So Pope Francis is holding a synod (which, from what I gather, is essentially the Catholic version of a rave) to decide how to handle the kinds of people who actually seem pretty cool (gays, folks who don't stick in marriages that aren't working out, etc.—all that's missing is people who prefer to ejaculate/be in the vicinity of an ejaculator without having a kid).

The synod's working report, for all of the press it has received, seems pretty mild. Here's what it says about homosexuality, (emphasis added):

>>50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing [...] them [...] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony? [Editor's note: Double-emphasis added.]

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51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor's outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to [...] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority. <<

This seems to be pretty much in keeping with Francis's earlier statements—don't judge, without saying as much as one would like* about actually being accepting of homosexuality (I would argue that "Let's be sure not to turn away homosexuals" is quite different from "Let's stop rejecting homosexuality"). With that said, what's the line about the great not being the benefit of the good? That seems to apply here, and a lot of gay Catholics are very excited about this development, and I'm happy for them.

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I'm no Catholic, but I know a good number of them, and for many of them, this is still pretty earth-shaking stuff. I can certainly see how that might be the case when compared with Wojtyla and Ratzinger (actually, just about every recent pope could be put in here, with the possible exception of John XXIII), even though the line about "there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support" sounds not unlike Benedict's potentially softening the Church's rules against condoms, but only in Africa and only to cut down on AIDS.

Still, when I actually read the bit of the report, I thought, "I get all of the arguments that a 2000 year-old Church doesn't change overnight,** but that's a cause of controversy? That sounds like what Alan Chambers wrote after dissolving Exodus International—sorry for being such a dick, but we'll still stand up for "traditional values," so love the sinner, and that.***

But apparently I'm wrong, since conservative bishops seem to be pissed about the whole thing:

In public, some conservative bishops have voiced dismay and even disdain for the preliminary report released Monday, saying that appearing to condone gay couples and unconventional families could lead Catholics astray and even cause a schism in the church.

"In seeking to be merciful, some want to open up Catholic teaching on marriage, divorce, civil unions, homosexuality in a radically liberalizing direction," Cardinal George Pell, a theological conservative from Australia, said in an interview with The Tablet, a Catholic weekly based in England.

Incidentally, speaking of sexual practices the Church has taken...interesting stands on, you'll never in a million years guess what theological conservative and defender of traditional values Cardinal Pell has been accused of in recent years.

But I digress. The report has already been tweaked so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of some within the Church leadership (even though he's not named in the story, suck it, Dolan, if only on principle):

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In one indication of the alarm set off by the preliminary report, the English-speaking bishops on Thursday announced changes to the English translation because they said the original version could mislead Catholics.

A section titled "Welcoming homosexual persons" was changed in the English translation to "Providing for homosexual persons." A reference to people in same-sex unions as "partners" was changed to "these people."

Thank God that good people wouldn't be misled into thinking that gay couples are, well, couples. Good job, editors.

*-Well, as much as I would like, and that's all that matters.

**-Look, I get the Church is old, but to all of the people who say, "See, it's old—it can't change overnight!" one might well ask, "Yes, but it allegedly has a hotline to God—don't you think, at some point, He might give them a heads-up on, well, quite a few matters that might have benefited from immediate attention?"

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***-As much as I hate EI and what it stood for, there's a certain level on which I can understand Chambers' actions a bit—he was, as a professor of mine once said about Ted Haggard, raised to hate himself, and that has to screw up your mind to a large extent (call it theological Stockholm Syndrome)—while still condemning them.