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Helena Diocese welcomes new openness toward gays, others

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HELENA — Bishops in the Catholic Church are showing a new openness toward those who are gay, divorced, living together without being married or children in nontraditional families.

This new consideration of these groups comes as the bishops released a midterm report Monday during their Oct. 5-19 meeting at the Vatican.

In an emailed statement, Bishop George Thomas of the Diocese of Helena, who was traveling at the time, said “Pope Francis is clearly committed to the spirit of the second Vatican Council. He has asked for dialogue, discussion and debate on some the most sensitive and complex issues affecting individuals and families. It appears no topics are off the table, including marriage, divorce, family and human sexuality.

“The Holy Father has asked for a spirit of openness, candor and transparency. The real work of the synod is just beginning,” the statement continued.

Dan Bartleson, director of communications for the diocese, said the bishop is excited about the contents of the midterm report.

His heart is really with the people and the family, Bartleson said.

It’s hard to be pastoral to people who are gay when “very heavy, judgmental things” are used toward them, he added.

“We have to bless what’s good, we have to recognize what’s good,” Bartleson said. “We have to make sure our communities include everyone.”

“This pope is really committed to loving everyone and embracing them for who they are and where they are in their lives.”

Bartleson said he hoped the midterm report would give “a sense of invitation, a sense of inclusion” to the groups that the synod was addressing in its report.

Bishop Michael Warfel with the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings was traveling and could not be immediately reached for comment on the midterm report.

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” the bishops’ midterm report said before asking, “are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

This new tolerance toward gays comes with an acknowledgement by the bishops that unions between people of the same gender cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.

However, it pointed to the merit in gay partnerships and said, “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.”

An emphasis was placed on the children who live with couples of the same gender and said “the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

The bishops also spoke toward other religions and of “appreciating the positive elements” in them — a tolerance that was applied to other groups.

Regarding cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried people, the bishops looked toward the positive values of these circumstances rather than their limitations and shortcomings among those who participate in the church.

The report called for restoring trust and hope in those wounded by lost love and said, “what needs to be respected above all is the suffering of those who have endured separation and divorce unjustly.”

Children of these marriages are not objects to be fought over, and “the most suitable means need to be sought so that they can get over the trauma of the family break-up and grow up in the most serene way possible.”

Those who have divorced and not remarried should be invited to participate in the church to sustain them, particularly when there are children or serious poverty involved, the report stated.

It noted the reality of civil marriage and cohabitation while taking into account the differences — some relationships may not be intended toward marriage.

Unions that reach a notable level of stability through a public bond and are characterized by deep affection and responsibility toward their children may be seen as moving toward marriage, the report noted.

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