Pope tells synod it must not seek compromise

Bishops start work after Vatican priest comes out as gay

(ANSA) - Vatican City, October 5 - Pope Francis said Monday that the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family must not seek to find a compromise between the different positions within the Catholic Church. "The synod is not a parliament where, to reach consensus, you make a common agreement, a negotiation, bargaining and compromises," the pope said as he opened work at the synod on the family, an institution that may be creaking worldwide but while creaking provides support and meaning for a broad swathe of humanity. "The only method is to open oneself to the Holy Spirit with apostolical courage and evangelical humility".
    Francis issued a strong call for the bishops to show frankness and courage. "The synod is walking together with a spirit of collegiality, courageously adopting parrhesia (evangelical plain-speaking), pastoral and doctrinal zeal, wisdom and frankness and always putting the good of the Church and families and the health of souls before our eyes... "We (synod) fathers should practise apostolical courage, evangelical humility and faithful oration".
    In a passage that appeared to be directed at traditionalists, the pope said bishops should beware the "hardening of some hearts, which despite good intentions, keep people away from God".
    But he also made a nod to conservatives, calling for courage that "does not let itself be intimidated by the seductions of the world" and passing fads.
    Since his election in 2013 as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Francis has sparked hope among progressives who want him to forge ahead with his vision of a more inclusive Church that provides mercy rather than acting as the strict arbiter of rules they see as out of date.
    Faith was "not a museum to look at and save" but should be a source of inspiration, Francis said, calling on the synod to have "courage to bring life and not make our Christian life a museum of memories".
    The gathering brings together some 300 bishops, delegates, observers and 18 married couples - as well as the youngest participant, Davide, a four-month-old baby being carried on his mother's hip.
    The participants will discuss ways to defend the traditional family and make life-long marriage more appealing to the young while also providing some long-hoped-for outreach to disaffected Catholics such as homosexuals, co-habiting couples and the divorced.
    In a lengthy introductory presentation, Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo touched on - in his words - the "pastoral care of people with homosexual tendencies", but he also outlined so many other issues, from violence, migration and unemployment to cohabitation, divorce or declining birth rates, often stemming from the individualism or fear of commitment often experienced by young people today.
    Synod secretary general Cardinal Baldisseri outlined the previous steps on this journey, from the much talked-about consistory of cardinals back in 2014, right up to the World Meeting of Families that concluded in Philadelphia last weekend.
    In between there has been a year of reflections on family life from the pope at his weekly general audiences and a new document making it simpler and cheaper to obtain annulments for those whose marriages can be declared invalid - both important parts of the puzzle for those trying to predict how this highly charged meeting will pan out.
    Special Secretary Msgr Bruno Forte warned against making the same mistaken "bipolar" reading of this year's synod as last year's, widely portrayed as split between traditionalists and progressives, while the synod's president delegate, French Cardinal Andre' Vingt-Trois, stressed "you should not expect any changes in doctrine".
    The run-up to the synod was hit by a senior Vatican priest coming out as gay at the weekend - an affair cardinal Vingt-Trois accused the media of paying too much attention to, thereby detracting from the serious business at the synod.
    Polish priest and theologian Krzysztof Charamsa announced that he was in a relationship with a man and said he had come out to challenge the Church's "backwards" attitude to homosexuality.
    The Vatican swiftly stripped the 43-year-old, who was assistant secretary of the International Theological Commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of doctrinal responsibilities. The affair nonetheless continued to stir controversy and criticism on Monday.
    "The choice to make such a sensational announcement on the eve of the opening of the synod appears very serious and irresponsible, because it aims to put the synod assembly under undue media pressure," said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.
    Yoyo Grassi, an openly gay former classmate of Pope Francis's with whom the pope visited on his recent trip to the United States, also believed the announcement was strategically timed to attract media attention.
    "The timing was wrong and the way he chose to do it was wrong," Grassi said in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica.
    "I don't think he did any favors for the cause of homosexuals or for Pope Francis," said Grassi.
    Roberto Formigoni, a Senator with the New Centre Right (NCD) party who openly practices abstinence as a member of the Catholic Memores Domini Lay Association, called Charamsa's announcement "an act of pride".
    "Living in chastity and being celibate isn't an extra step for heaven. And Charamsa can even say that he can't resist. It's human. But he can't make it a moral lecture for us," Formigoni said in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa.
    Formigoni said he felt "pain" when he read Charamsa's announcement.
    "But I'm not surprised. These types of positions are widespread, unfortunately," Formigoni said.
    "I'm talking about the fact that the Church's teachings could be so blatantly rejected by a believer, by a priest no less, for years, as a matter of fact a manager in the office for the defence of the Catholic faith," he said.
    Charamsa said Monday "all is in the hands of God".
    "One is always sorry to leave Italy," the prelate said at Fiumicino airport on his way to Barcelona after losing his jobs as an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, adjunct secretary to the Vatican's International Theological Commission, and professor at two Vatican universities. "I will continue to face up to my vocation - my being a man and a priest - and in the same way one must wish every person, every Christian, (the ability to) be oneself on the path of faith, within the truth of one's own nature," he added.
    "That is, with the courage to face who we are...otherwise we live a lie, which is no good to anyone".
    In an interview with Corriere della Sera paper at the weekend, Charamsa said "I want the Church and my community to know who I am: a homosexual priest who is happy and proud of his identity".
    "I am ready to pay the consequences, but the time has come for the Church to open its eyes to gay believers and for it to understand that the solution it offers them - that of total abstinence from a love life - is inhumane," Charamsa told Corriere.
    Cardinal Vingt-Trois may have been rather severe about the media coverage of the affair, but the pope himself appeared more benevolent towards the media.
    At the end of his opening address Monday, in fact, Francis voiced his gratitude towards the media for its attention to the synod.
    "I want to address a special thanks to the journalists present at this time and to those who follow us from afar. Thank you for your enthusiastic participation and for your admirable attention," he said.
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