Reactions to the Synod on Marriage and Family’s final report has dominated the religion headlines for the past few days, and it seems like anyone and everyone is chiming in on the discussion, trying to evaluate what was good and bad in the final document and the entire experience of the synod. It’s good to get all these perspectives.
But there is one person’s perspective that may carry a little more weight than many others: Pope Francis. He hasn’t written an op-ed or given an interview or appeared on a talk show an, but some of his statements since this weekend seem to indicate the pope’s evaluation of the synod, and it certainly looks like he, too, is hopeful for greater discussion on many issues in the months ahead.
On Saturday, just before the final report was released, Pope Francis addressed the synod participants and praised the process and collegiality that the meeting produced:
“I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of ‘Synod,’ a path of solidarity, a ‘journey together.’
“And it has been ‘a journey’ – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life.”
Later in the speech, the pope listed a variety of temptations that the synod participants may have experienced, including one of thinking of themselves only as conservators of tradition and as vague and confusing politicians:
“The temptation to neglect the ‘depositum fidei’ [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them ‘byzantinisms,’ I think, these things…”
Pope Francis expanded on this message the following day when, in the homily at the synod’s closing Mass, he told the bishops:
“God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”
Reuters pointed out that Francis even went so far as to keep many of the earlier discussions of pastoral welcome for lesbian and gay people as a live topic, even though those ideas did not receive the required 2/3rds vote:
“Voting tallies released by the Vatican showed that three controversial articles, including the final version of one concerning gays, won an absolute majority but failed to get the two-thirds vote needed for a broad consensus.
“But the pope decided to keep even the botched articles, which would have been deleted under normal synod rules, in the final document, meaning the themes will be discussed locally ahead of next year’s assembly.”
Jonathan Capehart, in a Washington Post blog, said that Francis’ approach will have a great effect on the coming discussions, and even next year’s synod:
“If the pope and the bishops can engage in a rational and respectful discussion about same-sex relationships, so can the rest of the flock. That’s the genie that is out of the bottle.
“. . . By the time the bishops reconvene next October to finalize the synod document, we might be looking at a very different outcome.”
One telling sign of the pope’s support of LGBT issues comes from the fact that it looks like Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who gave a speech in support of LGBT welcome, may become the next archbishop of Malta. The Independent reported:
“. . . [A]n anecdote from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome that reached this newsroom some days ago from people very close to Mgr Grech has become all the more pertinent.
“Pope Francis, it seems, was extremely pleased with the Gozo Bishop’s address to the Synod on 8 October. So much so that the next morning, over breakfast at Casa Marta, Pope Francis tapped Mgr Grech on the shoulder and complimented him on his speech. That, people close to Mgr Grech informed this newsroom, was followed by another friendly pat on the back during the next coffee break.”
We have one more source which shows what may be going on in the mind of Pope Francis. During the synod, Cardinal Walter Kasper flew to Austria to give a speech to the theology faculty at the University of Vienna. The National Catholic Reporter noted that during his speech he offered some insights into Pope Francis’ modus operandi:
“He said Francis is deliberately treading in the footsteps of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, both of whom wanted to interpret the unalterable Gospel message ‘in the light of the signs of the times.’ However, Francis ‘cannot be attributed to any theological school,’ he said. The pope is a practical man who prefers direct encounters with people and for whom reality takes preference over ideas, he added.
“The cardinal then explained how a special Argentine variation of liberation theology based on ‘the theology of the people,’ with a particular sensitivity for regional piety and characterized by the concept of reconciliation, had a formative influence on Francis. This has nothing to do with the classical form of liberation theology and its class war ideology, which the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned, Kasper said.
“The pope’s theology and his vision for the church is centered on the Gospel mandate, the good tidings of a merciful God, and the concept of the People of God, which Vatican II had underlined, Kasper said. Francis outlined much of this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium, which was, so to speak, the blueprint of his pontificate. He wanted ‘the People of God, every single one them, to participate in the church’ and for the church to be a ‘listening church which has an open ear to the People of God,’ Kasper said.”
From his statements and gestures, it seems that Pope Francis is leading the way for next year’s synod to be even more remarkable than this past one was in terms of openness and discussion. As Jonathan Capehart wrote in his blog post entitled: “Pope Francis and gays will win by losing this round on synod draft”:
“What the synod did at the outset on paper, Pope Francis has been doing since ascending to the papacy. He’s been talking about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church with an unheard-of humanity and care. So what that the more conservative bishops succeeded in watering down the gay paragraphs so much they couldn’t get the two-thirds majority necessary to include them in the new document released on Oct. 18. They may have won this battle, but they aren’t going to win the bigger battle with this pope.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
The Daily Beast: “Pope Francis Wins a Battle to Welcome Gays in the Church”
The Daily Mail: “Pope Francis plays long game to reform Catholic Church”