The pope’s strong words for those who seek to block change in the church

Pope Francis presides at the morning session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican, Oct. 24 (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

In his closing speech to the synod, Pope Francis hit out hard at those who have sought and are seeking to block or hinder his efforts to get the church to reach out in a merciful and tender way to the many wounded families and people in the world today, and bring them hope and the light of Christ.

He began by saying what the synod was not. “It was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family” nor was it about “finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family.”

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Instead, he said, it sought to look at those issues “in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two thousand year history” so as to bring families “the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.” It was about seeing the difficulties and uncertainties facing families “in the light of faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.”

He said the synod sought to get everyone “to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.” 

Furthermore, he said, the synod was “about listening to and making heard the voices of the families” and their pastors, and showing “the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.”

Francis said the synod sought “to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.” 

He said the synod was about “bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would ‘indoctrinate’ it in dead stones to be hurled at others.”

His last sentence was particularly incisive, because Pope Francis had watched, for the most part in silence, the efforts of cardinals and bishops to block any movement to change in the church in name of defending church doctrine and tradition. He had seen four senior collaborators who head offices in the Roman Curia—Cardinals Muller, Ouellet, Pell and Sarah—rowing in a different direction to him. He is well aware that there are a number of other cardinals and bishops too who are not working in the Vatican but are also not rowing with him; he watched some of them at work in the synod.

Francis told them that in actual fact the synod has been quite revealing. It had exposed “the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”

The synod had sought “to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints” and “to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God” and “to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.”

During this past three-weeks, he said, “different opinions” were freely expressed at the synod but “at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways.”  Some read this as an allusion to some cutting interventions or to the letter from the thirteen cardinals. Francis didn’t say.

In any case, he said, all that happened during the synod “certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue” and offered the world “a vivid image of a Church which does not simply ‘rubberstamp,’ but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.”

He recalled that at the synod too “we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”

Commenting on this, Francis recalled that “cultures are in fact quite diverse, and each general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.”

Pope Francis said the diversity that was evident at the synod revealed that they all face the same challenge: “that of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of today, and defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.”

At the synod, he said, “without ever falling into the danger of relativism or of demonizing others,” and in the context of the Year of Mercy, “we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that all be saved.” 

He told the more than 300 participants listening to him that this synod experience “made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness.”

Pope Francis concluded by reminding his brother bishops that “the Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord.”  

The synod fathers gave him a standing ovation when he finished speaking. To-morrow they will concelebrate the synod’s closing Mass with him in St Peter’s Basilica. He will preach then, but that is unlikely to be another zinger.

