By Mick Krever, CNN
As the Vatican signals a tone shift towards homosexuals and gay couples, a key author of a report being prepared for Pope Francis said that the new language fits within existing Church doctrine.
It is “not so much a change in the teaching of the Church, but a way of saying it that is far more inviting, far more welcoming,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington D.C., told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
A group of Cardinals and bishops tasked by the pope with examining issues of the family on Monday said, in an interim report, that “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.”
“It’s saying what the catechism of the church already says,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “that every person has a dignity all of their own; a worth, a value, a God-given dignity. And a person, a homosexual person, a person who has this orientation, has the dignity of being who they are.”
The Vatican, and Cardinal Wuerl, emphasized that the opinion is still far from being an official position of the Church, or from impacting its teachings. But for a religion that has long ostracized homosexuals, it is a stunning shift in tone.
Pope Francis instructed the gathering of Cardinals, known as a Synod, to “open our hearts, open our minds, and speak very, very freely,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
“He also said this is the beginning of a process. So whatever we’re saying and struggling with together and searching to find creative ways to be pastorally present – none of this is definitive.”
Francis, of course, has made clear from the beginning of his papacy that he wants the Church to be more welcoming.
In July 2013, just months after becoming pope, he said of homosexuals trying to be religious, “Who am I to judge?”
This Monday’s interim report seems to indicate that that sentiment is behind thoroughly aired throughout the Vatican.
Speaking about another hot-button issue being discussed by the Synod, co-habitation of unmarried couples, Cardinal Wuerl echoed the Pope’s tone.
“I think we have to begin with the recognition this is going on all around us, that this is a fact of life. And so if you´re going to reach out to people, if you´re going to meet people where they are in the condition in which they are living, you have to recognize – what is that condition?.”
“We now need to talk about where Christ would want you to be. Where would the Lord ask you to be in light of his gospel, in light of his teachings? And that’s I think what was meant when we said there are some positive aspects – at least try to meet the person where they are and then walk with them.”
Many conservative members of the Church have expressed dismay and outrage at some of the language in this week’s interim report; Cardial Wuerl urged patience.
“We have yet to reach a formulation that has been presented to everybody to even take the first pass at. What we have is simply an echoing of everything that was heard.”
“And when you open up a discussion, and you try to be creative and you try to be as inviting as possible, some of the language may sound a bit jarring to some people. That may not be the language that we all settle upon in the end.”
It has been unclear to this point whether the Synod’s final report will be made public. Cardinal Wuerl said that it likely would be, because it would be the basis for any next step.
“I suspect whatever is finally produced is going to be made public; there doesn’t seem to be any effort so far to keep any of these things from being public.”
“The final document of this whole process isn’t going to exist until the process is done, and our Holy Father said that process won’t conclude until the end of the 2015 Synod.”