Catholic bishops are showing unprecedented openness to accepting the real lives of many Catholics today, saying gays have gifts to offer the church and should be accepted and that there are "positive" aspects to a couple living together without being married.
A two-week meeting of bishops on family issues arrived at its halfway point Monday with a document summarizing the closed-door debate so far. No decisions were announced, but the tone of the preliminary document was one of almost-revolutionary acceptance, rather than condemnation, with the aim of guiding Catholics toward the ideal of a lasting marriage.
The bishops said gays had "gifts and qualities" to offer and asked rhetorically if the church was ready to provide them a welcoming place, "accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony."
For a 2,000-year-old institution that believes gay sex is "intrinsically disordered," even posing the question is significant.
"This is a stunning change in the way the Catholic church speaks of gay people," said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit author. "The Synod is clearly listening to the complex, real-life experiences of Catholics around the world, and seeking to address them with mercy, as Jesus did."
The bishops repeated that gay marriage was off the table. But it acknowledged that gay partnerships had merit.