Gay rights groups hail Vatican's new tone
Gay rights groups are cautiously cheering a shift in tone from the Catholic Church toward homosexuals, encouraged that Pope Francis's famous "Who am I to judge?" position has filtered down to bishops debating family issues at a Vatican meeting this week.
There is no discussion that church doctrine on homosexuality will change or that the Vatican will soon endorse gay marriage or even gay unions.
However, for the first time, a Vatican meeting is discussing gay and lesbian issues and how to provide better spiritual care to gay Catholics.
"We're seeing a crack in the ice," said Francis DeBernardo, director of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group.
Church teaching holds that gay acts are "intrinsically disordered", sinful and a "serious depravity".
At the same time, it says homosexuals must be treated with respect and compassion.
The Vatican's top canon lawyer, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmiero, said on Thursday that the Catholic Church would "never" accept gay marriage or even bless a gay union.
Michael Brinkschroeder, co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, which represents 42 organisations in 22 countries, said it was clear that the "Francis effect" appeared to be trickling down to local bishops.
Many had "lost their fear" and are freer now to engage in dialogue with gays.