VATICAN CITY (AP) — It’s now quite certain that Pope Francis’ big summit on family issues won’t endorse any changes to church doctrine on the church’s teaching about homosexuality or whether civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.
And yet, it seems, everything has changed.
From the crucial role African bishops have played in the debate, to calls to remove “intrinsically disordered” from the church’s language on gays, to the freedom bishops now enjoy to speak their minds on once-taboo issues, Francis’ synod on the family has at the very least shaken up the church for years to come.
And if Francis has his way, there’s more ahead.
Francis delivered a sleeper bombshell of a speech over the weekend kicking off the final week of the synod in which he called for nothing less than a revolution in the concept of the Catholic Church itself. He said it’s not a top-down organization with the pope in charge but rather an inverted pyramid where the summit — the pope — is underneath and in service to the “holy faithful people of God” who are its base.
He called for a “healthy decentralization” of authority on certain problems from Rome to local bishops’ conferences, and said the papacy itself should be rethought, with the pope guiding the church but really just one bishop among many, one Catholic among many.
“It’s a very delicate moment, where you realize that the relationship between the church and the world is at stake,” the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit close to Francis, said as the synod entered its third and crucial week.
The 270 synod “fathers” are hammering out a final document to submit to Francis on Saturday conveying a host of proposals for how the church can better minister to Catholic families today. They will vote paragraph by paragraph on the text, amending what has been a near-universally scorned draft working document.
What Francis does with the final paper is up to him: He can use it as a basis for a document of his own, he can ignore it, or he can publish it as a synod document. During Round One of the bishops’ family meeting last year, Francis not only published the final document in full, he published the three paragraphs that didn’t receive the necessary votes to pass — those that dealt with the vexing issues of ministering to gay Catholics and civilly remarried Catholics.
The key question of Round Two has been how the bishops would pick up those two outstanding issues, after Francis called for a more merciful, less doctrinaire approach.