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New Vatican document stirs debate on future of Catholic Church

Ambassador Francis Rooney and Professor Robert George on Pope Francis' impact on the Catholic Church


In what appears to be a huge shift on issues of gay rights and divorce, Catholics and non-Catholics alike are buzzing over a preliminary document released by the Vatican Monday calling for openness toward those once shunned by the church.

Fox News’ Lauren Green spoke to some Vatican insiders over what real impact the document will have on the Catholic Church.

Robert P. George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, played down the significance of the announcement.

“This discussion document will become the basis for further conversations … it’s not doctrine, it doesn’t change doctrine … it has no particular teaching authority at all.” He sees this move by the Vatican as a “contemporary effort to do justice to the traditional Judeo-Christian teaching that, in rejecting the sin, we must not reject the sinner.”

Some, however, see this document as a significant milestone for the Catholic Church.

“This is a blockbuster, this is like Vatican II -- where would the church be without nostra aetate … now the Pope is going to bring this adaptability and different tone to the discussion of these current-day issues,” said Francis Rooney, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See during the Bush administration.

The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a progressive religious group, hailed this development for gay rights. "We give thanks to God that the Holy Spirit has inspired the Synod of Bishops to suggest a shift in the Church's pastoral approach toward the LGBT community … Gay and lesbian Catholics teach our children the faith of Jesus Christ … They're our friends and neighbors. They're our fellow parishioners.”

Critics, including George, don’t see this document as a shift in church doctrine.

“[This] is not a seismic shift at all; it leaves doctrine entirely in place precisely because it’s a pastoral document. It’s not meant to alter doctrine,” said George. “The [key] word of the document is gradualism; you need to meet people where they are and bring them along … to repentance, reconciliation … you don’t call them sinners.”

“They are not going to change the principals; they may change the tone of the discourse and this concept of empathy and lack of judgment,” added Rooney.  

Chris Snyder is a producer for Fox News based in New York. Follow him on twitter: @ChrisSnyderFox