“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” Instrumentum Laboris states, quoting a 2003 church document that said “under no circumstances can they be approved.”
But Instrumentum Laboris also addressed the Church’s need to show compassion towards those with homosexual inclinations. It garnered mixed reviews from gay advocacy groups who said that while they were pleased with the “new, welcoming tone,” they were also “disappointed” that the Church did not change its stance on same-sex marriage.
The document discusses the findings of a worldwide Vatican survey which “was divided into eight groups of questions on marriage and the family” and sent to “a significant number of dioceses, parishes, movements, groups, ecclesial associations and families” in November in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis, which will be held at the Vatican in October.
According to the survey, “every bishops’ conference voiced opposition to ‘redefining’ marriage between a man and a woman through the introduction of legislation permitting a union between two people of the same sex.”
The document also points out that the bishops “are clearly opposed to legislation which would allow the adoption of children by persons in a same-sex union, because they see a risk to the integral good of the child, who has the right to have a mother and father, as pointed out recently by Pope Francis.”
However the document emphasized that it is also Church teaching that “men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
The bishops voiced a need for a better pastoral response towards such persons, finding that “on the whole, the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral programme which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned.”
For example, the document stated that when people living in homosexual unions “request a child’s baptism, almost all the responses emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”
“Many responses indicate that it would be helpful to receive more concrete pastoral directives in these situations,” the document stated, referring to the survey results.
“Should a reasonable doubt exist in the capability of persons in a same sex union to instruct the child in the Christian faith, proper support is to be secured in the same manner as for any other couple seeking the baptism of their children. In this regard, other people in their family and social surroundings could also provide assistance,” the document explains.
At their October gathering, the synod fathers will “thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations” in the document.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an organization “working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equal rights,” called the document an attempt by the Vatican to “embrace a new, welcoming tone needed towards LGBT people.”
However, Equally Blessed, a group that claims to be “faithful Catholics committed to full equality for LGBT people in the church and civil society,” said in a statement that they were “disappointed by the lack of listening evidenced in the report released by the Vatican yesterday in preparation for the Synod which will discuss ministry to the family.”
“We hoped that this Synod signified a new openness in the Church to truly dialogue,” the group said. “The Bishops once again claim that the problem is not that their teachings clash with the Biblical teaching of love, but that Catholics are unaware of the teachings. Catholics are not unaware, rather they have long struggled with these teachings, and ultimately reject them as inconsistent with the Gospel.”
But the document makes it clear that ecclesial leaders are not about to change the Catholic Church’s “constant teaching on marriage and family.”
“The great challenge will be to develop a ministry which can maintain the proper balance between accepting persons in a spirit of compassion and gradually guiding them to authentic human and Christian maturity” as embodied in that teaching, the document states.