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.

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