Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa was not among Catholic leaders gathered this week at the Vatican to discuss the church’s stance on a range of hot-button topics including marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control.
But Vasa said that if he had participated in the widely reported gathering, he would not have endorsed a preliminary document that signaled a shift in tone about the church’s accepting gay people, unmarried couples and the divorced.
Vasa, who defends the church’s traditional doctrines, on Tuesday downplayed the significance of the interim report. It thrilled progressives and gay rights groups, who have been encouraged by Pope Francis’ inclusive and welcoming message.
But Vasa said the working paper by an assembly of bishops is subject to change and does not alter any of the church’s long-held positions against homosexuality and divorce.
Vasa said if he were attending the bishops’ meeting, or synod, at the Vatican, he would probably have agreed with the criticisms by one church official, Cardinal Gerhard Müller of Germany, the Vatican’s doctrine czar. Vasa said Müller characterized the document as “weak and disgraceful.”
“The headlines say the church is more welcoming to the homosexually inclined person and the divorced. That’s true. It doesn’t mean (the church) is approving the lifestyle, or second marriages, or there is alteration of her doctrinal understandings,” Vasa said.
The document produced by bishops halfway through a two-week meeting on family life said gays had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support.
It said the church must welcome divorced people and recognize the “positive” aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who live together without being married.
Its message was one of near-revolutionary acceptance and understanding rather than condemnation, according to reports by the Associated Press.
But that message, however tentative, dismayed conservatives already uncomfortable with Francis’ aim to make the church what he has called a “field hospital” for wounded souls that focuses far less on the rules and regulations emphasized by his two predecessors.