Pressure from Catholic Church leaders closely allied to Pope Francis on changing the church’s approach to marriage and the family is likely to lead to a year of “trench warfare,” top Vatican sources say.
Churchgoing Catholics will face continued pressure to accept a change in pastoral practice towards homosexuals and divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, as well as changes to other contentious issues.
News of the concerns came at the end of a fractious Synod of Bishops that concluded at the Vatican on Sunday. The two-week synod, involving nearly 200 prelates from around the world, resulted in what many observers saw as a victory for those opposed to the more contentious changes.
But it came in the face of pitched battles between those who favor reform and those who do not.
Proponents have been pushing for the church to accept secular thinking with respect to marriage and the family, saying their proposals are more “pastoral.”
Opponents fear such changes will substantially alter people’s perceptions of Catholicism and effectively weaken the Church’s established teaching in these areas.
And yet despite a concerted effort to manipulate the assembly to accept them, proposals to allow remarried divorcees to receive Communion after fulfilling certain conditions and penitence, and to give a warmer welcome to homosexuals, failed to reach a “synodal consensus” — a two-thirds majority — in the assembly’s final report, issued Saturday.
Observers have viewed this as a blow to Pope Francis’ agenda, although the pontiff has yet to publicly disclose his position on these issues.
The Oct. 5-19 synod was widely criticized by participants for being engineered by ideologically motivated prelates. They reportedly made concerted efforts to steer the assembly toward radical reform and away from Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and the family.
The exclusion of experts from the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family, as well as references to his teaching, led to Polish bishops voicing their concern about the proceedings of the synod. Many of them saw it as a rejection of their recently canonized compatriot.
Prelates from Africa, where traditional moral values remain largely intact, were also highly opposed to the changes, as were a significant number of Western prelates including American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the church’s “supreme court”, and Australian Cardinal George Pell who leads the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy.
The October meeting was the first of two synods of bishops called by Pope Francis to discuss possible changes to the way the Church views marriage and family life. A second, larger synod will take place next October, after which the Pope will issue a final document with his conclusions.
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