John M. Becker

Report: Pope Calling a Meeting to Debate Birth Control, Marriage

Filed By John M. Becker | April 30, 2014 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: birth control, Catholic Church, Catholicism, contraception, gay marriage, marriage discrimination, marriage equality, Pope Francis, same-sex marriage, Vatican

pope-francis-marriage-homily-april2.jpgThe Los Angeles Times is reporting today that Pope Francis is calling a meeting of the world's Catholic bishops to debate issues like contraception, divorce, and marriage equality.

Reporter Henry Chu says the gathering, known as an "extraordinary synod," will be held at the Vatican in October.

"Contraception, cohabitation, divorce, remarriage and same-sex unions: They're issues that pain and puzzle Roman Catholics who want to be true to both their church and themselves. Now those issues are about to be put up for debate by their leader, a man who appears determined to push boundaries and effect change.

"On Pope Francis' orders, the Vatican will convene an urgent meeting of senior clerics this fall to reexamine church teachings that touch the most intimate aspects of people's lives. Billed as an 'extraordinary' assembly of bishops, the gathering could herald a new approach by the church to the sensitive topics."

But don't run out the door to Mass yet. More information, and some much-needed context, is after the jump.

Last year, Pope Francis ordered every diocese in the world to take the temperature of local Catholics on issues relating to family, relationships, and sexuality and report their findings to the Vatican.

"The survey asked 39 lifestyle questions in each diocese -- including whether unmarried couples living together was common, whether same-sex unions were legal, how many children were being raised in non-traditional families, and what programs effectively conveyed Catholic teaching on such matters.

"Although the Vatican told bishops to distribute the questionnaire as widely as possible, apparently not all complied. In the U.S., the National Catholic Reporter found that many dioceses posted the survey online for parishioners to fill in, but others did not seem to notify laypeople at all. The Los Angeles Archdiocese put a simplified version of the questionnaire on its website in English, Spanish and Korean and invited parishioners to participate. The results have been kept secret."

vatican-synod.jpgHowever, bishops in some Western countries -- including Germany, Switzerland, and parts of the U.S. -- have chosen to publish the results of their surveys, and those results show what the Times calls "large-scale rejection of Catholic dogma on sex and marriage." The results were apparently so embarrassing for the church that the Vatican reportedly asked bishops in England, Ireland, Wales, and elsewhere not to publish their findings "out of concern over stoking division." Little is known about the response in conservative areas of the world like Africa and Asia.

Despite the seemingly encouraging headlines, those expecting a set of sweeping, Vatican II-style reforms to emerge from the synod are likely to be disappointed:

"Hardly anyone expects the pope to propose sweeping changes to Catholic doctrine at the synod in October despite widespread criticism that the modern world has left the church behind. Indeed, Francis has unequivocally upheld heterosexual marriage and procreation as God's established, sanctified ideal...

"[A]lthough Francis almost certainly will not call for ditching the church's policy of denying communion to Catholics who have divorced and remarried, his emphasis on pastoral care and compassion could offer local priests a work-around, with greater flexibility to address individual circumstances. That would fit with the pope's vision of the church as a 'field hospital' that triages people's spiritual wounds rather than aggravates them.

"Likewise, [author John] Thavis said, Francis has hinted that same-sex unions, though not 'marriage,' could serve a practical purpose, if not a sacred one, by legally protecting the children of such relationships. This month, in an event that made headlines, the infant daughter of a lesbian couple was baptized in a cathedral in Francis' native Argentina, apparently with the Holy See's tacit assent."

Given the Catholic Church's unquestionably abysmal treatment of women and LGBT people over the centuries, it's not likely that this synod will amount to much more than another opportunity for Pope Francis to play nice for the Western media while leaving the church's Stone-Age strictures on sexuality unchanged. But if by some miracle the Catholic Church decides to abandon their homophobia and misogyny, I'll be the first to applaud them -- and the Pope -- for it.

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