By Gordon Davies
The Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome brought together some 260 Catholic bishops and other Church leaders for two weeks in October. This meeting was designed to prepare an agenda for the larger Synod of Bishops on the family called by Pope Francis for October 2015. So what might be the “takeaway” from the recent 2014 Synod? Here are five things this Synod did:
- The 2014 synod was more transparent than other previous ones. The interim communiqué reflected some comments from European and North American bishops that were open pastorally to gays and lesbians: “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities? … Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. … Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
- Conservatives objected that the report was taken by many reporters as the conclusions of the whole synod when not everyone agreed with it.
- For their part, the African bishops were surprised when none of them were named to the drafting committee of the final document.
Pope Francis delivered a speech at the end of the synod that sought moderation. He urged the Church to shun both a “hostile rigidity” and a “false mercy.”
- Nothing has changed in Church teaching. But these remarks echo the Pope’s own statement when he famously responded “Who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuality. They demonstrate that the pastoral realities of gays and lesbians are being heard by at least some Church leaders.
- These voices now form part of what the Church reflects on when it considers sexuality, the family and human rights. The decisions reached at the Synod next October will not be radical. They will not be satisfying to everyone. But they will almost certainly have a different tone than previous statements about homosexuality. In the Church, the tone of a teaching has importance because the tone often lays directions for pastoral practice.