VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis opened a meeting of bishops at the Vatican on Wednesday by warning that the Catholic church needs to put aside “political calculations or ideological battles” and welcome “everyone” to dialogue about the faith.
During the Mass at St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff said the church is a place of welcome for “everyone, everyone, everyone” ahead of a three-week series of meetings — part of a years-long process known as the Synod on Synodality — that has sparked hope of change among progressives and alarm by conservatives.
“We’re not here to create a parliament, but to walk together with the gaze of Jesus,” said the Pope.
The Mass, which also coincided with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, was concelebrated by nearly 500 priests, bishops and cardinals.
“Dear brother cardinals, brother bishops, sisters and brothers, we are at the opening of the General Assembly of the Synod,” said the pope. “Here we do not need a purely natural vision, made up of human strategies, political calculations or ideological battles. We are not here to carry out a parliamentary meeting or a plan of reformation. No. We are here to walk together with the gaze of Jesus, who blesses the Father and welcomes those who are weary and oppressed.”
The synod will tackle a series of issues, including better ways to welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics, the possible ordination of women as deacons and priests and allowing for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
“We are here to walk together with the gaze of Jesus, who blesses the Father and welcomes those who are weary and oppressed,” said Francis during his homily.
Even before the meeting started, Pope Francis sent shockwaves across the Catholic world in a letter to five cardinals. In the letter, the pope said he was open to blessing same-sex unions and to studying the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood.
The comments came in an eight-page letter Francis penned this past July — and released by the Vatican on Monday — in response to cardinals who had written to the pope expressing concern about a number of issues ahead of the synod.
“Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage,” Francis wrote.
In the same letter, the pontiff also addressed the cardinals’ question regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood, which he said could be open to further study.
The pope’s response was to a set of questions — formally known as a dubia or “doubts” in Latin — specifically referencing gay blessings, women’s ordination to priesthood, synodality, divine revelation and the nature of forgiveness.
The five prelates who had submitted the questions — German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Chinese Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íniguez and Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah — did so ahead of the Synod on Synodality, part of a three-year process by which the concerns of Catholics will be discussed.
Many have likened this synod to “Vatican III” because it has the potential to radically change church teachings on a series of issues to conform to the mores of the 21st century. The gathering will be historic because the pope decided to allow women and laypeople to vote alongside bishops in any final document the gathering produces. While fewer than a quarter of the 365 voting members are non-bishops, the move is a radical shift away from a hierarchy-focused Synod of Bishops.
These doctrinal battles have been happening on the sidelines for decades and throughout much of Francis’ papacy since he was elected by the College of Cardinals a decade ago. German bishops, for example, have been openly discussing a series of reforms, including allowing for the blessing of same-sex unions by priests and for letting divorced couples receive Holy Communion. In November 2022, following talks with the pope and Vatican officials, the head of the German Bishops Conference said the debate on reforms could not be suppressed.
“This welcoming gaze of Jesus also invites us to be a welcoming church,” Pope Francis said to open the synod. “In synodal dialogue, in this beautiful journey in the Holy Spirit that we are making together as the People of God, we can grow in unity and friendship with the Lord in order to look at today’s challenges with his gaze.”
In his remarks, the pope also signaled the need for changes within the church.
“This Synod serves to remind us of this: Our Mother the church is always in need of purification,” he said.
Produced in association with Religion Unplugged
Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager
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