Roman Catholic bishops voted down what would have been a historic shift in the church’s approach toward gays and the divorced. The draft report that called for greater openness toward these two groups did not get the necessary two-thirds majority at a Catholic Church synod even though the controversial sections had been largely watered down in recent days. The Vatican tried to play down the vote, saying the important fact is that the issue is being discussed in the first place. “It is important not to over-analyze,” a Vatican spokesman said. “The fathers of the synod never saw themselves as reaching a final conclusion with this document.”
But there was no hiding that the failure to get the votes illustrates “the deep divisions facing the hierarchy as Pope Francis continues his push for a more open church,” notes Josephine Mckenna of Religion News Service.
The document did not obtain a two-thirds majority among the almost 200 bishops who gathered at a Vatican assembly on the family even though the language that many had hailed as groundbreaking had been severely toned down since it was first revealed on Monday. The title of the section on gays, for example, switched from “Welcoming homosexuals” to “Pastoral attention towards persons with homosexual orientations.” While the original version included talk of “accepting and valuing their (homosexuals’) sexual orientations” and providing a “a welcoming home” for gays, the final document merely said that discrimination “is to be avoided,” details Reuters. While the initial version talked of how members of same-sex couples could provide “mutual aid” and “precious support” to each other during difficult times, the new version makes it clear “there is no foundation whatsoever” to compare same-sex to opposite-sex unions.
Despite the toned down language on gays, the section that dealt with the issue still failed in a vote of 118 to 62. But the Associated Press says the final number may reflect a number of protest votes by progressive bishops who did not like the watered-down language.
Paragraphs that dealt with whether divorced Catholics could receive communion also failed to pass. During his final address to the Synod, Francis received a long standing ovation after he warned against “hostile rigidity” of “so-called traditionalists” while also criticizing progressives who would “bandage a wound before treating it.”
The BBC’s David Willey points out that while the paragraphs on gays and the divorced failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to be incorporated into the final document, they did get more than 50 percent of the vote. “This allows the necessary leeway for further discussion before the synod reconvenes in Rome in an expanded form in a year’s time,” writes Willey.