While the synod of Catholic bishops scrapped a ground-breaking welcome to gays and showed deep divisions on hot-button issues, that high-level debates are taking place is significant given they had been taboo until Pope Francis’ papacy.
The bishops determined gays should be “welcomed with respect and sensitivity” – a watered-down version of an initial proposal – and one that ultimately failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority vote to pass.
Nevertheless, the simple fact that dialogue and debate took place is significant.
“It’s not very that often that you see senior Catholic clerics disagreeing on fundamental issues and practices in the church,” said the Reverend Stan Chu Ilo, research fellow and assistant professor at the Center for World Catholicism & Intercultural Theology at DePaul University. “It’s a positive thing.”
“The church is beginning to deal with questions it can no longer answer by simply pointing to the catechism and canon law,” Ilo said. “It’s a new approach, which I think is significant compared to the way the Catholic church has always done business before.”
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The Rev. Thomas Reese, senior analyst with National Catholic Reporter, wrote: “The synod was a victory for openness and discussion in the church and the final document is an invitation for everyone in the church to join that discussion.This is exactly what Pope Francis wanted.”
However, Reese points out that politics played a role. “Most of the bishops are pastors who worry that if they appear too welcoming or accommodating then people will think that all sexual unions are equal and there is no reason to get married in the church. These bishops simply need more time to figure out how to be a loving parent and a clear teacher. For too many years they only worried about being clear.”
“Francis is opening the conversation to parishes and the proceedings are totally transparent,” said Michael Murphy, director of Catholic Studies at Loyola University of Chicago. “The faithful can even check to see how each cardinal at the synod voted.”
“This is only part one. There’s a whole year of deliberation, but the genie is out of the bottle,” Murphy said. “These are amazing days if you’re a Catholic.”
The synod will meet again next October and finalize their recommendations for the faithful, Murphy said.