On Thursday, the Vatican unveiled a planning paper, called an Instrumentum Laboralis, for a worldwide conference of bishops in October with an unexpected recommendation: allowing children of same-sex couples to get baptized.
When it comes to adoption by same-sex couples, most church officials are "opposed to legislation which would allow the adoption of children by persons in a same-sex union, because they see a risk to the integral good of the child," reads the document. "However, when people living in such unions request a child's baptism, almost all the responses emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children."
What does this mean? Francis has previously signaled his willingness to consider gay clergy, but this document, a synthesis of previous discussions held at earlier bishops' conferences, makes it very clear that at the heart of the Catholic Church, "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family."
Still, it reminds clergy members that LGBT members "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."
A solution, in the church's eye, then seems to be accepting the children of LGBT couples. While the Vatican may not be open to actually legitimizing same-sex marriage, it believes the children of these unions shouldn't be punished by withholding the sacrament — and that means reaching out to these families to help them with the baptism process.
"Clearly, the Church has the duty to ascertain the actual elements involved in transmitting the faith to the child. Should a reasonable doubt exist in the capability of persons in a same sex union to instruct the child in the Christian faith, proper support is to be secured in the same manner as for any other couple seeking the baptism of their children," the document adds.
This is still a big move. It may not be the dramatic push of support for LGBT families some expected of the famously outspoken Pope Francis, but these small measures still matter. As the document says, the church is still trying to "find a balance between the church's teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions."
And the document also suggests a more accepting approach towards the broader category of "canonically irregular situations," such as divorced couples. The pope has previously hinted at allowing remarried Catholic couples to receive communion, and again, while it might not seems like much, these measures mark a big departure from the centuries-old tenets of very conservative thinking.