The following comes from an October 30 Times of San Diego article by Chris Stone:

Saying the Roman Catholic Church should have “no stigmas,” Bishop Robert McElroy reached out to divorced people and gays at the end of the San Diego diocese’s first synod in 40 years.

He said the two-day meeting of 125 parish delegates — priests and lay people — was the first in the nation aimed at translating Pope Francis’ pronouncements about family and marriage issues into action.

Delegates were broken up into five groups to study and develop plans of action for five ideas outlined in Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on “The Joy of Love.”

McElroy promised to carry forward the group’s 15 proposals, a process that may take one to two years. The top three proposals from each group have priority.

The Very Rev. John Dolan, diocese vicar for clergy, called McElroy “courageous” for creating the local dialogue, instead of just filing away the pope’s proclamations as some have done in the past.

In the spirit of dialogue, “even if we hold up this dogmatic truth, which we still do, it’s how you present that…. We say: OK, here’s an icon, but we’re not going to toss it down your throat,” he said.

Grace Williams of St. Anne in Logan Heights said people have become confused about the teachings of the church, suggesting a lack of clarity exists.

“In regards to the LGBT community, I think the concern is having a false compassion,” she said.

She said she believes that gay people should be loved and welcomed, but the church needs to make clear that their lifestyle shouldn’t be condoned.

While gay people carry the “heavy cross” of being attracted to people of the same sex, they shouldn’t act on that desire, she said.

“If we do something against nature, it’s detrimental to our own happiness,” Williams said.

In contrast, McElroy thinks the church has moved from tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community to embrace — while not condoning such lifestyles.

“There’s a recognition that we are all sinners. That is the starting point,” McElroy said, speaking of parishioners who have come to him about the difficulties of their lives during his priesthood.

“My job is not to look at the person and say: Where is he or she failing? My job is to support everyone around me in terms of helping them live the best lives that they can.”

McElroy said a second surprise of the synod was the embrace of the role of conscience in making moral decisions. Parishioners felt that others should be educated about this, delegates said.

“Many Catholics tend to think of our moral life as being rule-oriented,” McElroy said. “Rules are important primarily as a check on rationalization. The real core of Catholic teaching is and always was a decision of conscience.”

The Catholic Church long has taught that you must follow your conscience, even if it is contrary to church teachings, McElroy said.

McElroy said: “Our rules are not universalized in that they are meant to be guides in a great majority of circumstances.”

Conscience takes into account a person’s circumstances and their belief that “God is asking me to do the opposite” of church teachings, he said. “It’s in major decisions in our lives that conscience can be helpful.”

The danger in conscience-based decisions is that it’s too easy to rationalize what someone wanted to do from the beginning, McElroy said.

Catholics who divorced and didn’t remarry were always allowed to receive Communion, and those who received annulments were also. Those who didn’t receive annulment but felt in their hearts that their marriage didn’t contain the essential ingredients of a good marriage could use their conscience to decide whether to receive Communion.

What’s new is that the pope said that even those who had a valid marriage and got divorced could through an examination of conscience decide to receive the Eucharist.

But this issue also raises concerns.

Williams said: “There’s absolutely no question that people who have gotten a divorce need to have compassion, need to be welcomed into the community. That’s a no-brainer.

“It’s just the question of causing scandal if we allow the divorced to receive Holy Communion.

“The scandal means that people no longer understand what marriage as a sacrament is. That’s where the concern is from people in my community in particular and myself included.”

Chadwick also was troubled initially.

“We had it explained to us,” he said. “I like when Jesus said something. That’s black and white, but the reality in life is there are areas that are a little more gray than that.”

McElroy said therein lay the controversy.

“What people are concerned about is: Can you change the latter without undermining the first?”

It’s like telling a child not to talk to strangers but later saying it’s OK to seek a stranger’s help when they are in trouble, he said.

“We’re teaching something that has two different dimensions,” McElroy said.