Marriage is forever, but accept wounded couples, Pope says
Synod on family issues begins one day after gay priest fired from Vatican post
ROME— Pope Francis told bishops gathered Sunday at the Vatican for the opening of a synod on family issues that the church must stay true to its teachings on the “indissolubility” of marriage between a man and a woman. But he also called on them to be sensitive to the complexity of modern society and not be judgmental of it — and to “seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy.”
The church must be a bridge, not a roadblock, for the faithful, the Pope said in his homily during the ceremonial mass in St. Peter’s Basilica that signalled the beginning of the three-week council, in which bishops from around the world will discuss how the church should respond to the needs of the modern Catholic family.
He called on God “to guide his church” and accompany the 270 bishops, including 74 cardinals, at- tending the synod, as well as experts and lay people, including 18 couples, as they embark on what is expected to be a lively debate on issues that include whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive communion, and how to minister to Catholics in gay and non-traditional families.
The synod will probably draw especially close attention after the revelations that Francis met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and a gay couple while in Washington on his visit to the United States last month.
On Saturday, Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, a theology professor and an official at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was dismissed after he announced at a news conference that he was gay and had a partner.
Charamsa also called on the synod to be respectful of all families during its deliberations, regardless of their composition and sexual orientation. Strong divisions still exist between conservatives in the church who fear that change on such hot-button issues would bring a harmful deviation from official Catholic teaching, and progressives who feel that the church should shift toward greater understanding and acceptance of families cohabiting in what the Vatican has described as “irregular situations.”
“The Pope has invited the synod fathers to discuss with openness,” Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, said at the Vatican on Friday. He acknowledged that prelates had expressed “contrasting declarations” in the run up to the synod over some of the more sensitive subjects, but noted that “it was to be expected” and welcomed in the spirit of the synod.
The synod will conclude a process begun by Francis two years ago, when questionnaires were sent to churches around the world asking them to highlight their most pressing challenges. A synod held last October drafted a report that considered both the results of that questionnaire and the ensuing debate. That report, expanded with fresh contributions by local churches, is the basis of the working paper of the current synod, and will be voted on at the end of the meeting.
“No family can be excluded by a community that keeps in its heart the universal message of salvation for each person." KRZYSZTOF CHARAMSA PRIEST FIRED FROM VATICAN JOB
But the final word, in any case, “will be the Pope’s,” Baldisseri said Friday.
God’s plan for creation, the Pope said Sunday, was “fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey.” He exhorted the faithful to overcome “every form of individualism and legalism” that conceals a fear of accepting the “true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality,” a reminder that the synod’s main focus remains the traditional family. He said the church’s mission should not be swayed by “passing fads or popular opinions.”
The Vatican was displeased by the timing of Charamsa’s announcement, which the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, described as “very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure.”
Charamsa said Saturday, “No family can be excluded by a community that keeps in its heart the universal message of salvation for each person,” and he urged the synod fathers to desist from more “inhumane delays” and open the church to gay people and families who are suffering.
He also called on the church to overcome its homophobia, described as “exasperated and institutionalized,” and to revise the church’s discriminatory positions against homosexuals.
Charamsa was promptly dismissed from his posts. “Other aspects of his situation” will be decided by his local bishop, the Vatican said in a statement.
“For Pope Francis, this has all been a distraction from the issues on which he wants the synod on the family to focus,” the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, wrote Sunday, noting that the Pope had laid out some of those issues in Philadelphia last month at the World Meeting on Families.