Roman Catholic bishops agreed on Saturday to a qualified opening toward divorcees who have remarried outside the church, but rejected calls for more welcoming language towards homosexuals.
The agreement was the result of a three-week gathering at the Vatican, known as a synod, and was presided over by Pope Francis.
The final synod document restated church teachings that gays should not suffer discrimination in society, but also repeated the position that there was "no foundation whatsoever" for same-sex marriage, which "could not even remotely" be compared to heterosexual unions.
"Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the church's tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said," the Pope said in his concluding speech.
The document repeats the church teaching that gays should be respected and loved, while strongly rejecting gay marriage but also omitting references to church teachings that disparaged homosexual acts.
"It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life," he added.
During the synod, some bishops said the 1.2 billion-member church should introduce welcoming and inclusive language regarding homosexuals, such as calling them "brothers, sisters and colleagues" in the document.
But Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said earlier on Saturday that many of the 270 bishops felt homosexuality was still "too delicate a theme" in their countries. During the meeting, African bishops were particularly adamant in their opposition to welcoming language regarding homosexuals, saying it would only confuse the faithful.
At a preliminary meeting a year ago, conservative clerics made sure an interim report deleted a passage they thought was too welcoming to gays.
The synod document did however offer some hope for the full re-integration into the church of some Catholics who divorce and remarry in civil ceremonies.
Under current church doctrine they cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner, because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church and they are seen to be living in an adulterous state of sin. They only way such Catholics can remarry is if they receive an annulment.
The document spoke of a so-called "internal forum" in which a priest or a bishop may work with a Catholic who has divorced and remarried to decide jointly, privately and on a case-by-case basis if he or she can be fully re-integrated.
"In order for this happen, the necessary conditions of humility, discretion, love for the church and her teachings must be guaranteed in a sincere search for God's will," the document said.
Progressives have for years been advocating the "internal forum" and some observers said the mere fact that phrase was included in the document was a victory for those promoting merciful change.
"It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today's realities, through God's eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people's hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism," the Pope said.
Bishops shared perspectives on a number of other topics as well — video footage from Rome Reports emerged Saturday, capturing the perspective of Gregory III Laham, the spiritual leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Alexandria and Jerusalem, on the issue of the persecution of families.
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