VATICAN CITY —
Catholics should stop using condescending language such as "pity" toward homosexuals and find ways to welcome them as sons and daughters of the Church, bishops have told a major gathering on the family.
The comments supporting more inclusive language for homosexuals in the Church were made in the first two rounds of interventions at the closed-door gathering, known as a synod, Vatican officials told a news conference on Tuesday.
The calls by over half a dozen bishops for more inclusive language on homosexuals stood out because conservative clerics made sure an interim report at a preliminary meeting last year deleted a passage they thought was too welcoming to gays.
"[The bishops said] there must be an end to exclusionary language and a strong emphasis on embracing reality as it is. We should not be afraid of new and complex situations," Father Tom Rosica said in summarizing some of the interventions.
He said that the bishops had called for "a new form of language, in particular in speaking of homosexuals ... we do not pity gay persons but we recognize them for who they are. They are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and our colleagues."
In a document written by former Pope Benedict before his election and still cited by conservatives, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described homosexuals as "intrinsically disordered".
Rosica, who attends the meetings, said the bishops who advocated a more welcoming Church for homosexuals argued that gays should not be treated as "outsiders" and the Church should extend "a hand of welcome to them (as) our flesh and blood".
The synod of more than 300 bishops, delegates and observers, including 13 married couples, will be meeting for three weeks in the presence of Pope Francis to discuss how the 1.2 billion member Church can confront challenges facing the modern family.
Since his election in 2013, Francis has given great hope to progressives who want him to forge ahead with his vision of a more inclusive Church that concentrates on mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rigid rules they see as antiquated.
The bishops will discuss ways to defend the traditional family and make life-long marriage more appealing to young people while reaching out to disaffected Catholics such as homosexuals, co-habiting couples and the divorced.
The gathering has been preceded by intense jockeying between conservatives and liberals on a host of sensitive issues.
One key topic at the synod will be how to reach out to Catholics who have divorced and remarried in civil ceremonies.
They are considered by the Church to be still married to their first spouse and living in a state of sin. Some bishops want a change to the rules that bars them from receiving sacraments such as communion.
An introductory speech at the synod's opening on Monday led some to believe that the discussion on a possible change in rule concerning divorced Catholics was closed, but bishops at Tuesday's press conference disputed this.
"The discussion is still open," said Italian Archbishop Claudio Celli.