Catholic bishops on Saturday wrapped up a divisive synod on the family by submitting a ‘consensual’ report to Pope Francis that reflects a stalemate in the battle between the Church’s conservative and liberal wings.
The document, which Francis is free to ignore, fudges the issue of whether divorced and remarried believers should be allowed to play a full role in the Church.
It also confirms the pullback from the more explicit opening to lesbian and gay believers supported by progressives when the review of teaching on the family was launched last year.
Francis, who recognised in closing remarks that the three-week synod had exposed deep divisions in the Catholic family, will now consider how much of the report he takes on board when and if he decides to update guidelines on Catholic teaching on a broad range of issues linked to family life.
The text advocates a “case-by-case” approach to the most controversial question, the handling of divorced and remarried believers, saying they needed to play a greater role in the Church but stopping short of explicitly ending the current ban on their receiving communion.
The document includes only one brief article on the Church’s approach to homosexual believers, framing the question in terms of how priests can help support families who have “persons with homosexual tendencies” in their midst.
It reiterates that the Church believes every person, regardless of their sexuality, is worthy of respect and a reception which takes care to “avoid every sign of unjust discrimination.”
But it strongly reiterates the Church’s opposition to gay marriage saying: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family.”
In closing remarks, Francis said the synod had been about confronting “today’s realities” without “burying our heads in the sand.”
He said the divisions that had emerged reflected important cultural differences which the Church should embrace in the way it applied its teaching.
“We have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion,” the pontiff said.
He also appeared to take a new swipe at the conservatives who had accused him of rigging the synod’s organisation to try to engineer progressive conclusions.
“The different opinions which were freely expressed -- and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways -- certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue,” he said.