Setback for Pope Francis as synod fails to agree on gays, divorcees

In a final vote after two weeks of heated debate, the issue did not receive two-thirds majority needed


The vote closed a synod of bishops from around the world which has seen conservatives clash publicly with liberals over a drive spearheaded by the pope to soften the Church’s approach to sinners Photo: AP
The vote closed a synod of bishops from around the world which has seen conservatives clash publicly with liberals over a drive spearheaded by the pope to soften the Church’s approach to sinners Photo: AP

Vatican City: Roman Catholic bishops on Sunday failed to reach consensus on opening the Church’s doors to remarried divorcees and gays after a special synod on the family, in a blow to Pope Francis.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said participants had approved a “re-balanced” final report that took into account the concerns of the most conservative members.

In a final vote on Sunday after two weeks of heated debate, three paragraphs touching on the hot-button issues of a more welcome stance towards gays and divorcees, did not receive the two-thirds majority needed.

The vote closed a synod of bishops from around the world which has seen conservatives clash publicly with liberals over a drive spearheaded by the pope to soften the Church’s approach to sinners.

Francis, 77, has called for the Church to take a more merciful approach to unwed mothers, remarried divorcees and gays, famously saying of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?” Ahead of the vote, the cardinals overwhelmingly approved a message to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics stressing the value of “unique and indissoluble conjugal love” but without touching directly on non-traditional unions.

A preliminary report on Monday, widely reported in Italian media, made waves around the world by suggesting the Church should reach out to homosexuals, who have “gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community”, outraging traditionalists who had to be reminded by the Vatican that it was a work in progress.

In the media glare, the synod took on the proportions of a referendum on the pope’s audacious line, while observers said the early reports may have backfired on progressives seeking to steal the march on conservatives.

A fresh report on Thursday summed up the reactions of 10 working groups of bishops, which mixed declarations of respect for homosexuals with fierce insistence that any opening up to sinners would imply the Church condoned their behaviour. Before the vote, the fallout in the corridors of power, which Boston Globe Vatican expert John Allen described as “like a daytime soap opera”, already caused at least one head to roll.

Outspoken Cardinal Raymond Burke, currently head of the Vatican’s top canon law court, confirmed to Buzzfeed that he will be removed from the job to be made patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an honorary post.

He told the US news website, “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 faith.”

The vote reflects the attitude of the top echelons of the Church towards reform—and ultimately towards Francis’s rule, which has been coloured since his election in March 2013 by a determination to show the more humane side of the centuries-old institution.

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