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Vatican Synod's Language Games Will Have Real-Life Consequences

Image via Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS / RNS

The overriding interest in the global meeting of Roman Catholic bishops that finishes here on Oct. 25 has centered on whether the churchmen will actually do anything in the end — as in vote to make changes in church doctrines or policies — or leave well enough alone.

In reality, the gathering of 270 bishops from around the world, called a synod, has no authority to legislate doctrinal or other changes, and wasn’t expected to try anything that bold anyway.

Its real purpose — thanks to reforms instituted by Pope Francis — is to discuss issues openly and frankly, and to advise the pontiff about what they think the church ought to do about the challenges facing families today, or, as is likely the case for this divided synod, to kick the hard questions upstairs for him to decide.

Women Fear Their Voices Will Be Sidelined in Catholic Synod's Final Report

Image via Max Rossi / REUTERS / RNS

The rows of seats in the synod hall, where Catholic bishops are meeting to discuss family issues, are filled with bishops and cardinals — all male. To find any women, look to the back of the room.

The women’s distance from the heart of the synod hall reflects fears raised by women’s groups that their participation is a mere token on the Vatican’s part.

There are 270 bishops and cardinals participating in the synod and voting on its outcome. A number of other participants, including lay couples and representatives from other churches, have been invited to give their opinions but will not be able to make decisions on the final text. That includes more than two dozen women who have been called to present their views.

The 'Blogging Bishop of Brisbane' Dishes on the Real Story of the Vatican Synod

Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Image via David Gibson / RNS

Barrels of ink, digital and real, have been spilled by journalists trying to convey the gravity of the high-stakes debate on church teaching in Rome this month, as the melodrama that a closed-door Vatican gathering of some 270 churchmen almost guarantees.

The synod, as it’s called, has it all: steady leaks to the press, rumors of lavish dinners and reports of intense lobbying, plus open disagreements over doctrine. It’s a steady diet of soap opera and theology, and almost too much for any reporter to keep up with.

Which is why, if you want to know what it’s like to be a player in such an event, and in the extracurricular socializing where much of the work is done, you have to read the blog of Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

Surprise! Pope Francis Stops by Vatican's New Homeless Shelter

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Francis’ visit was said to have delighted around 30 homeless men hosted at the dormitory, who spoke to the pope, recounted their stories and asked to be blessed. The pontiff’s visit lasted around 20 minutes, Vatican Radio reported.

He was accompanied by his almoner (distributor of alms or charity), Archbishop Konrad Krajewski; the Jesuit superior general, the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas; and three nuns who work at the residence.

The “Gift of Mercy” (“Dono di Misericordia”) homeless shelter was inaugurated earlier this month and can host 34 people each night. The building, a former travel agency, was converted by Jesuits as a response to Francis’ call for more to be done to help poor people.

Pope Francis Asks Forgiveness for Scandals at the Vatican, Rome

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Pope Francis on Oct. 14 asked forgiveness for a series of scandals that have befallen the Vatican and Rome.

Francis did not specify the scandalous events to which he was referring, although the departure of a gay cleric earlier this month may well have been on the pontiff’s mind.

“I ask you for forgiveness for the scandals that have occurred recently either in Rome or in the Vatican,” the pope said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

African Archbishop: We're Not Blocking Progress in the Church

Archbishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle of Accra. Image via Nancy Wiechec / Catholic News Service / RNS

Ghanaian Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle on Oct. 8 defended African bishops’ role in the Vatican’s meeting on family issues, stating they were not in Rome to block progress but to present their own views.

As bishops get to work discussing key issues affecting family life at the meeting, known as a synod, they have broken into small language-based groups. Palmer-Buckle was responding to a question at a press conference suggesting that African bishops were trying to stop “progress.”

“If someone thinks Africa is blocking something, it’s only proposing what we feel,” he told journalists at the Vatican.

“We’re not here to block anybody.”

Ordain Women? Vatican Synod Gets an Unexpected Proposal

Image via Mike Theiler / REUTERS / RNS

The most controversial proposal floated so far at the high-level, high-stakes Vatican summit on church teachings on the family had nothing to do with gays or divorce, but instead ordaining women — not as priests, but as deacons.

Still, even that suggestion — made by a Canadian archbishop on Oct. 6, near the start of the closely watched, three-week synod called by Pope Francis — was considered eye-popping.

That’s because if the trial balloon floated by Quebec Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher flies, it would represent a historic breakthrough for the Catholic Church, and Catholic women, by giving them access to the kinds of offices that only priests and bishops can hold.

Why We (Still) Love Pope Francis

Image via Cathleen Falsani / Sojourners

“We do not remember days,” the Italian poet Cesare Pavese said, “we remember moments.”

Pavese’s words have come to mind often as I’ve thought about Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States, particularly when people have asked me what the “best part” of covering the papal visit was for me.

My answer is always the same: hands down the best part was watching people see (and sometimes meet) Pope Francis in person for the first time.

At Vatican Synod, Bishops Want an Open Discussion on Divorce, Gays

Image via Max Rossi / REUTERS / RNS

The Vatican’s high-level meeting on the family continued Oct. 6, with bishops emphasizing the need for open discussion on divorced and remarried Catholics.

The 62 bishops who have so far spoken at the gathering, called a synod, appeared to push back strongly against remarks Monday by Hungary’s Cardinal Peter Erdo, who defended the church’s exclusion of divorced and remarried couples from receiving Communion unless they’ve been granted an annulment and remarried in the church.

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said there would be an open discussion on the topic.

“The synod has a wide vision … of the universal church,” Celli said.

Vatican on Pope Francis and Kim Davis: Meeting 'No Support' for Her Case

Image via James Lawler Duggan / REUTERS / RNS

The Vatican is downplaying Pope Francis’ controversial meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk jailed for refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, saying their encounter “should not be considered a form of support of her position.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, also said in a statement issued Oct. 2 that Davis was one of “several dozen” people Francis met at the Vatican Embassy in Washington on Sept. 24 as he prepared to leave for New York, the second-leg of his U.S. trip.

“Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” the statement said. It added that the “only real audience granted by the pope” at the embassy that day “was with one of his former students and his family.”

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