Only the most optimistic of individuals would have predicted a radical change in the Church’s teaching on sexuality to have emerged from last October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family. In the event, the closest the bishops came to anything closely resembling a change was a strikingly conciliatory document that emerged midway through the synod stating, “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community . . . Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and evaluating their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, the author of the document and the synod’s relator, also added, the “Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.” These words had no sooner reached the world’s press than a statement of ‘clarification’ emerged from official sources. The Cardinal’s document, it transpired, was intended only as a briefing document, it did not represent the views of the bishops, therefore too much should not be read into it. The contents of the working paper would only be debated and voted on in the synod’s second week. The fact that last October’s gathering of bishops and others was only the first stage in a two-stage synod that will convene again this October to draw up a final document should not be overlooked. That document will then be submitted to Pope Francis for him to accept it or not on his own discretion. But clearly the incident of Cardinal Erdo’s original document revealed the divisions that have opened up since Pope Francis began to steer the Church in a more pastorally-sensitive direction. In the event, the final report that emerged from the synod contained a considerably toned-down section concerning “people of homosexual orientation”.
The gospel reading for the Sunday following this somewhat disappointing, but to be expected, outcome – the 29th Sunday, Year A – was that in which disciples of the Pharisees set a trap for Jesus by asking him whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-21). One exegete observes that Jesus’ reply – “Give to Caesar what is Casaer’s and to God what is God’s” – has been distorted ever since by those vested interests which are far removed from the cause to which Jesus was dedicated. His cause was not that of the Emperor but was directed to those forgotten, impoverished and excluded by Rome. It was ever thus and remains so. Those rigorist guardians of the existing order who gathered in Rome for the synod clearly do not want to lose their privileged positions or work towards a Church that is more inclusive and understanding of real people’s lives; a cause to which Pope Francis, following the example of Christ, remains committed to. For that we should offer thanks.