It has been exciting two weeks for the Catholic Church – a drama unfolding at the Vatican in a way we have not seen in my life time: open debate, no scripted texts, a pope listening and not expecting to hear only what he wants to hear. That is and remains the first victory for openness in the church. And there is more positive to report: clear lines were drawn between those wanting to move the church and those wanting to preserve the churches teaching and pastoral approach with no changes at all. The first document created an outcry of synod fathers like Cardinals Napier, Burke, Mueller and others who stemmed their weight against any even little opening in terms of welcoming gay people more into the church or open a path to the sacraments for divorced re-married couples. Interesting is that the divide went so far, that even within the final document for example the text about gay people, just reaffirming the old teaching, did not get a 2/3 majority. Well, I guess it would have asked for the Holy Spirit to work overtime to get all participants on the same page – for me the two weeks have shown that there is movement within the church and that we have to work hard to make the spelled out theory that “the church welcomes everybody and excludes nobody” is more than a phrase.
It simply does not work in the long run, that we welcome people but tell them that they are intrinsic evil; it also does not work to say that the sacraments are specially needed for those in need, but exclude generally divorced remarried couples officially. We have to tackle the theological question what it means if somebody is born transgender or lesbian or gay and wants to live his or her live to the fullest and in fulfillment of his or her goodness and god-likeness.
We also have to take note of the fact that in reality divorced remarried are receiving communion in most parishes with the conscious decision of priest and concerned parties – the sensus fidelium is practically much more developed than the teaching of the church – so one could argue.
So did Pope Francis suffer a setback or the church? In my humble opinion no, we have done the first step as a very open church and there is now another year of discernment and reflection coming before the synod fathers meet again. I believe that the journey continues and if the Holy Spirit is guiding the church we can trust that hearts will be converted in this year besides the fact that the population of cardinals will also change over the year. So lets wait, see and work hard that our church will find the middle way the pope is hoping for – a way not putting unnecessary burdens on the backs of the faithful. And with that also ending so much hypocrisy in our church on all levels when it comes to those questions most hardly contested.
The popes speech at the end of the Synod: