Catholic bishops narrowly defeated Vatican
proposals that would have signaled greater acceptance of gays and lesbians and
divorced Catholics, a sign of the deep divisions facing the hierarchy as Pope
Francis continues his push for a more open church.
While the various proposals received a majority
of support from the bishops gathered for the Synod on the Family, they failed
on October 18 to receive the required two-thirds majority that would have
carried the weight of formal approval and church-wide consensus.
The vote was an abrupt about-face from a mid-term
report from the Synod, which spoke of “welcoming homosexual persons” and
acknowledging the gifts they have to offer the wider church.
The revised proposal on homosexuality, that “men
and women with homosexual tendencies should be welcomed with respect and
delicacy,” failed in a vote of 118 to 62; a similar statement about opening
Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry outside the church failed in a vote
After days in which divisions inside the Vatican
spilled over into the press, the pope described the two-week summit as a
“journey together,” and like any human journey, one that featured moments of
“desolation, tension and temptations.” He said the role of the pope was to guarantee
the unity of the church, and that he would have been “very worried and saddened
if there had not been these temptations and animated discussions.”
Even though the sections on homosexuality and
divorce did not pass with formal approval, Francis ordered them into the
Synod’s final report so that Catholics could continue to debate the ideas.
The vote, however, is not the final word. Francis
plans to host a follow-up summit a year from now, and both sides are expected
to spend the next 12 months trying to either reinforce existing policy or
trying to nudge the bishops toward a more open approach.
Nonetheless, the closeness of the votes reflected
a deep divide within the hierarchy that erupted into the open after the October
13 gesture toward gay Catholics. After a vocal conservative revolt,
English-speaking bishops pressed to change the wording from “welcoming”
to “providing for homosexual persons”.
At a Vatican media conference, Cardinal Oswald
Gracias of Mumbai, India, insisted there was “no cleavage,” or divide, among
the bishops, and that gays and lesbians were welcome in the church.
“Are gays welcome? I would say certainly, they
are part of the church,” he said. “There’s no question of condemnation. I
would say we are working together.”
American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the conservative
former archbishop of St. Louis who now heads the Vatican’s highest court,
earlier blasted Francis for allowing the synod’s message to stray from
official church teaching, especially on homosexuality.
“The pope, more than anyone else as the pastor of
the universal church, is bound to serve the truth,” Burke told BuzzFeed from Rome. “The pope is not
free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of
homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the
Burke also acknowledged rumors that Francis is
poised to demote the fiery conservative to a ceremonial post far away from the
church’s center of power.
“I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to
give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it,” Burke said. “On the
other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept
whatever assignment we’re given. And so I trust, by accepting this assignment,
I trust that God will bless me, and that’s what’s in the end most important.”
Asked by the National
Catholic Reporter who had told him of the pending demotion, Burke replied:
“Who do you think?”