Atlanta Archbishop endorses welcome mat for gays

Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said on Monday he “heartily” applauds and endorses a report by Catholic bishops meeting in Rome that encourages the Catholic church to welcome gay and divorced parishioners.

The bishops, coming from all parts of the world, called on pastors to recognize, among other things, the “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation.”

The meeting, or synod, was called by Pope Francis to discuss issues related to the family in contemporary society.

The biggest bombshell appears to concerns homosexuality.

“These men and women are the sons and daughters of the church, and yet in too many cases they have not felt welcomed or respected,” Gregory said in a statement. “Surely there are ways that we can adjust our religious language so that its frequently perceived severity will not drive away those who belong to Christ and His church. We have a pastoral obligation to reach out to all men and women in the same manner that Christ did so effectively even when they found themselves outside of the religious and cultural norms of His own times.”

Pope Francis has largely been viewed as a people’s pontiff. He has shown a willingness to address sometimes thorny issues in the Catholic community and to be more inclusive.

Despite the stunning language of the document, experts say it’s unlikely to change the church doctrine,

But it does mirror a general trend in the overall population that is more accepting of gay unions and homosexuality.

A new survey of religious congregations, “Changing American Congregations,” found that more churches are opening their doors to gay and lesbian couples, according to the Pew Research Center website.

Conducted by researchers from Duke University and the University of Chicago, the study surveyed clergy and members from more than 1,300 congregations.

Between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of congregations allowing an openly gay or lesbian couple to become full-fledged members grew to 48 percent from 37 percent, according to the survey.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, an advocacy group that promotes the rights of members in the LGBT community, knows first-hand how the church’s stance on homosexuality can play out in a family.

Although he is not Catholic, some of his in-laws are.

“It’s been a struggle within my own family about how to love and respect each other and at the same time (for my Catholic relatives) how they can uphold the tenets of their faith,” he said.

When he and his husband announced they were going to get married there were some “challenges” among some of his future in-laws who are “very observant Catholics who love my husband and myself very much.”

This latest move could make the road easier for others.

“This new direction and new tone really is welcome,” he said. “I hope the dialogue can remain open.”

That sentiment was echoed by others.

“I think it’s awesome that they’re finally at a point where they realize that gay people are just like everybody else and do have many gifts to offer, which is something we’ve known for a long, long, long time,” said Kevin L. Clark, former chairman of the First City Network, one of the oldest LGBT service organizations in the state.