October 23, 2015 / 11:35 PM / 2 years ago

Vatican synod on family ending amid divisions

Pope Francis chats with Cardinal Philippe Nakellentuba Ouedraogo (R) as he arrives to lead the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 23, 2015.REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A contentious gathering of Catholic bishops ends on Saturday with a document that is not expected to break major new ground on how the church should minister to gays and to divorcees who have remarried.

The meeting, or synod, of more than 300 bishops and delegates is due to end on Saturday afternoon after participants vote on more than 1,300 proposed changes to a draft of the text.

While the advisory body does not have the power to alter church doctrine, there is great anticipation on the kind of language the document will use to discuss the most contentious issues.

The pope, who is the final arbiter on any change and who has called for a more merciful and inclusive church, can use the material to write his own document, known as an “apostolic exhortation”.

Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent, Belgium, seen as a progressive, told reporters he hoped the synod would lead to “the end of judging people, the end of a church that casts judgment over every situation”.

Another progressive, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany, lamented that some bishops still saw the church “as a castle surrounded by enemies that has to be defended”.

The pope called the two-part meeting - the first session took place a year ago - to discuss ways to shore up the family as the basic cell of society amid a changing world while looking after those who do not live up to the church’s ideals.

While many topics were discussed, much of the attention was devoted to the large number of Catholics with failed first marriages who have divorced and remarried civilly.

Under current church doctrine they cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church and they are seen to be living in an adulterous state of sin.

Some have suggested that the doctrine be modified so that priests or bishops could give individual Catholics permission to receive communion after personal spiritual counseling.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge told reporters that a loving, stable second marriage by two divorced Catholics could not be put on the same plane as a “wicked weekend” tryst in a motel.

Conservatives, however, say there should be no change in church doctrine because it would violate Jesus’ teaching that marriage is indissoluble.

The mudslinging in the media by some conservatives against progressives on the issue became so personal that a group of German-language participants issued a statement expressing “consternation and sadness” about “hurtful” statements about a cardinal who supports doctrinal change for the remarried.

Another divisive issue is just how welcoming the church should be to homosexuals.

Conservatives, including most African prelates, have said that welcoming talk would only confuse the faithful and that the church’s teaching that homosexual acts are sinful should be upheld clearly.

The pope will preside at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to close the gathering ceremonially on Sunday and his homily there could give further indications of his thinking.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Leslie Adler

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