19 October 2014, The Tablet

Bishops pass synod document but fail to agree contested measures

by Elena Curti in Rome

The final document articulating the thinking of the bishops' Synod on the Family was passed – minus three sections relating to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and to the pastoral care of gay men and women.

The three paragraphs failed to get the two-thirds majority required for them to be counted as the official conclusions of the synod. Support for the sections was insufficient to be passed, even though the wording was significantly diluted after the mid-term synod document that was published last Monday proposed a radical revision in the pastoral care of same-sex couples, cohabiting heterosexual couples and those in civil unions.

The Vatican Press Office published the final document known as the Relatio Synodi in its entirety on Saturday evening together with the voting figures for each of the 62 sections. Press officers made light of the apparent defeat for those Synod Fathers who supported Pope Francis’ agenda for reform. One, Fr Thomas Rosica, described the final document as a “work in progress” and said the matters in the three defeated sections remained on the agenda and would be discussed at the much bigger Ordinary Synod on the Family next October.

At the end of the voting Pope Francis gave a speech in which he castigated those tempted into an attitude of "hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God".

The first of the defeated sections suggested that some remarried Catholics could eventually be allowed to receive the sacraments after a penitential journey overseen by the diocesan bishop. The paragraph was carefully worded setting out stringent conditions that the individuals would have to fulfil, but 74 of the Synod Fathers voted against it and 104 in favour.

Another struck out section, also about divorced and remarried Catholics, looked at the issue of their admission to spiritual and sacramental Communion. A hundred and twelve voters were in favour and 54 were against.

A paragraph about gay men and women stressed there could be no analogy whatever between same-sex unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family. It added, however, that men and women with homosexual tendencies should be welcomed with respect and sensitivity. This too failed to get the requisite two-thirds majority, with prelates voting 118 in favour and 62 against.

The earlier mid-term relatio said that gay Catholics’ orientation should be valued and that they have “gifts and qualities” to offer parishes. The small working groups produced 470 modifications to the mid-term document.

Pope Francis won a lengthy standing ovation for his speech at the end of the synod yesterday in which he said he would have been very worried if there had not been animated discussions.

“I have heard with joy and recognition speeches and interventions full of faith, pastoral and doctrinal zeal, wisdom, frankness, courage and parrhesia [courage],” he said. 

Read Francis' address in full here.

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