By Claire Kokoska
Oct. 5 marked the first day of Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in Rome.
Roughly 150 bishops met for two weeks to discuss matters of the family such as abortion, artificial contraception, divorce, birth control, premarital sex, cohabitation and gay marriage.
The tensions between doctrine, spiritual inclusion and compassion are central at the most recent synod.
The Church officially condemns divorce or remarriage without an annulment.
Should it now allow for divorced or remarried individuals taking communion?
Must the Church adjust its traditional and long-standing stances on gay marriage and civil unions, premarital sex, cohabitation, birth control and so on because the world is undergoing a social revolution of its own?
Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn told New York Times reporters that the discussion of family matters in the synod resembled a scenario where the mother says, “It’s too dangerous,” whereas the father says, “Go ahead, don’t be afraid.”
There is clear disagreement among the synod fathers.
The more conservative fathers would prefer no change, while the more liberal fathers will not support anything short of great change.
In one example of the unresolved disagreement, Pope Francis opened the synod with a speech noting the importance of the Catholic Church’s commitment to showing love and compassion to all people.
In the original English translation of the Italian transcript, Pope Francies stated, “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” and asked, “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?”
However, in a more recent version of the English translation, the term “welcoming” was downgraded to “providing for” because the original translation seemed too much a deviation from the official Catholic stance.
American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke spoke to reporters of the Italian newspaper, Il Foglio, speaking of the “worrying tendencies” within the synod due to the “possibility of adopting a practice that deviates from the truth of the faith.”
This synod is only the third to have been organized since 1965 when Pope Paul VI reinstituted synods. The last meeting of this type was in 1985.
Many have likened this year’s gathering to Pope Paul VI’s landmark Second Vatican Council, known as Vatican II, which took place between October 1962 and December 1965.
Among many other changes, the historic Vatican II brought about the decision to stop conducting the Holy Mass in Latin, in favor of using vernacular languages.
For centuries, the Catholic Church and its doctrine upheld that Latin was a pure, holy language of God, and any shift toward the language of the common man would pollute the word of God.
Dr. Christopher Baglow of the Notre Dame Seminary explained: “Vatican II isn’t about replacing what the church is. It’s about helping it be more vitally what God intended it to be in the first place.”
The courageous and highly controversial decision to break from doctrine and the historical commitment to Latin made Catholisim accessible to the lay practitioner.
It allowed the common individual to be included and engaged. Casting aside a staple of the religion since its inception was no doubt difficult, but I doubt that anyone could deny the benefits of this major move towards spiritual inclusion.
Pope Francis has stated that the “the church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”
There is a fear that without the rules, rigid as they can be, the Church will be diminished as a spiritual institution and stray further from God’s path.
The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops concluded on Oct. 19 with no official consensus on the issues that were discussed.
Though no tangible change has occurred yet, I believe that the conversation that has been encouraged by Pope Francis is only the beginning of a greater push for compassionately welcoming all people.
Historically, the Church has evolved its stance on the rights of women and people of color, among other, more minor changes in the doctrine of how to perform mass and ceremonies.
I am not a Catholic myself, but I can respect the reluctance to change.
However, Vatican II is evidence that the Church can evolve without giving up its constitutive beliefs and practices.
One’s sexual orientation, marital status, sexual history or decision to use contraception does not diminish one’s worth as a human being.
As such, I fully commend Pope Francis’ message and mission to “respect the dignity of every person.”