Catholic synod: Vatican family review signals shift on homosexuality

media captionMonsignor Bruno Forte, General Assembly of the Synod of the Bishops: "attitude of the church to welcome persons who have homosexual orientation"

Senior clerics taking part in a review of Catholic teachings on the family have called on the Church to adopt a more positive stance on homosexuality.

A preliminary report written by bishops during a Vatican synod said homosexuals had "gifts and qualities to offer".

The report does not challenge the Church's long-held opposition to same-sex marriage, but some gay rights groups hailed it as a breakthrough.

Conservative groups rejected the report, one labelling it a "betrayal".

More than 200 bishops have been taking part in the synod since 5 October. It was convened by Pope Francis to debate controversial issues such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality and divorce.

Monday's report, issued half-way through the two-week meeting, said: "Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.

"Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?"

Analysis: David Willey, BBC News, Rome

Pope Francis' emphasis on concentrating upon positive rather than negative aspects of human sexuality seems to have won over many bishops attending the synod.

His predecessor Pope Benedict referred to homosexual relationships as "intrinsically disordered" in a Vatican document written in 1986 - when Benedict was chief theological adviser to Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis on the other hand told journalists returning from a Catholic Youth Festival in Rio de Janeiro last year: "If a person seeks God and has goodwill, then who am I to judge?"

Pope Francis is the first pontiff ever to have used the word "gay" in public rather than refer to "homosexuals".

image copyrightAP
image captionPope Francis was elected to lead the Church in 2013 after his predecessor Benedict XI retired

Breakthrough or betrayal?

The document adds: "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."

Human Rights Campaign, a leading US gay rights organisation, said the document set a "dramatic new tone".

The London-based Catholic gay rights groups Quest called parts of it a "breakthrough".

However Voice Of The Family, a conservative Roman Catholic organisation, rejected the interim report as a "betrayal".

The group's co-founder John Smeaton called it "one of the worst official documents drafted in Church history".

Last year, a survey launched by Pope Francis suggested that the majority of Catholics rejected Church teaching on issues such as sex and contraception.

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