HOPES the Vatican might be about to relax its stance on gay marriage are little more than blind faith, according to leading Australian gay Catholics, but the ground could be shifting on papal acceptance of same-sex unions.

In a recent interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis suggested same-sex unions had some validity.

‘‘Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care,’’ he said.

‘‘One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.’’

The Pope’s comments have been interpreted as a significant shift in Vatican doctrine.

Co-founder of Australian gay Catholic movement Rainbow Sash, Michael Kelly, said it was as much about what the Pope hadn’t said than what he had: “On several occasions he’s been asked about same-sex marriage and on no occasion has he said anything negative and that’s highly significant.”

This approach is in contrast to his predecessor, Pope Benedict. In a 2003 proclamation, while still a cardinal, Benedict said legitimising rights for same-sex couples was the “legalisation of evil”.

“Benedict policies were draconian and demanded bishops stood up against legislation that might have supported same-sex couples,” Kelly said.

Greg Reynolds from Melbourne-based Inclusive Catholics said hope of papal support of marriage equality was still far off: “Sacramental ceremonies celebrating same-sex marriage will have to wait a few hundred years.

“What Francis is doing is not contradicting his predecessors but taking a compassionate application of the teachings and emphasising the importance of interpreting them in the context of different people’s situations.”

Reynolds said same-sex blessings, which he believed were already taking place behind closed doors, were a different story.

“I think Francis would want to allow, if not encourage, informal blessing of same-sex unions,” he said.

Some are interpreting the Pope’s recent comments as a reaction to the increasing number of countries legalising same-sex unions.

“There are church leaders who are saying they’re losing the battle against same-sex marriage so let’s tolerate same-sex unions instead,” Kelly said.

Opinion in the Australian Catholic church is mixed. While some, like Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, oppose any moves towards unions, more moderate voices are urging the church to embrace civil same-sex marriage.

Fairfax Media has reported the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney as saying: “Pope Francis has always emphasised kindness and mercy but he makes it very clear he is not talking about changing doctrine but applying the church’s teachings with compassion.”

Kelly said the change in message from the Vatican is significant despite its subtlety.

“To some it may seem slow but for the Catholic church this change is happening very fast,” he said.

 (Image source: Wikipedia Commons)



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