A synod of bishops has been meeting at the Vatican discussing “the family” and possible changes to Roman Catholic practice, including being more welcoming to gays and allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. The meeting closed on Sunday, proposing very few changes to church teaching. It affirmed that there is no basis for same-sex marriage and allowed for a very restrictive process that might allow some divorced Catholics, on a case-by-case basis, to receive the Sacrament.
The Pope expressed anger that so little, in his view, was accomplished, accusing conservative bishops of having “closed hearts.”
After the jump, excerpts from two stories: One includes the reasons why divorced and remarried Catholics are excluded from the Sacrament (they commit a mortal sin every time they have sex an example of Catholic sin-counting that figured in the Reformation). The other gives the reaction of Pope Francis, who theoretically could make changes on his own authority.
With time running out, the synodal fathers appear no closer to resolving their conflicts over issues facing the family than they were a year ago. One of the principal sticking points is over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics who do not have an annulment. Another controversy is over the language to be used in speaking about homosexuals.
The Synod of Bishops concludes this Sunday after meeting in Rome since Oct. 4. The synod has been discussing issues facing families, the same issues discussed at a similar gathering of bishops last October.
The pope and the bishops argue that the synod is about the family and decry the media’s focus on homosexuality and divorce, but there is no question that these are the topics around which the bishops have conflict. There is little disagreement over other issues.
One group of bishops, led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, would like to see a pastoral solution that would allow a penitential process leading to Communion for such Catholics, but this is opposed by others, perhaps a majority, who feel that this would violate church doctrine.
Many bishops hoped that they could find a pastoral solution that would not involve a change in doctrine, but conservative bishops are not buying this approach.
The problem is that conservatives do not see divorce and remarriage as simply one sin, which can be confessed and forgiven. They see it as a continuing sin each time the couple has sex. Since they will not stop having sex, they cannot go to Communion. There is no willingness to accept the first marriage as irrevocably broken and destroyed, which would allow the parties to move on with their lives.
From Philip Pullella, Pope, ending synod, excoriates bishops with ‘closed hearts’ (Reuters):
Pope Francis, ending a contentious bishops’ meeting on family issues, on Saturday excoriated immovable Church leaders who “bury their heads in the sand” and hide behind rigid doctrine while families suffer.The pope spoke at the end of a three-week gathering, known as a synod, where the bishops agreed to a qualified opening toward divorcees who have remarried outside the Church but rejected calls for more welcoming language toward homosexuals.
It was the latest in a series of admonitions to bishops by the pontiff, who has stressed since his election in 2013 that the 1.2 billion-member Church should be open to change, side with the poor and rid itself of the pomp and stuffiness that has alienated so many Catholics.
In his final address, the pope appeared to criticize ultra-conservatives, saying Church leaders should confront difficult issues “fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.”
He said the synod had “laid bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families”.
He also decried “conspiracy theories” and the “blinkered viewpoints” of some at the gathering, and said the Church could not transmit its message to new generations “at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible”.
The outcome of the gathering, over which the pope presided, marked a victory for conservatives on homosexual issues and for progressives on the thorny issue of remarriage.
The final synod document restated Church teachings that gays should not suffer discrimination in society, but also repeated the stand that there was “no foundation whatsoever” for same-sex marriage, which “could not even remotely” be compared to heterosexual unions.
The 94-article document indicated that the assembly had decided to avoid overtly controversial language and seek consensus in order to avoid deadlock on the most sensitive topics, leaving it up to the pope to deal with the details.
The synod is an advisory body that does not have the power to alter church doctrine. The pope, who is the final arbiter on any change and who has called for a more merciful and inclusive Church, can use the material to write his own document, known as an “apostolic exhortation”.
The synod document did offer some hope for the full re-integration into the Church of some Catholics who divorce and remarry in civil ceremonies.
Under current Church doctrine they cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner, because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the Church and they are seen to be living in an adulterous state of sin.
They only way such Catholics can remarry is if they receive an annulment, a ruling that their first marriage never existed in the first place because of the lack of certain pre-requisites such as psychological maturity or free will.
The document spoke of a so-called “internal forum” in which a priest or a bishop may work with a Catholic who has divorced and remarried to decide jointly, privately and on a case-by-case basis if he or she can be fully re-integrated.
“In order for this happen, the necessary conditions of humility, discretion, love for the Church and her teachings must be guaranteed in a sincere search for God’s will,” the document said.
Tally sheets showed that the three articles on the divorced and re-married were the most fought-over, reaching the two-thirds majority needed to remain in the document by only a few votes each. One passed by only one vote.