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Final synod document leaves door open for pastoral changes

I suppose it’s inevitable that the end of the Synod on the Family brings a “who won?” moment, at least for reporters. The better question is probably “what really happened?” However one assesses the outcome, it helps to remember the objectives of this assembly and its limitations. — First of all, Pope Francis wanted a brutally honest debate, and he got that in spades. True, at times this led to open disagreement and even some disagreeableness among the participants (duly noted by the pope in his stunning final speech), but that’s better than the non-engagement of previous synods. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for the pope – and for the Catholic faithful and the outside world – to see the

Closing synod, pope says church must practice mercy not condemnation

Pope Francis closed the Synod on the Family with a ringing call for the church to practice mercy toward struggling and broken families, and to avoid using church doctrine as “stones to be hurled at others.” In a final address to the more than 300 synod participants, the pope also noted that the discussion during the three-week-long assembly was open but not always charitable. At times, he said, the synod had to rise above “conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints.” The pope’s address came shortly after a vote on a final document that backed away from some controversial pastoral proposals, but left the door open for further development of certain questions, including that of Communion for

The collegiality paradox facing Pope Francis

The Synod of Bishops on the Family has highlighted what I call the “paradox of collegiality” for Pope Francis. The pope clearly wants to share his governing authority with bishops, giving them a bigger voice in decision-making in Rome and more latitude in their home dioceses. He also wants them on board as he shifts the church’s missionary approach to a more “merciful” and invitational style, less focused on doctrinal rules. But the pope is working with a global episcopate largely put in place by his two predecessors, whose emphasis on doctrinal identity-building was very much reflected in their choice of bishops. In the Pope John Paul II era, I was told that candidates for bishop nomination

German bishops may point way forward as synod draws to close

It’s increasingly clear that the German bishops are leading the way forward from the Synod on the Family, with proposals worthy of reflection and development by Pope Francis. Unlike most of the synod’s 13 language groups, the German-speaking participants have approached their task with a fairly clear sense of mission: find a consensus, where possible, and indicate some potential new directions. With only three days to go in this second synod assembly, reading through many of the group reports might lead one to despair of any real agreement on the tougher questions being raised: Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, pastoral policies for cohabitating couples, language (less

Cardinal Napier has praise for synod process, Pope Francis’ leadership

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier has made himself a protagonist of the Synod on the Family, so his appearance at today’s Vatican press briefing stirred interest among reporters. Cardinal Napier’s “bottom line” judgment on this session of the synod: it’s been far more pastoral than prophetic. I don’t think he necessarily meant that in a good way. “When we look at the problems we’ve been studying during these three weeks, there are two possibilities. One is to look at it from the pastoral point of view, when you’re trying to reach out to people and minister to them. The other one, which I would say has been de-emphasized during this time, and even during the synod last year, is the prophe

Synod’s lack of consensus may still leave doors open for Pope Francis

It’s apparent from today’s Vatican briefing that the Synod of Bishops on the Family is not going to resolve many of the hotly debated issues taken up in the course of the two sessions last year and this year. The synod participants told reporters that it was unrealistic to think the assembly could reach a consensus on questions like divorced and remarried Catholics, or proposed changes in language on moral issues. That effectively means that the follow-up will largely be left to Pope Francis, who can proceed in specific directions and at his own pace. The synod will not give the pope a mandate on the tougher questions, but it will give him an idea of where the world’s episcopate stands on hi

Papal adviser: At stake in synod is relationship between church and world

The Synod of Bishops on the Family marks a dramatic and delicate moment, in which “the relationship between the church and the world is at stake.” So says a close papal adviser, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, in an interview today with Vatican Radio. Father Spadaro is director of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica and was a papal appointee to the synod. Spadaro described the synod’s three-week session as a lively and effective debate over problems, language and ways of approaching family issues that vary in different parts of the world. Because the synod really does represent global diversity, sometimes there are tensions and conflicts, he said. “Therefore this is a very delicate moment

Pope says synod is a ‘listening’ event; as guarantor of unity, pope has last word

In the middle of one of the most contentious synods in modern times, Pope Francis laid out a vision of a church that is “synodal” bottom to top – listening first to the people of God and last to the pope as the supreme guarantor of unity. The pope’s speech at the Vatican marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops came after talks by several other church leaders. The most significant was that of Austrian Cardinal Christophe Schonborn, who said synod participants need to go beyond theological debate and above all be attentive to how God is acting in the church and in the world. The pope’s address received a standing ovation from some 300 bishops and others who were attending the Octo

