A landmark meeting held by top bishops in the Catholic Church, under direction from Pope Francis, called on pastors around the world to accept homosexuality and relax attitudes toward the sanctity of marriage.
A document, referred to as a "relatio" that marks the halfway point of the two-week-long meeting (synod) at the Vatican, questions previous labeling of homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered" by the church and insists that all pastors "accept the reality" of modern relationships.
"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?" the document asks. "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?"
At the same time, the bishops reiterated existing doctrine that gay marriage is not acceptable.
But the document isn't giving a completely free pass to this hot-button issue. "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."
Pope Francis famously said "Who am I to judge him?" last year in reference to the topic of celibate gay men becoming priests in the Catholic Church. In his 18 months as pope, the topic of homosexual acceptance has come under fire several times, but this recent meeting and document may change the church in ways it hasn't seen in centuries.
Conservative groups reacted harshly. "What will Catholics parents now have to tell their children about contraception, cohabiting with partners or living homosexual lifestyles?" asked Maria Madise, coordinator of the Voice of the Family, which represents pro-life and conservative Catholics. "Will those parents now have to tell their children that the Vatican teaches that there are positive and constructive aspects to these mortal sins? This approach destroys grace in souls."
The final synod document will be released next week and may still be modified to reflect lingering questions such as that of homosexuality in regards to communion and marriage. But another synod held next October expects to further clarify any questions posed by the introduction of this first push of suggestions by the bishops.