The three-week session to re-examine church teaching on marriage and family in the modern era ended with bishops voting to open the door to divorced and remarried Catholics to return to fuller participation in the church — but not to take communion.
VATICAN CITY — A three-week global assembly called by Pope Francis to re-examine church teaching on marriage and family in the modern era ended with bishops voting narrowly Saturday to open the door to divorced and remarried Catholics to return to fuller participation in the church, but stopping short of saying they may take communion.
The bishops drew a hard line against any acceptance of same-sex marriage, saying in their final document that it is not “even remotely analogous” to marriage between a man and a woman. They added that gay people should be respected and not subjected to “unjust discrimination” — a reiteration of prior church teaching.
The next steps are now in the hands of Pope Francis, who after three weeks of assembly meetings and more than a year of discussions at least has a clearer picture of the forces arrayed for and against change.
It was the most open-ended and closely watched gathering of bishops since the Second Vatican Council, a three-year effort that ended 50 years ago with a set of modernizing reforms that affected Catholics worldwide.
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Six months into his papacy, Francis called this assembly of bishops, known as a synod, to reconsider the church’s approach to marriage and family at a time when the very definition of family is changing rapidly.
It was a sign of recognition that the church was losing traction and members by failing to connect with people who are divorced, separated, single, gay or transgender or whose lives in other ways did not fit the Catholic ideal of the nuclear family.
About 270 bishops from around the world met for nearly three weeks, much of the time cocooned inside a theater-like auditorium dedicated to Pope Paul VI. Cardinals in red skull caps sat in the front rows, archbishops and bishops behind them. In the upper seats on the right sat the couples and laypeople who had been invited to take part as nonvoting auditors and give a three-minute address — the same time limit given the bishops.
The first set of synod meetings took place last year, with an overlapping collection of bishops. The agenda was broad, but it was already clear that there were divisions over the key issues of divorce, homosexuality and cohabitation.
Francis had spoken of his concern for divorced and remarried Catholics, who cannot be given communion or participate fully in church life if they have not had their previous marriages annulled. The church teaches that the sacrament of marriage is “indissoluble,” and that remarried Catholics who have not received annulments are committing adultery.
Early in his papacy Francis signaled his direction by championing the work of a German cardinal and theologian, Walter Kasper, who proposed that the church create a “penitential path” to bring divorced Catholics back into full communion with the church.
But that proposal was met with hostility by conservative cardinals and bishops who said it would fatally compromise the church’s doctrine that marriage is permanent. It also angered church conservatives, who mobilized and submitted petitions to synod participants to oppose any softening of the church’s position on divorce and homosexuality.
The final report, released by the Vatican on Saturday night, was in Italian only and will be translated into other languages. It was drafted by a committee of 10 appointed by Francis. It was based on a working document written last summer, but criticized by many bishops at the synod. They proposed 1,355 amendments to the text.