Catholic bishops start divisive summit

2015-10-05 18:00
Pope Francis arrives for the opening session of a two-week bishops' meeting on family issues, at the Vatican. (Alessandra Tarantino, AP)

Pope Francis arrives for the opening session of a two-week bishops' meeting on family issues, at the Vatican. (Alessandra Tarantino, AP)

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Vatican City - Pope Francis said on Monday that Catholic Church leaders should not be afraid to thrash out their differences, as they embark on a three-week debate on the controversial question of whether to soften their stance towards divorcees and homosexuals.

About 270 cardinals, bishops and prelates are taking part in a Vatican-hosted October 4-25 summit, known as the Synod of Bishops. It is not expected to change church doctrine, but to discuss how its teaching can be adapted to modern lifestyles.

In an opening speech, Francis urged delegates to "courageously engage in pharresia" - meaning open, frank debate - and warned them against behaving like politicians, bargaining their way into a lowest-common denominator deal.

He said the synod "is not a parliament, where you make a common agreement, a negotiation, a settlement, or compromises: The only way is to open yourself to the Holy Spirit with apostolic courage and evangelical humility".

The most divisive issue at stake is whether a longstanding ban on remarried divorcees taking communion could be dropped. Several cardinals on both sides of the argument have warned that the Vatican risks a schism over the controversy.

Church attitudes towards same-sex couples are also a flashpoint issue. On Saturday, the Vatican was rocked by the decision of one of its theologians to tell an Italian newspaper that he was gay and living with another man.

Poland-born Monsignor Krysztof Charasma was stripped of his duties after his admission. Vatican spokerperson Father Federico Lombardi called his move "very serious and irresponsible" because it placed synod participants under "undue media pressure".

The synod is also expected to discuss other challenges to the Catholic doctrine, such as the use of artificial contraceptives, cohabitation out of wedlock, and the detrimental effect of poverty and migration on family unity.

In a formal mass in St Peter's Cathedral, which opened the three-week summit on Sunday, Francis defended marriage as an unbreakable bond between man and woman and said the church should not be influenced by "passing fads or popular opinions".

But the pontiff also called for a merciful church, capable of being "a good Samaritan to wounded humanity", and said that a "closed doors" church "betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock".

Read more on:    pope francis  |  vatican city  |  religion

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