POPE IN THE U.S. AND AT THE SYNOD
It wasn't going to be as simple as all that.
It seemed, on the way home from the U.S., and then in news after, that the Holy Father had calmed conservative fears. Aboard the Vatican jet he offered support to conscientious objectors when asked about that Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for not issuing gay marriage licenses, and then news broke that he had actually met her at the papal nunciature (Vatican embassy) in Washington. That came after his unexpected stop to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor, who sued the Obama Administration over the contraception mandate. Plus, when he got back, in impromptu remarks last Tuesday (9/29/15), he leveled a blast at the mayor of Rome, Italy, for inviting himself to the world festival for families while at the same time supporting homosexual marriage and euthanasia. He called the mayor, Ignazio Marino, someone who "pretends" or "professes" (depending on the translation) "to be Catholic." The Holy Father did not hide his anger that the mayor had shown up without formal invitation.
How could there be any further doubt: the Pope, contrary to dark fears, upholds Catholic orthodoxy. He also reiterated his stance that women could not become priests.
It seemed all so clear. A few short days later, does it still? Some argued that in answering the question about Davis, the Pope made a point of speaking about conscientious objection in general, not any one case, and on Friday (10/2/15), The New York Times revealed that the Pope had also met a gay man and his boyfriend at the nunciature a day before Davis. It turned out the man had been a high-school student of the Pope's back in Argentina and had the Holy Father's direct invitation (where Davis, it seems, was invited by the nuncio). The meetings with both the gay couple and clerk Davis were brief. It's not even clear if the Holy Father knew everyone he was going to shake hands with during a farewell event. But once again, notions went topsy-turvy. Part of the reason is simply the Pope's goal of expanding the tent and extending love to everyone, without judging (except for the mayor of Rome) -- though being too open can let the smoke of the enemy in, said a previous Pontiff (Paul VI). While on the one hand the Church's stance on homosexual marriage seemed clear, it was reported that a lector during the Mass at Madison Square Garden is openly gay, a lector who -- though -- had also served as lector during the visit of a previous Pontiff (Benedict). The challenge: accepting homosexuals without accepting homosexuality. It is right to be inclusive but without openly contrary behavior in the lives of those on the altar. Overall, the trip remained a huge success; the Pope displayed the highest order of statesmanship and served as a spiritual guide for those of both political parties in the United States and for conservatives as well as liberals. He sought to reboot Catholicism and orient it (and our divisive, acidic society) toward the Gospel's key precept of love.
Is the dust over the gay issue settling for now? Not quite. News also came Saturday that the Vatican had unceremoniously sacked a priest on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when the priest openly came out as a homosexual with a "partner." The Vatican press spokesman fumed that it was very untimely, coming just before the Synod on the Family, which has now started (October 4-24). This is also the Congregation that is helping to decide the fate of Medjugorje.
As for gay marriage and other hot-button issues (such as divorce and Communion): more about the Pope's stance may be known fairly soon at the Synod. He seemed to make it clear once more in his opening homily and remarks, stating that "God's dream" is the union between man and woman, and restating the Church's stance that marriage is "indissoluble." But Monday he also told the 270 cardinals, bishops, and priests at the Synod that courage is needed since the Church's attitudes can, "despite good intentions, distance people from God" and threaten to "make Christian life a museum of memories." He said humility was required so that bishops could empty themselves of "their own beliefs and prejudices to listen to their brother bishops and fill themselves with God." He indicated that they should not be legalistic to the point of closing people to Catholicism.
What that means, and the effects of those words, will now be seen. A key mystery is how the Holy Father himself feels on eventual rehabilitation of those who were civilly divorced instead of granted an annulment. Can they be brought back into full communion -- perhaps, somehow, without receiving Communion? It gets difficult to envision. One must be careful about confusion, for this is a hallmark of the enemy. As one columnist commented, "In this confusing climate, bishops are expected to come up with clear guidelines on how priests should respond to gay Catholics, as well as other family issues such as divorce." The Pope's clarity on God's intention for marriage -- that it is between a man and a woman -- is of course sure to be maintained by the final Synod statements, though the much-anticipated meeting is also certain to generate nuances and thus news and controversy whether or not there are any real blockbusters or controversies, if for no other reason than so many reporters and Vatican watchers -- Vaticanisti -- want it to, and as the Church grapples as it did during the trip with an expansion of mercy without treading into the toleration of immorality.
[see also: Davis case: is nuncio being thrown 'under the bus'?, Bigger test than U.S. trip?, Kentucky clerk met briefly with Pope, felt 'encouraged', An 'unpredictable' Pope; National Geographic article; Now it's 'full Synod ahead', Why annulment is not divorce, Authors say quote they used on Vatican 'mafia' was incorrect, and Poll: many Catholics think Pope has backed gay marriage]