Pope Francis faces key test with vote on divorcees, gays

  • AFP, Vatican City
  • Updated: Oct 18, 2014 17:53 IST

Pope Francis was set to sort his allies from his enemies on Saturday with a Vatican vote on a document drafted at the end of a fierce two-week debate over opening the Catholic Church's doors to remarried divorcees and gays.

The vote and accompanying message to the world's Catholics will close a special synod of bishops from around the world which has seen conservatives clash publicly with liberals over a Francis-backed drive to reform the Church by softening its approach to sinners.

A preliminary report on Monday made waves around the world by suggesting the Church should reach out to homosexuals, who have "gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community", outraging traditionalists who had to be reminded by the Vatican that it was a work in progress.

A fresh report on Thursday summed up the reactions of 10 working groups of bishops, which mixed declarations of respect for homosexual people with fierce insistence that any opening up to sinners risked implying the Church sanctioned their behaviour.

The final document, which will go to a vote, is expected to take into account at least part of the long list of amendments proposed by the bishops, but will be written by a drafting committee made up of perceived progressives appointed by Francis himself.

The fallout in the corridors of power, which Boston Globe Vatican expert John Allen described as "like a daytime soap opera", has left religious watchers wondering just how close the vote will be - if the document passes at all.

"The Synod splits over gays and divorcees: there's a risk of an anti-pope vote," read a headline by Franca Giansoldati, Vatican expert for Italy's Il Messaggero daily, which described the vote as "a nasty test for Pope Francis."

"The risks are high. If the amendments are not inserted in the text the biggest surprise could come from the vote. The majority, for now, do not seem to be in favour - and the count could prove fatal," she said.

Possible 'revolution'

Francis has called for the Church to take a more merciful approach to unwed mothers, remarried divorcees and gay people, famously saying of homosexual people, "Who am I to judge?"

German cardinal Walter Kasper, an ally of the pope's who has been pushing for reform, has said he believes the "majority" of those taking part in the synod are open to change.

But critical bishops have said the initial document placed "too much emphasis on the problems facing the family" and should instead focus on the positive aspects of lives lived according to the rules of the Church.

"Many bishops have asked that the document be thoroughly re-written. There have been such a number of negative reactions that the risk is it won't pass the vote unless its heavily revised," Marco Tosatti, who writes for La Stampa's Vatican Insider, told AFP.

"However, such are the number of proposed amendments that it would be extraordinary if it was not overhauled," he said.

The vote will reflect the attitude of the top rungs of the Church towards reform - and ultimately towards Francis's rule, which has been coloured since his election in March last year by a determination to show the more humane side of the centuries-old institution.

This synod will be followed by a year of further consultations and a follow-up questionnaire will be sent out to diocese around the world. A second, larger synod will then be held in October 2015.

After that, the results will be handed to the 77-year-old Argentinian pope, who will have the final say in outlining the Church's stance on family matters.

Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Society of Jesus - to which Francis belongs - told the I.Media religious news agency to watch out for a possible "revolution" a year from now.

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