Latest synod proves the need for better understanding inside the Vatican
The media deals with religious issues with the grace of a bull in a china shop.
It is no surprise that last week’s reporting of the meeting of the Catholic synod was dealt with the same tact. Although actual events do not reflect the “Victory for Pope Francis on gay issues” reported on BBC news, for a specific group of Catholics, the results were no less important.
Although not the homosexual revolution, the event did open the doors of the Vatican to the public who was able to see the inner working of the Church.
The Catholic synod, which closed on Oct. 19, focused on the family, divorce, contraception, and homosexual persons.
A synod, according to Dr. Paul Allen, associate professor with Concordia’s Department of Theological Studies, is a meeting among Bishops to decide how to apply Catholic doctrine or teachings.
“People see church teachings as overly dogmatic, bizarre, strict, abhorrent, beautiful, wonderful, inspiring work, and combinations thereof,” Allen said. A meeting of this type is a chance to clarify what these are, and how they should be applied in the concrete reality faced by Catholics in the areas these bishops are from.
Far from being a universal decree, the document produced at the close of the synod would stand as an agreement for how this group of clergy would deal with specific situations in the churches under their jurisdiction.
At the outset of this synod, the main focus was thought to be whether or not Catholics who were civilly divorced and remarried should be allowed to participate in communion (the ceremony of taking bread and wine). The issue is created, according to Allen, by the fact that it is very difficult to get an annulment, or church divorce. Due to the bureaucratic elements in obtaining such status, there exists a wide variance across geographical regions regarding how long an annulment may take to get, if it is allowed at all.
Although the initial focus of the meeting was on the divorced, it shifted towards homosexuality around its midway point. The disagreement between bishops surrounded the “reduction of the individual to one sexual trait” according to Allen. Non-western bishops viewed such wording as fixating needlessly on sex to the detriment of other, more important Church concerns, such as alleviating poverty, doing charity, and generally building up the Church.
Although the final document was not approved, it is not clear if it was a result of the homosexual issue. “Unlike with Democrats and Republicans these individuals talk to each other all the time,” Allen said. The vote of each bishop may reflect individual cultural as well as ideological differences.
The importance of the final vote, among Catholics, is questionable. Allen advises that individual priests may not be denying communion to these individuals. This varies from one community to another.
Individual practitioners of the Catholic Church may also diverge with this Church’s position. Gabrielle Bouchard, Peer Support and Trans Advocacy Coordinator with Centre for Gender Advocacy, knows of this personally.
“My parents are both devout Catholics and although my mother is a believer, she disagrees with the Church on the rejection and sinfulness [of being LGBT],” said Bouchard.
Even if the document had passed, those who have left the Church would probably have no had reason to return. Unlike what has been portrayed in the media, the synod was not concerning the ‘welcoming’ of homosexuals into the church.
Instead of focusing on what it did not accomplish, a spotlight should be placed on the fact that it attempted to be an opportunity for animated, honest, and transparent dialogue. Allen summarized the entire Synod as following this momentum: “[Pope] Francis’s strategy is to have an open conversation and I think many Catholics appreciate [it].”