Pope Francis has opened a divisive meeting of the world’s bishops on family issues today by asserting that marriage is a binding bond between a man and woman.
He said, though, the church does not judge and must “seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy”.
Francis dove head-on into the most pressing issue confronting the meeting of 270 bishops during a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica: How to better minister to Catholic families experiencing separation, divorce and other problems when the church’s teaching holds that marriage is forever.
He insisted the church cannot be “swayed by passing fads or popular opinion”.
But in an admission that marriages fail, he said the church is also a mother who does not point fingers or judge her children.
“The church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and instead of being a bridge becomes a roadblock,” he said.
One of the major debates at the synod is whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.
Francis launched the synod process two years ago by sending out a 39-point questionnaire to bishops, parishes and ordinary Catholic families around the world asking about their understanding of and adherence to church teaching on family matters.
Their responses showed a widespread rift between official Catholic teaching and practice, particularly on sex, marriage and homosexuality.
A first meeting of bishops ended last October with no consensus on how to better welcome gays and divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in the church.
Conservatives insisted Catholic doctrine is clear and unchanging while progressives acknowledged the doctrine but sought wiggle room in pastoral practice.
“We are happy if there is turbulence,” said Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Italian running the synod. “We are in the sea and so there has to be some turbulence.”
Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s finance manager, predicted little more than a reaffirmation of the status quo would emerge, albeit with perhaps better explanation as to why the status quo exists.
In a clear challenge to that teaching, a mid-level official in the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, announced yesterday that he was a proud gay priest (with a boyfriend), called for the synod to take up the plight of gays and denounced homophobia throughout the church.
The Vatican summarily fired him.
Gay-rights activists, who were in Rome to try to influence the synod from the sidelines, came to his defence and urged the synod fathers to assert there is no place for homophobia in the church.
Former Irish President Mary McAleese, who is a practising Catholic with a gay son, said she hoped that more transparency would help “kill for once and all this terrible lie” that everyone was born heterosexual.