At the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the Vatican released the final version of the text summarizing the discussions over the past two weeks. (At present, the text is available only in Italian.) The synod fathers voted on each of the document's sixty-two paragraphs. Three sections on controversial issues did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass: two paragraphs on Communion for the divorced and remarried and one on gay people. None was particularly revolutionary. The sections on divorced and remarried Catholics simply reported that some synod fathers favored finding a way to readmit such Catholics to Communion, and others wanted to maintain current practice. Likewise, the paragraph about gay people was rather tame. It referred to a 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which hold that there are "absolutely not grounds" for calling same-sex unions "similar or even remotely analagous" to traditional marriage, and reemphasized the obvious truth that gay people should be treated with respect.
This was the second Vatican press conference of the day, and it was delayed by a man who hasn't said much during the synod proceedings: Pope Francis. At the conclusion of the final session, he delivered a speech urging the church to find a path between rigorism and laxism (a theme Cardinal Walter Kasper has often touched on). He warned against a "hostile ridigity" that would "lock us into the letter of the law," and he complained about the "false mercy" of "progressives" who would rather bandage wounds than heal them. On the subject of the church's mission to care for its people, Francis quoted retired Pope Benedict XVI at some length. As for the well-reported disagreements between the synod fathers, the pope said he would have been" very concerned and saddened if everyone was in agreement, or if they remained silent in a false peace." Instead, Francis continued, "I saw and heard--with joy and gratitude--speech after speech full of faith, doctrinal and pastoral zeal, wisdom, frankness, and courage." When Francis finished speaking, the synod fathers gave him a five-minute standing ovation.
We know so many details about the relatio because of Pope Francis's rather stunning decision to publish the vote totals for every paragraph--and to include those sections that did not win a two-thirds majority. The relatio remains a working document. It will be sent to the world's bishops conferences for further reflection and study in advance of next October's synod on the family.
When the synod reconvenes, it won't be quite the same. Some who participated in this year's meeting won't be back (I'm thinking of papal critic Cardinal Raymond Burke). And Francis will likely select new cardinals come February. Why might a new-look synod matter? Because the sections that failed still had majority support. The paragraph on gay people, for example, failed by just six votes. But the synod fathers who want divorced and remarried Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist have a longer row to hoe. Those sections failed by larger margins--and they did nothing more than state what had been discussed.
Whatever happens over the next year, one thing is clear: In calling for open debate among the world's bishops, and by allowing the whole church to see how that debate unfolds, Pope Francis has restored synodality to the church. Let's hope there's no going back.
The presser in tweets, after the jump.