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Carlo Lancellotti
2 years 8 months ago
A very tendentious and overly political interpretation of the Pope's speech.
Ben Maddux
2 years 8 months ago
Well said. I certainly hope that Pope Francis is not as liberal as this piece implies. As long as Pope Francis remains Catholic, and leave's the Anglican-isms to Cardinal Marx, then praise be to God for our Pope Francis.
Jenaro Rodriguez
2 years 8 months ago
I do not agree on calling our Jesuit Pope, Bishop of Rome, liberal or conservative. It would be better to call him radical since he tries to go to the roots of the Gospel. As far as Catholicism, there are many people who consider themselves "more catholic than the Pope". Among them many fundamentalists who more than faith have "fideism". Also there are those who reduce faith to doctrines, devotions or morality. Faith is a personal relationship with God, his Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit . And our faith and the faith of the church, being human grows in understanding , is not static. The church, based on the Council of Trent from the Middle Ages is a thing of the past. The Holy Spirit, breathing on Pope John XXIII, 50 years ago, convoked the Vatican II Council which is beginning to finally take its right place in our church. George Bergoglio was part of the Latin American Episcopal Conference that since the 60s started following the mandates of the council and coming up with with new approaches to evangelization. And the Jesuits are the leaders in this regard, especially with the direction of Father Arrupe, SJ , their Superior General for many years. So again the Holy Spirit aided the Cardinal College in electing Francis. He is advancing our faith, going to the roots and making necessary changes, "aggiornamento" as John XXII used to say. Among others, the repudiation of condemnation and the restoration of love, compassion and mercy. On December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception he wants the church to start a year of mercy. Yes, praise be to God for our new Pope!
Jenaro Rodriguez
2 years 8 months ago
I do not see any tendencies one way or another. What I see clearly are the words of Pope Francis. They do not need explanation or interpretation. They are very explicit and clear.
L J
2 years 8 months ago
The Holy Father's words can be found at the Vatcan Radio website which were incredibly fatherly, loving yet strong. He did not mince words: he was direct about what he heard and saw at the Synod from Bishops and Cardinals which the rest of the world also saw (e.g.Abp Charles Chaput's Wall Street Journal opinion piece). We have all read the Good Book and we know how it ends. God is in control and fear is not of God. Pride is the worst of all Deadly Sins Pope Francis is a wonderful spiritual father. We thank God for gifting us with such a balanced, wise and tender godly Pastor who never apologizes for Truth while all the while shows God's mercy for those who desperately need it just like the Lord Himself. Gracias Papa Francisco de nuestro corazones, le queremos muchisimo Que Dios le Bendiga Amen
Sam Scully
2 years 8 months ago
Good report, Mr. Reyes. My heart melts knowing we have a Pope who has his finger on the pulse of those he leads...(no offence to ++Benny or all the other Popes)...what wisdom I'm privileged to witness. Thanks Mr. Reyes and our true Holy Father...help us venture further in Christ, St. Francis. Pax
Lisa Weber
2 years 8 months ago
"...the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would 'indoctrinate' it in dead stones to be hurled at others." Pope Francis is hilarious!
William Rydberg
2 years 8 months ago
I read the Pope’s address too. And I read it as being very positive and good. I don’t know where in my opinion, this paranoid ideation is coming from about concerning his closest Advisors? These guys would give their lives to a man to support the Vicar of Christ, as I know any Jesuit that has taken the (I understand now optional) Jesuit 4th Vow will attest. Even the Pope knows that he doesn’t necessarily have 100% Emotional Intelligence, and that he is just like the rest of us-but definitely a lot better of a man than me… Even he joked that some thought that he felt some were put off when he chose the name Francis 1st, because they thought it ought to have been Jesus 2nd. He will be the first to admit that he is a Sinner (again he has said it to the Press). Like all of us, needing like all of us to do the important work of Discernment. Please don’t try to treat him so hagiographical. It doesn’t help him, and it might even scandalize the weak in Faith. The Pope, like the rest of us is on the Journey, AMDG CSSML
Brian McDonough
2 years 8 months ago
Regarding those Bishops who opposed Francis at the Synod, he has the numbers in his favor. Francis not only "holds the cards," he is the "House." Francis has appointed 32 Cardinals since February 22, 2014 or about 16 Cardinals a year, and 24 of them are younger than 80. Francis need only appoint 37 more Cardinals younger than 80 to have appointed 61 Cardinals younger than 80, and he will have appointed a majority of the 120 Cardinals younger than 80 who shall elect his successor. It is probable that Francis will reach that number over the next 3 years because 53 current Cardinals are over 85, and 29 of those are over 90. The probability that some of these Cardinals sadly may die over the next few years is relatively high, and Francis shall appoint their successors. Francis may also create new Cardinals in places where none existed because he already has done this 5 times. This Bishop of Rome also has been and shall continue to appoint Progressive Bishops and Archbishops [as he just did with Fr. Zuppi in Bologna and Fr. Lorefice in Palermo], some of whom he shall elevate to Cardinals. Finally, if Francis is Pope another 5 years, then only 53 of the current Cardinals, who were NOT appointed by Francis, shall be younger than 80 and still be able to vote for Francis' successor. Many of them are Progressive because they voted for Francis as Pope. Therefore, Francis' successor shall be as Progressive as, or more Progressive than, Francis. It is written in the numbers. Francis not only "playa the game," he decides who "playa the game" that chooses his successor.

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