John M. Becker

The Vatican & Gays: The 'Earthquake' That Wasn't

Filed By John M. Becker | October 16, 2014 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Catholic Church, media, misreporting, misunderstanding, overhyped rhetoric, Pope Francis, Raymond Burke, Vatican

pope-francis-facepalm.jpgA number of readers have asked me why I haven't yet weighed in on the news this week out of the Vatican, where a group of Catholic bishops meeting with Pope Francis released a draft document containing nicer-sounding words about gay people and the media responded with a predictable freakout about how OMIGOD THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING, YOU GUYS.

To tell you the truth, the reason was writer's block, because -- like most of the media coverage around the Catholic Church and the Pope these days -- the whole thing was ridiculously overblown, and I just couldn't figure out a new way of saying, yet again, that the style (less emphasis on "intrinsically disordered," more on "welcoming homosexual persons") may have changed, but the substance ("Under no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved") really has not.

Don't get me wrong, the change in tone is noteworthy, particularly because it takes some wind out of the sails of anti-LGBT bigots working within (and in cooperation with) the Catholic Church, and emboldens many people inside and outside the institution who are working for LGBT equality. (This is also evidenced by the way so many many conservative Catholics wailed and gnashed their teeth over the news.) But it's not the "seismic shift" that some have claimed it to be -- a truly seismic shift would be one that embraces LGBT people without simultaneously calling them and their acts of intimacy "disordered."

Still, in just a matter of days, conservative bishops at Francis's synod may have managed to clumsily walk back even these baby steps, at least for now. Details, after the break.

The Associated Press reports:

The Vatican is watering down a ground-breaking overture to gays -- but only if they speak English. After a draft report by bishops debating family issues came under criticism from conservative English-speaking bishops, the Vatican released a new translation on Thursday.

A section initially titled "Welcoming homosexuals" is now "Providing for homosexual persons," and the tone of the text is significantly colder and less welcoming.

The initial English-language version -- released Monday along with the original -- accurately reflected the Italian version in both letter and spirit, and contained a remarkable tone of acceptance extended to gays. Conservatives were outraged.

The first version asked if the church was capable of "welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities." The new version asks if the church is "capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing ... them ... a place of fellowship in our communities."

The first version said homosexual unions can often constitute a "precious support in the life of the partners." The new one says gay unions often constitute "valuable support in the life of these persons."

In nearly all cases, the first version followed the official Italian version in verbatim; the second provides a different tone altogether.

seismograph-typical.jpgRev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesperson, said the changes were requested by the English-speaking bishops (no doubt including closet queen viciously anti-gay conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, a fierce critic of the document), who complained that the first translation was full of errors. But the Italian version -- which Lombardi stressed remains the official version, and which better matched the first English translation than the second -- hasn't changed at all, and neither have the Spanish and French versions, which are also based on the Italian.

To make things even more confusing, when reporters showed Lombardi how dramatically the words and meaning of the English-language version had changed from the first translation to the second, the AP reports that "he pledged to investigate and didn't rule out a third version" [emphasis mine].

If that sounds about as clear as mud, you're reading it correctly. And remember, despite all the fuss, the text is still a draft document -- we won't find out what language makes the final cut until Saturday.

So yeah... newsworthy? Absolutely. Earth-shattering? Not so much. Let's reserve judgment at least until we can see the synod's final report and observe how (if) it changes the game for LGBT Catholics in churches and communities across the world.

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