(RNS) Pope Francis and senior Catholic leaders wrapped up their two-week Vatican summit on the challenges of modern family life on Sunday (Oct. 19) without reaching a consensus on a number of hot-button topics. So where does that leave Francis’ papacy? And the church?
Here are seven takeaways:
1. Hard-liners won the battle
A midpoint status report on the debate among some 190 cardinals and bishops was described as a “pastoral earthquake” because of its unprecedented (for Catholic churchmen) language of welcome of and appreciation for gay people, as well as divorced-and-remarried Catholics and cohabiting couples.
The media tsunami over that apparent breakthrough panicked conservatives, who waged an intense public and private campaign to make sure none of that language — apparently favored by Francis himself — made it into the synod’s final report. They succeeded, and even the few watered-down paragraphs on gays and remarried Catholics did not reach the two-thirds threshold needed for formal passage.
Hard-liners claimed victory, and headlines spoke of Vatican “backtrack” and a “resounding defeat” for Francis that left his papacy “weakened.”
2. Reformers may win the war
That could be a Pyrrhic victory, one that cost more than it was worth. If the controversial passages did not reach the two-thirds benchmark they nonetheless won strong majorities. In addition, a growing number of reform-minded bishops say they voted against the contentious proposals because they did not go far enough in emphasizing the church’s welcome, respect, and value for gays and lesbians.
“I didn’t think it was a good text because it didn’t include those words strongly enough, so I wasn’t satisfied with it,” British Cardinal Vincent Nichols told The Telegraph.
Many other synod participants, including Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also made a point of using the language of welcome that had been rejected. Controversial efforts to alter church practice to allow remarried Catholics to receive Communion are also still in play, prominent church leaders said.
Francis himself also made it clear at the end of the meeting that he wants the church to be open to “new things,” and he ordered that the “defeated” proposals still be included in the text. It is likely that over the next year or two he will also appoint more like-minded cardinals and bishops who will push for changes.
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