Vatican synod ends with opening to divorcees, no change on gays

Roman Catholic bishops agree to a qualified opening toward divorcees but reject calls to become more open towards homosexuals as the synod draws to an end.

VATICAN CITY (FILE – OCTOBER 4, 2015) (CTV) – Roman Catholic bishops agreed on Saturday (October 24) to a qualified opening toward divorcees who have remarried outside the Church but rejected calls for more welcoming language towards homosexuals.

The outcome of a highly contentious three-week gathering, known as a synod and presided over by Pope Francis, 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.

“265 synod fathers were present today for the final voting, for the reading and the final voting this afternoon. Please keep in mind that the 94 paragraphs received two thirds majority, each paragraph. That is extremely significant. If I believe in miracles I saw a miracle happen,” said Father Thomas Rosica at a Vatican news conference following the release of the document.

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”.

In his final address to the gathering the pope appeared to criticise immovable ultra-conservatives, saying Church leaders should confront difficult issues “fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.”

The synod document, on the other hand, 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.

The 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.

Tally sheets showed that the three articles on the divorced and re-married were the most fought over, reaching the two-thirds majority to remain in the document with only a few votes each. One passed by only one vote.

Progressives have for years been advocating the “internal forum” and some observers said the mere fact that phrase was included in the document was a victory for those promoting merciful change.

“As far as the outside world is concerned, in other words the pagan, secular press, those non-Catholics, very little has happened here and very little has changed” said Irish Times journalist Paddy Agnew.

During the synod, some bishops said the 1.2 billion-member Church should introduce welcoming and inclusive language regarding homosexuals, such as calling them “brothers, sisters and colleagues” in the document.

But Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said earlier on Saturday that many of the 270 bishops felt homosexuality was still “too delicate a theme” in their countries. During the meeting, African bishops were particularly adamant in their opposition to welcoming language regarding homosexuals, saying it would only confuse the faithful.

Some journalists believe the synod document will allow Pope Francis to come up with a stronger document with his exhortation.

“The pope noted in his speech that it is not only the question of literally following what is written in the scriptures but to interpret the fundamental values of the Catholic Church. That is to show mercy, pardon, reconciliation and re-integration of everyone into the church. That includes those with a certain sexual preference, people who are separated, and those who are vulnerable. I think this is the kind of document we will see from the pope after the end of the synod,” said Mexican journalist from Excelsior TV, Hector Manuel.

At a preliminary meeting a year ago, conservative clerics made sure an interim report deleted a passage they thought was too welcoming to gays.