ROME — As Catholic bishops in the US lament another court victory for same-sex marriage, some cardinals and bishops gathered in Rome are debating how to soften Church rhetoric around homosexuality and other topics affecting families.
Dubbing same-sex marriage “a grave concern to our entire nation,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., called the US Supreme Court’s decision to let stand lower-court rulings that overturned bans on same-sex marriage “extremely disappointing and surprising.”
The court’s action means that a majority of US states will recognize same-sex marriage, and it could signal that national acceptance is on the horizon.
Meanwhile at the Vatican, where Catholic cardinals and bishops are gathered for a worldwide meeting on the family, a theme echoing Pope Francis’s “Who am I to judge?” question seems to be shaping conversation in the synod hall.
During a press briefing this afternoon, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, the Vatican’s English-language press assistant, told reporters that bishops are considering how the Church talks about marriage and other family issues in the public square.
Rosica said that some bishops participating in the synod have observed that the Church’s “language has to change to meet very complex situations.”
Specifically, Rosica said, bishops questioned the usefulness of phrases such as “living in sin,” referring to cohabiting couples; “intrinsically disordered,” referring to gays and lesbians; and a “contraceptive mindset,” referring to couples who use artificial birth control that the Church bans.
“Telling the people that are in these situations that they’re sinners won’t bring them any closer to the Church,” Rosica said, referring to talks given by bishops during the synod’s morning proceedings Tuesday.
Still, while changes in how the Church talks about sensitive family issues appear to be up for debate, altering doctrine remains off the table.
“What’s being discussed at this synod … are not doctrinal issues, but the practical ones,” Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő said yesterday.
Rosica reiterated that sentiment today, saying that bishops plan to discuss how to “repurpose” the church’s current teachings, and that they have a “great desire to deepen [their] understanding of that doctrine.”
Rev. Manuel Dorantes, the Vatican’s Spanish-language press assistant, said that bishops were considering what “language the Church has to use to transmit the message of creation and the Gospel of the family.”
The news that bishops are considering changes in style rather than substance will be welcomed by Church moderates who have warmed to Pope Francis’s perceived softer style around social issues. But it may come as a blow to Catholics who had hoped the synod might relax rules around gays, contraception, and Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
But on that last issue, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of England said at today’s briefing that bishops have not yet discussed proposals related to annulment reform or Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Those topics have been the subject of an intense public debate between leading conservative and liberal cardinals in recent weeks. Nichols said that married couples invited as observers to the synod spoke first, and that conversations around divorce will take place in the days ahead.
The synod, which opened Sunday, continues through Oct. 19. It is the first of two global meetings about family issues, bookending a possible visit by the pope to the United States next year to discuss the family.