Debate on whether Pope Francis suffered defeat swirls after family synod


Pope Francis has closed a synod about family issues by delivering a homily calling for a more open-hearted Church with debate swirling as to whether the meeting was a defeat for the Argentine pontiff's views.

At the end of the three week summit in Rome, Catholic bishops agreed to a limited opening toward divorcees who have remarried outside the Church and currently cannot receive the Eucharist.

Francis made his closing homily during Mass at St. Peter's Basilica after the meeting, which featured discussion between clergy members and some lay people raising the treatment of gay Catholics as well as divorcees and people living together out of wedlock.

The final document from the meeting essentially bypassed the issue of whether the Church should use more welcoming language towards homosexuals, which is the matter seen as creating havoc at a preliminary meeting a year ago, Reuters news agency reported.

The Pope seemed to caution the elders of the church in closing the summit, suggesting "they should not be quick to exclude a broad array of people deserving of God's grace," The Washington Post reported.

"Francis's blunt message came after divided clerics at the synod summit echoed the more inclusive tone of Francis on Saturday, extending a more welcoming hand to divorced and unmarried couples but stopping short of calling for clear alterations in church policies," the Post said.

The Wall Street Journal declared, "Bishops hand Pope defeat on his outreach to divorced Catholics."

The Catholic bishops handed Pope Francis an embarrassing defeat Oct. 24 by withholding support for his signature initiative, a pathway for divorced or remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

The Journal reported that this "showed the strength of conservative resistance to the Pope's liberalizing agenda."

The Pope responded with a largel hopeful speech that showed irritation with the bishops, said the Journal.

It noted he complained of "conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints" and "closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the church's teachings, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families."

Thomas D. Williams, a Catholic theologian at Notre Dame University in the United States, however, wrote on that the Journal's interpretation is wrong due to two basic errors.

"The first mistake is the assumption - since that is all it is—that Pope Francis had a predetermined plan for the synod, which included specific pastoral changes regarding divorced and remarried Catholics.

"Many have labeled Francis as a liberal or progressive, and so imagine that they know his mind even when his words say something else.

"In point of fact, throughout the synod the Pope railed against preset agendas, begging the bishops to listen to one another and above all to the Holy Spirit," wrote Williams.


Further said Williams, Francis has never added to what his predecessor Saint John Paul II said when referring to the best ways to reach out to divorced and remarried Catholics.

"There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the Pope wants to make the divorced and remarried feel at home and welcomed in the Church - a message in keeping with the tone of mercy and openness that has characterized his entire pontificate.

"This doesn't necessarily mean, however, that Francis ever advocated a change of discipline regarding Holy Communion, because he has never said that did."

Williams said the second error made in the WSJ  interpretation was to think that a group of bishops hd the power to hand the Pope a defeat.

"The bishops have no power over the pope of any kind, so to suggest that they could 'overrule him' is to apply political categories that have nothing to do with the Catholic Church."

He noted that in his opening address Pope Francis reminded the bishops that the synod is not "a Parliament or a Senate" and that it did not have any decision-making authority.

"It was merely a forum for the bishops to discuss with one another and offer counsel to the Pope, which he is free to accept or ignore."

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