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Vatican document on outreach to gays edits out ‘welcoming’ to focus on ‘providing for’

Pope Francis talks to prelates as he arrives on Oct. 10 for a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Facing outrage from traditional Catholics, top clergy at a Vatican meeting on Thusday altered a document meant to guide future outreach to gays and lesbians, changing the goal of “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons.”

Pope Francis called the two-week meeting of 190 top Catholic clergy in order to deal frankly with the fact that many Catholics disregard core church teachings around sex and marriage, and to consider how Catholic values might be reframed or reconsidered. But the topic has been fraught from the beginning, with various top clergy disagreeing about how remarks might be interpreted.

At a Thursday news conference, Vatican officials released an updated English version of a document they’d made public Monday — a kind of summary of the key themes inside the meeting thus far. The section of the report on gays and lesbians was retitled and other words were changed.

Monday’s version was titled “Welcoming homosexual persons.” According to the Associated Press, it asked the church to provide gays a “fraternal space” and said their unions constitute a “precious support” for the partners. The new English version is entitled “Providing for homosexual persons,” and speaks only of “fellowship” and “valuable support.”

The meeting is releasing information each day in several languages, and only the English version was changed on Thursday. The Italian heading for that section remains unchanged: “accogliere le persone omosessuali.” Massimo Faggioli, an Italian theologian covering the synod, tweeted Thursday that “I am Italian and that is not a translation, it is a falsification.”

The Vatican removed the original English wording from its site and substituted the new wording.

The wording put out Monday has been hugely controversial, with more traditional clergy in particular saying the wording needs to be overhauled for being vague and too liberal-sounding. On Wednesday New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan said “Boy, this document … does it ever need major revisions.” On Tuesday at the daily news conference clergy emphasized that being more welcoming to nontraditional families doesn’t mean changing teachings that see such families as unideal.

Asked at the news conference Thursday why the document was changed — and only in English — the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he was simply given the translation from the group of clergy who are working in English and was sharing it.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a priest-journalist covering the synod, said the clergy are “in a panic. They are afraid this welcoming language will confuse people. They’ll think the church is going to change its teaching.” None of the 190 clergy are pushing for that, he said.

“You get the impression they are very concerned, they want more theology in the document. They want more church teaching in the document. They want more encouragement to Catholics who are struggling to follow church teaching. They are very much afraid if they talk too much about what’s good in these incomplete and impartial relationships that people will say: ‘Then why should I bother doing what the church teaches?'”