Pope Francis closed a three-week meeting of Roman Catholic bishops from around the world Sunday, declaring, “Today is a time of mercy!” The meeting, known as the synod on the family, ended with the historic approval, by a margin of one vote, for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to gain readmittance to the church.
Upon meeting for three weeks in Vatican City to discuss issues related to the family, the 275 synod “fathers” voted to approve a 94-point final document that covered a variety of family issues. It serves as a set of recommendations for the pope, who has the final say on church doctrine.
But the document, which included an approved but disputed section on the role of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in the church, was an important victory for Francis, who has been pushing for a more inclusive church since he ascended to the papacy in 2013. While Francis’ style has made him beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, conservative elements within the Roman Catholic church hierarchy have resisted the pope’s pastoral style.
According to church doctrine, Catholics who don’t get a marriage annulled, are essentially practicing adultery when they remarry and thus are ineligible to receive communion.The controversial paragraph 85 in the synod’s final document does not actually mention the word communion, nor does it offer a specific path for divorced Catholics to receive communion. It does, however, say a case-by-case approach is preferred in dealing with issues of remarriage. The inclusion of the paragraph passed by just one vote beyond the required two-thirds majority.
But the church’s conservatives prevailed when it came to another contentious issue: the role of gays and lesbians. While the final document recognized the “dignity” of gays and lesbians, it said same-sex unions could not “remotely” be compared to heterosexual ones that follow “God’s design for matrimony and family.”
In his final address at St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis delivered pointed comments that many believe were aimed at those who focus on church doctrine without considering the church’s beliefs on mercy and forgiveness, warning of the dangers of “becoming habitually unmoved by grace.”
"A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts," Francis said. "Today is a time of mercy!"