‘Get real’ says Pope at family life meeting

Hoping for the best: Crowds gather in the Vatican to pray for the success of the synod © PA

Pope Francis yesterday made clear his irritation with priests and bishops who focus on ‘small-minded rules’ at the expense of human beings grappling with real-life dilemmas.

Opening a global Roman Catholic assembly yesterday the Pope showed his impatience with Church leaders who have waged a sometimes bitter public battle between progressives and conservatives on family issues.

The synod is the first since Francis’s election 19 months ago with a mandate to turn around an institution hit by declining membership in many countries, scandals including the sexual abuse of children by priests and irregularities in Vatican finances.

Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ 2013, Pope Francis has galvanised the Church by refocusing it on the core mission of helping the poor. He has ditched the extravagant dwellings and pomp of his predecessors in favour of a simpler Papacy, winning himself huge popularity with the Catholic Church's 1.2bn followers. So radical is this approach, critics have called it a ‘scandal of normality’.

The Pope now faces what could be his defining challenge. This week, cardinals, bishops and priests are gathering to discuss how Church teaching relates to modern life.

The Synod will confront difficult issues that have troubled the Church for some time, such as its views on contraception, children born out of wedlock and homosexuality. The most controversial topic will likely be whether those who divorce and remarry should be able to take communion, a concern for millions of Catholics.

The Church is divided between conservatives, who want teachings to remain strict, and progressives, who would like to see the Church be more understanding of the challenges facing believers. Tension has been mounting in recent weeks with conservative and progressive Cardinals entering into an ugly war of words.

Rumours are circulating that Francis will take on the Church’s powerful conservative faction. But will he change it forever?

Pope idol

Some commentators say that the Pope has always shown that he wants a more forgiving, less bureaucratic Church. Asked for his views on homosexuality, he replied ‘Who am I to judge?’, and rather than make pronouncements on family life, Francis commissioned surveys to find out regular Catholics’ views. All the evidence suggests that Francis will now make his vision for a reformed, more inclusive Church a reality.

Yet others say Francis’s aim is not to overhaul the Church, but to change its approach, and we should not expect too much. As one commentator puts it, Francis ‘is not Che Guevara in a cassock’. Many Catholics like the Church to have a clear line on right and wrong and would resent Francis changing doctrine. Whatever Francis’s own beliefs, he cannot thrust change onto an unwilling clergy.

You Decide

  1. Will the Synod prove as revolutionary as many people hope?
  2. If a religion compromises on its teachings to accommodate its followers, does it lose credibility?

Activities

  1. Pope Francis is proving a highly popular Pope. In pairs, list five qualities good leaders should have if they are to succeed, whether in religion, sports or politics. Are more of your qualities to do with being popular, or about being strong-minded?
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an Expert’, make a table of conservatives and liberals within the Catholic Church and outline their major differences.

Some People Say...

“The Catholic Church is redundant in the modern world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not a Catholic, why should I care?
The Pope is the religious leader of 1.2bn people, which is around one sixth of the Earth’s population, so even if the Church’s teachings do not directly affect you, they affect a lot of mankind. The Catholic Church has also shaped much of the world for the last 2,000 years and has a huge connection with all our histories. Seeing how it adapts for the present and future is very important.
What else indicates this Synod might be important?
Last month the Pope presided over the weddings of 20 people. Yet one bride was already a mother, some of the couples were already living together and others had previously been married. Many commentators think that the Pope was making a statement before changing the way the Church deals with these modern couples.

Word Watch

Synod
A council of the church which decides on issues of doctrine or the application of teaching. Radical changes were introduced by a major Synod in 1962, known since as ‘Vatican 2’, but subsequent Popes often ignored its findings and governed along conservative lines.
Communion
A symbolic joining with Christ that takes place during mass, when a person eats bread and drinks wine to re-enact the Last Supper. Those who have divorced through a civil court are currently forbidden to take part in this, to the dismay of many Catholics.
Words
After one Cardinal, Walter Kasper, proposed that those who have divorced in a civil court should only be prevented from taking communion for a few years, six other cardinals published a book attacking his views.
Commissioned
The survey found that a majority of Catholics ignore Church teachings on contraceptives and homosexuality. Many think Francis would be more accommodating.
Guevara
The Argentinian Marxist revolutionary was a major figure in the 1959 revolution in Cuba. He was killed fighting in Bolivia in 1967. His image has since become a revolutionary icon.

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