Manila, Philippines — The church must widen its reach to gays and divorced Catholics, said the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, in an Oct. 21 statement after the Synod of Bishops on the family, called for a 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, [and] add to their already unbearable burdens,' " he said.
The two-week synod concluded Oct. 19 in Rome. Its final report is grounded in traditional Catholic teaching without reaching consensus on the questions of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and the pastoral care of homosexuals. The synod's final report will serve as an agenda for the October 2015 world synod on the family, which will make recommendations to the pope.
While the result of the synod did not sit well with gay rights groups, Villegas 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 added.
Instead, the archbishop said the church and the lay faithful must be fully engaged in guiding those practicing their same-sex attraction.
"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,' " Villegas said.
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," Villegas said.
Villegas also reiterated the bishop conference's opposition to same-sex marriage, continuously being pushed in the Philippine Congress.
"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," the archbishop said.
He also supported the pope's more merciful attitudes toward divorced and remarried Catholics, saying 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."