be carved on the actual rock upon which St. Peter’s Basilica supposedly sits on. Some people may find that this pivot on official Church dogma may be slight, but in the context of a major religion that has kept its beliefs virtually intact for two millennia, it’s something of a milestone. The acknowledgment of the reality of same sex relationships, the fact that it was even brought up and seriously discussed in a major Church forum, and, most of all, the possibility of acceptance and recognition of “positive aspects” of said relationships—these are all significant strides in the discourse of our collective humanity. They should be held up as such and not be dismissed or taken lightly.
The question now is, can the Church do more to show sympathy and inclusiveness towards alternative lifestyles and preferences? Of course it can. But will it? Don’t hold your breath. Pope Francis may be worlds different from his predecessor, but he is still leader of an organization with a billion followers, most of whom are not ready for something as radical as gay relationships. (And despite the seemingly open society we currently inhabit, in many parts of the world, the mere concept of anything other than male-female partnerships might as well be alien). We may not see a Church that will embrace gay people as much as we would like it to in this lifetime, but a Church that has proven that it is not averse to a discussion about it is the next best thing.