After weeks of pressing for reform, Pope Francis focuses on unity
The Pope who brought two camps in the Church together by canonizing Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on the same day closed two weeks of tough talks at the synod by making unity a top priority.
Leading up to and during the synod, the Pope consistently warned clerics to resist dogmatically enforcing the letter of the law over mercy exhorting them to be open to God’s surprises,” one of his favorite catch-phrases for reform.
But as the synod came to an end, Francis focused on unity. He congratulated participants for their efforts during the arduous two weeks and also warned both sides against “hostile inflexibility” or “deceptive mercy.”
Some passages were never meant to survive; post-synod comments
The official English language translation of Relatio Synodi has not been released, but the question of three failed paragraphs remains front and center as an indicator of which side held sway on the Church’s relationship to divorced and remarried and homosexual couples.
Many claimed the final document a win for hard-liners, but Cardinal Raymond Burke’s crowd failed in their attempt to nix discussion and re-assert the status quo in key areas. And as the post-synod season begins, many leaders who sought change are speaking up.
Divorce and remarriage
In stark contrast to Burke on sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics, Cardinal LuisTagle firmly stated, “”The question of remarried divorcees remains open,” while Belgium veteran, Cardinal Godfried Danneels spoke more forcefully. He criticized the defenders of doctrine who, “seem to have lost sight of how important it is for a person to entrust themselves to the power of the sacraments…” Danneels framed the issue in dire terms saying, “Given the situation we currently live in, if we do not do our utmost to ensure people approach the sacraments, we face the risk of dechristianization.”
The paragraph on homosexuality that failed to muster enough votes was reduced from a mid-term blockbuster to a repeat of the Catechism and a CDF text. Its failure was understood by some as an indicator that a simple re-assertion of what has been was not good enough.
Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,voiced that position commenting, “Why did some Bishops choose not to approve a text which only repeated the Church’s received teaching? I have the impression many would have preferred a more open, positive language. Not finding it in this paragraph, they might have chosen to indicate their disapproval of it.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster agreed that the paragraph didn’t go far enough saying, “There were three key words as far as I was concerned … ‘respect’, ‘welcome’ and ‘value. I was looking for those words and they weren’t there and so I didn’t think that was a good paragraph.”
Archbishop Bruno Forte concurred and even challenged Francis’ characterization of the progressive position saying, “Some may have expressed disagreement because they wanted more to be said. Or they wanted the issue to be dropped. I would like to remind you, however, that the main message to gay people is one that is central to Francis’ pontificate: communicating the faith and mercy. These are not acts of do-goodery or weakness.”
Like Nichols, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, head of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences and a member of Francis’ advisory group, reasserted some of the lost mid-term language stating, “There are the Catholic principles, Scripture, Magisterium, but also an openness, a pastoral approach for everyone……you ask if gays are welcome? The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.”
The pain and promise
While the finalized version of the synod document was a source of pain for many Catholics who read the unexpected shifts in tone in the mid-term report with renewed joy and hope, Fr. Thomas Reese, Fr. James Martin and Martin Pendergast show how this extraordinary synod broke new ground with evolved decision-making structures and resurrected pastoral concepts that changed the landscape of the synodal process and, by extension, the Church going forward.
Pope Francis, returning to his push for reform at the closing synod Mass beatifying Pope Paul VI reminded even the most entrenched defenders of orthodoxy, “God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”
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