Pope Francis’ Appointments Raise Stakes at October Synod on the Family

Pope Francis greeting Archbishop Blase Cupich in Rome

Delegates personally appointed by Pope Francis could positively alter outcomes when it comes to LGBT issues at this fall’s Synod of Bishops, but even if they do not, this rebalancing will certainly produce spirited debate.

Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago will be named a special delegate to the synod reported Crux‘s Michael O’Loughlin, who cited unnamed church officials. Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, a Jesuit and African-American, will also be named, bringing the American delegation to eight and provide balance for the more conservative delegates from the U.S. who were elected at the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Both Cupich and Murry are considered Francis followers. Cupich was chosen last year to lead the U.S.’ third largest diocese and, the Crux article noted he was one of the few new archbishops given a private audience during last June’s Pallium Mass in Rome. He made headlines in December for calling on the church to support protections for all families, continuing more measured and respectful tone exhibited while bishop in Spokane.

Cupich was chosen by his American peers as a synod alternate alongside San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, but it appears Pope Francis is passing over the latter bishop mired in controversy including calls for his resignation.

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, was also chosen as a Synod delegate by Pope Francis, reported Crux earlier this summer. Bonny is famous for an interview last December in which he called for the church to not only recognize, but to bless same-gender relationships. Other bishops from Canada, Puerto Rico, and men’s religious communities were also named in June and you can find a list at the National Catholic Reporter. A further list was released in July, found at News.va.

This latter list includes several bishops from Africa and Eastern Europe, regions whose prelates have vocally opposed progressive calls to offer a broader welcome to LGBT and divorced/remarried Catholics.

Bishops on all sides of theological and pastoral divides know how high the stakes at this synod could be. There have already been unofficial preliminary meetings held by bishops who want to improve pastoral care to marginzlized groups,  and bishops who are content with the status quo. This active preparartion led columnist Michael Kelly in The Independent to claim the synod will be a “battle royale.” Framing the discussions within the context of Ireland’s successful referendum on marriage equality last spring that divided church leaders, he wrote:

“The dynamic will be fascinating. Though they would probably deny it, both men clearly represent different camps within the Church. . .

“There are two main schools of thought that will take the floor at the Rome synod: on the one hand, more liberal voices will point to the disconnect between Church teaching and many contemporary Catholics, and insist that the Church must change to accommodate contemporary culture. On the other hand, more traditional voices see the very same disconnect as the product of poor teaching and lukewarm Catholic schools. The solution, they will argue, rests in the Church becoming more confident and assertive in spreading her message.

“Pope Francis, it appears, prefers a third way: no change to Church teaching, but that teaching being applied in a looser sense.”

This created divide between bishops predominately concerned with doctrinal concerns against others who prioritize pastoral care is explained further by Pat Perriello in the National Catholic Reporter:

“We are confronted with the realities of our lives each day. They don’t always fit into the categories of our textbooks and theological niceties. Thomas Aquinas recognized this and always considered individual circumstances in making moral judgments. This is why Francis is calling us to love rather than condemn. Francis is asking all of us to determine how we can bring help and healing to those suffering in our community. The point of having a synod on the family should be to determine how we can help all of our people come closer to Jesus, not to issue new edicts detailing what everyone is doing wrong.”

Pope Francis expressed hopes for a miracle at October’s synod while traveling in Latin America last month. With these newest appointments, it seems he is working quite hard to create the right conditions for miraculous happenings. In the meantime, consider how you can contribute to a miracle during the pope’s U.S. visit.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the 2015 Synod on the Family, click here or subscribe to the blog in the upper right hand corner for regular Catholic LGBT updates in the coming months.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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