Church must reach out to gays, divorced — CBCP head

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Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) head Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas

MANILA, Oct. 20, 2014–As the Synod on the Family came to an end, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said the Church should do more to reach out to gays and divorced Catholics.

Taking a cue from Pope Francis, CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas, in a statement issued on Sunday after attending the two-week synod in Rome, said the Church should take a more merciful approach to ministering to the faithful by emulating Christ and not casting stones at sinners.

“In facing our Catholic brethren in painful broken marriage situations or our brothers and sisters with homosexual attraction quietly struggling to be chaste, Pope Francis said we must avoid two temptations: ‘The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast; and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick, add to their already unbearable burdens,’” he said.

While the result of the synod did not sit well with gay rights groups, the archbishop said the Church must continue to defend “persons with homosexual orientation” against continued discrimination and violence against them.

“Persons with homosexual orientation are sons and daughters of God; no less than any of us is,” Villegas said.

“Discrimination against them is contrary to the Gospel spirit. Verbal and physical violence against them is an offense against the good Lord Himself,” he furthered.

Instead, the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan said the Catholic Church and the lay faithful must be fully engaged in guiding those involved in same sex relationships.

“Through honest dialogue and pastoral accompaniment, it should be our goal to assist them to respond to the demands of chastity and that purity of body and heart that Jesus, in the Gospels, calls ‘blessed’,” said Villegas.

Similarly, the prelate said the Catholic Church must not automatically reject homosexuals who wish to serve the Lord.

“When they wish to make an offering to the life of the Church according to their talents, abilities and gifts, the Church as mother provides for them,” said Villegas.

The CBCP head’s statement comes right after the synod, which was widely expected to issue a “revolutionary” document for a wider acceptance of gay people.

At the close of the meeting convened by Pope Francis, however, Catholic bishops only opted to reiterate the Church’s call for “respect and sensitivity” towards gays.

Meanwhile, Villegas reiterated the CBCP’s opposition to same sex unions continuously being pushed in Congress.

He said there is no reason to legalize such a relationship, especially using the principle of equal protection as its rationalization.

“To the legislators who consider giving legal recognition to same sex unions, the Church declares there is no equivalence or even any remote analogy whatsoever between marriage between a man and woman as planned by God and the so-called same sex unions,” said Villegas.

The archbishop also supported the pope’s more merciful attitudes towards divorced and remarried Catholics, adding that they must be helped by pastors particularly by the “Sacrament of Penance, to follow the demands of true and unselfish love in the Spirit of the Gospel.”

“We cannot presume to judge and condemn. Rather, the presumption should be that there is a genuine effort on their part to live according to the demands of our faith,” he said. “The danger of scandal should never stand in the way of genuine charity, and the Catholic faithful must be reminded that much of what Jesus did was scandalous to the ‘righteous’ of his time.”

“Where, however, in the pastoral assessment of bishops and priests, the full and unqualified admission of persons in irregular unions to the life of the Church causes charitable and sincere Catholics to doubt and misunderstand the teaching of the Church, then some prudent arrangement must be worked out that will be beneficial to all,” he said.

Villegas also called for a more proactive lay participation in the family apostolate for it “is precisely the competence of lay persons”.

“Active Catholic couples are asked to lead in initiatives that assist couples in living the reality of the sacrament of matrimony, and in the rearing of their families according to the spirit of the Gospel. Our bishops and pastors encourage and support these lay initiatives,” he said. (CBCPNews)

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