News (World)

Catholic bishops scrap welcome to gays in sign of church split

Pope Francis, right, arrives with bishops and cardinals to attend an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014.
Pope Francis, right, arrives with bishops and cardinals to attend an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Andrew Medichini, AP

“We could see that there were different viewpoints,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracis of India, when asked about the most contentious sections of the report on homosexuals and divorced and remarried Catholics.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the leader of the progressive camp, said he was “realistic” about the outcome.

In an unexpected gesture after the voting, Francis approached a group of journalists waiting outside the synod hall to thank them for their work covering the synod.

“Thanks to you and your colleagues for the work you have done,” he said. “Grazie tante.” Conservative bishops had harshly criticized journalists for reporting on the dramatic shift in tone in the draft, even though the media reports merely reflected the document’s content.

Francis’ gesture, and his words inside the synod hall chastising bishops who were overly wed to doctrine and were guided by “hostile rigidity,” as well as those bishops who showed a “destructive goody-goodiness,” indicated that he was well aware of the divisions the debate had sparked. His speech received a four-minute standing ovation, participants said.

Over the past week, the bishops split themselves up into working groups to draft amendments to the text. They were nearly unanimous in insisting that church doctrine on family life be more fully asserted and that faithful Catholic families should be held up as models and encouraged rather than focus on family problems and “irregular” unions.

The bishops signaled a similar tone in a separate message directed at Christian families released Saturday. There was no mention whatsoever of families with gay children, much less gay parents, and it spoke of the “complex and problematic” issues that arise when marriages fail and new relationships begin.

“Christ wanted his church to be a house with the door always open to welcome everyone, without excluding anyone,” the message read. (Oddly, the English translation was less welcoming than the official Italian, ending the sentence after ‘everyone.’)

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa, who helped draft the revised final report, told Vatican Radio the final document showed a “common vision” that was lacking in the draft.

He said the key areas for concern were “presenting homosexual unions as if they were a very positive thing” and the suggestion that divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion without an annulment.

He complained that the draft was presented as the opinion of the whole synod, when it was “one or two people.”

“And that made people very angry,” he said.

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