Synod hears call to re-examine teachings on sexuality, birth control

The question of birth control, sometimes described as the “elephant in the room” at the Synod of Bishops on the Family, was the focus of a bluntly worded talk by a lay auditor at the Vatican assembly. The auditor, Sharron Cole from New Zealand, told the synod that the teaching of the encyclical Humanae Vitae has been largely ignored by Catholic couples. This has led to a “paralyzed” pastoral situation that requires a fresh discussion — not by clergy alone, who have shown inadequate understanding of sexuality and psychology in the way they have dealt with clerical sexual abuse, she said. “The time is now for this synod to propose that the Church re-examine its teaching on marriage and sexuali

Communion for divorced Catholics returns as emblematic synod issue

Bishops attending the Synod of Bishops on the Family are returning to the issue that has always been the lightning rod of this and last year’s assemblies: whether a new path can be found to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. We’ve heard cautions (from bishops and Pope Francis) about over-focusing on this question, as if there aren’t a hundred other important matters affecting modern families. Yet in many ways it encapsulates a key theme of this synod and the pontificate of Francis: reaching out in a spirit of mercy to those who are suffering, who have fallen or who feel alienated from the church’s doctrinal rules, and recognizing that the Eucharist is a heal

Pope denounces scandals … but which ones?

Pope Francis today made a brief, impromptu request for people to forgive the “recent scandals both in Rome and in the Vatican.” The problem in interpreting his remarks was that there are several scandals to choose from. The gay official of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation who recently came out with his partner, saying the climate at his workplace was homophobic? Accusations of sexual impropriety made by a group of Catholics against priests and an official of the Carmelite religious order in Rome? The resignation of Rome’s leftist mayor, Ignazio Marino, following press reports that the pope was unhappy with the mayor’s action on a number of issues? The accusations of sexual abuse against

A ploy that will boomerang

As the smoke clears, somewhat, over the “Letter of the 13” cardinals to Pope Francis regarding the Synod of Bishops, a couple of things stand out. First is that some synod participants – a small minority, it appears – don’t trust the synodal process as modified by Pope Francis to be fair or collegial. They chose to raise the issue in a private letter rather than on the floor of the synod; that set a political dynamic in motion, one that was easily exploited. Second, despite Pope Francis’ reform efforts at the Vatican, the culture of leaks, manipulation and power struggles is still very much alive in Rome. Indeed, at times this week the clock seemed to have turned back to the final days of Po

Yes, the church will survive an open discussion about the family

There’s an awful lot of hand-wringing going on about the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which is only a few days into its second and final session. We’ve heard warnings that Pope Francis and his “mercy” agenda may be leading the church down the road to schism (over the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics), or confusion (over more welcoming language regarding gay people, cohabitating couples and others), or a “first-world vs. third-world” split, or some type of dangerous pastoral shift that was worked out before the bishops even arrived in Rome and which non-Italian speakers might not even understand when it comes time to approve or disapprove. We heard these concerns

Opening synod, Pope Francis aims for balancing point

Pope Francis tried to set the tone of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in his opening Mass today. It was a tone of balance between preaching truth and practicing mercy. The pope’s point was that the church can and must do both, that there is no contradiction between the church as a doctrinal teacher and the church as a pastoral “field hospital.” In one of his homily’s key passages, he first quoted Pope Benedict XVI in saying, “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.” Then, explaining why the church must be a bridge and not a roadblock to people who fall, he quoted Pope John Paul II, who said that those who err must be “understood and loved.” By drawing on both his predecess

On eve of synod, a Vatican official comes out as gay

If the Vatican wanted to bury the question of homosexuality during the Synod of Bishops that begins tomorrow, those plans were upset today when a longtime official of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation came out as gay. Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa did not come out quietly, either. He held a press conference (at which he hugged his partner), gave interviews and announced that a book on his experience is imminent. Saying he was “happy and proud” to be gay, Charamsa said his (soon to be former) workplace at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was homophobic and paranoid. He said he was asking Pope Francis to change the Catholic catechism, which calls homosexuality “disordered.” Tha

Pope Francis and Kim Davis

For those asking what I think about the pope’s meeting with Kim Davis last week, I point them to this Tweet yesterday from Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, one of the pope’s closest advisors in Rome: If a top papal advisor is saying Pope Francis was “exploited,” that raises questions about the entire episode. Some may remember that Rebecca Kadaga was the Ugandan parliamentarian who pushed for that country’s controversial anti-homosexuality bill. While in Rome in 2012, she was in a group that met with the pope — an encounter that was billed by her supporters as a papal blessing for her cause. The Vatican later put out a statement saying that was not the case, that there was no implied papal app

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