No consensus on gays, divorced Catholics at synod

Pope Francis beatifies Paul VI

AS the Vatican synod assembly on the family came to a close this past weekend, the world waited to see the bishops’ final decision on the debate on gays and divorced Catholics. After two weeks of fierce debate, the bishops were so sharply divided that they failed to reach a consensus to present to Pope Francis by the end of the conference.

One thing they did decide on, however, was a document charting a more “pastoral approach” to ministering to Catholic families. The document sidelines three contentious paragraphs that touch upon the widely-debated issues of creating a more welcome stance towards gays and allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion.

Eager observers and disappointed gay activists were hoping that Pope Francis, who tends to lean liberally, would be able to bring about groundbreaking change at this year’s Synod on the Family.

A previous version of the document said that “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” but the necessary two-thirds majority of prelates were unable to approve the final version’s remarks: “People with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy.”

Conservatives had said that the preliminary document only reflected a “minority of progressive bishops,” and blamed the media for perpetuating false views on the debate.

Opponents of the decision expressed their letdowns, such as Veteran British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who said the Synod’s failure to loosen the Catholic approach to homosexuality was “a personal defeat” for the Pope, and “a slap in the face for gay Catholics.”

Though observers and divorced and gay Catholics were let down, they remain hopeful that change will happen.

“Even if the text wasn’t approved, and that is a shame, it will have effects. The debate will continue,” said Elisabeth Saint-Guily.

“[Regardless of the decision,] the Pope got the Synod to open up to talking about subjects that were taboo,” said papal biographer Marco Politi.

Observers praised the Pope for his closing remarks at the Synod, encouraging participants and Catholics alike to “overcome their fear in the face of God’s surprises.”

“God is not afraid of new things!” Francis said in his homily at a mass concluding the Synod on Sunday. “That is why He is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

In turn, he urged the bishops to allow themselves “to be taken down unexpected paths.” He said that the Church needs to find a middle ground between “hostile rigidity” by “so-called traditionalists” and “progressives” who would “bandage a wound before treating it.”

Agreeing with the Pope’s final statements, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle also called on his fellow bishops to “be calm and let us not stereotype each other” in an interview with Salt+Light, a Catholic media network based in Canada.

“Let us not stereotype persons, countries, local churches,” the Archbishop said to his fellow prelates. “We are here, all of us have something to contribute. But all of us are also learning.”

Archbishop Tagle was one of three delegate presidents tasked to preside over the general assembly at the Synod.

Commenting on the bishops’ decision on the homosexual and divorced Catholics debate, Tagle said, “This Synod is unique because it’s happening in two stages. We have the whole year to continue studying and continue consulting people.”

This year’s Synod focused on defining the situations pertaining to the Catholic family, and is seen as a “preparatory step” for the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops next year in Philadelphia, which reportedly will continue tackling discussion related to the Catholic family and will “formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines.”

Pope Francis also decided to release the paragraph-by-paragraph document and voting results to the public, in order to highlight both the divisiveness and unity in the bishops’ decisions. He is also scheduled to visit the Philippines in January for the second Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) and to visit areas destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan (although his official trip itinerary has not yet been released).

Ending the Synod, Francis officially beatified Pope Paul VI, elected in 1963 and best known for implementing the reforms of Vatican II and the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The beatification marked the third 20th-century pope that Francis has elevated this year, after he canonized Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II in April. A beatification Mass was held outdoors in St. Peter’s Square, celebrating the continuity of the Church despite evident differences between the bishops.

(With reports from Inquirer, Associated Press, NPR, The Atlantic, and AFP.)

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