Catholic bishops block new guidelines of openness toward gay people

The Pope's progressive policy is stalled, but the Mayor of Rome has defied Italian law by registering same-sex marriages
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Catholic bishops have scrapped a proposed new policy of openness toward gay people in a sign of deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis.

The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to gays that stripped away the welcoming tone contained in a draft document last week.

Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot topic at the synod – whether Catholics who are divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion – also failed to pass.

Francis insisted in the name of transparency that the full document be published with the voting tally. The document is to serve as the basis for future debate leading up to another meeting of bishops next October.

An early draft of the report, written by more than 200 bishops, said homosexuals had "gifts and qualities to offer", and used more welcoming language when discussing homosexuality and its place in the church. The document was praised by liberal clergymen but criticised by conservative church figures.

Pope Francis invited a softer line (AP)

Before the vote, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Brazil, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy, the Vatican's culture minister, had said they would approve the revised text and that they expected the majority of their fellow bishops would do the same. They said the document was "balanced," "positive" and "open".

"It's accepting everybody, embracing everybody, wanting to embrace everybody, a pastoral approach," said Cardinal Dias.

But then came the shock news that the bishops had failed to vote by the required two-thirds majority.

The draft report had signalled a radical shift in tone. The church, it said, must welcome divorced people and recognise the "positive" aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who live together as couples without being married.

However, the proposed amendments were nearly unanimous in insisting that church doctrine on family life be more fully asserted and explained, and that faithful Catholic families should be held up as models and encouraged rather than the focus being on family problems and "irregular" unions.

Before yesterday's meeting, it emerged that Pope Francis was preparing to demote US Cardinal Raymond Burke, a conservative who is vehemently against any greater acceptance of gay people and divorcees in the church.

Cardinal Burke said he was to be demoted from his position running the Catholic Church justice system, moving to the far less senior post of patron of the sovereign military order of Malta.

Protesters demonstrated outside Rome's city hall (AFP/Getty)

Meanwhile, Rome's Mayor Ignazio Marino defied Italy's government and registered 16 gay marriages that were celebrated abroad yesterday.

Mayor Marino received thunderous applause on his arrival at the city hall reception room where the couples and their loved ones gathered to make the marriages official in Rome's city ledger.

He transcribed the date and locations of their weddings, which took place in countries including Spain, Portugal and the US.

He said yesterday was an important day in the fight for equal rights and that "the most important right is to say to your companion 'I love you' and to have that be recognised". Outside, however, a few protesters held up signs saying "Stop Marino" and "Transcriptions don't make families." Police said they blocked about 70 right-wing protesters.

Jonathon Dominic Spada, 26, from Santa Barbara, California, and Fabrizio Maffeo, 35, a Roman computer specialist, were there to register their 2013 marriage in Boston. "It's important – a limited recognition, but it's something," Mr Maffeo said. "I'm proud of our mayor."

The next step, he said, was for Italy to change its law to allow gay marriage and gay adoption.

Premier Matteo Renzi has said he would propose legislation allowing gay unions, though it is not expected to include adoption. The Italian bishops at the Vatican conference said that it was "unacceptable" that Mayor Marino had registered the weddings.