By Elise Ann Allen
ROME — Participants in Pope Francis’ ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality said Wednesday that Church doctrine is not up for discussion on issues such as women and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ Catholics, and that while opinions on these topics may differ, there is no “polarization.”
Speaking to journalists during an Oct. 11 press briefing, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, said that his experience is that the synod “is not polarized.”
“It is an experience of sharing … it’s a sharing of what we each want to say, whether it’s a question of gay people, or LGBTQ persons,” he said.
Some participants Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning stressed the “need to meet people and encounter people, and to develop pastoral ministry and to understand their lives,” while others “highlighted the need to remain within the magisterium of the Church,” Ruffini said.
“If there are tensions it’s normal, it’s normal in a family, imagine in a family of 365 people who are sharing, but so far there has been no element that may be defined as ‘polarization,’ we are just sharing experiences and concerns that may be different,” Ruffini said.
Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec, a member of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy and Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals advisory body, said he finds the current synod methodology “fantastic,” as it allows everyone to speak and to hear what others have to say.
“I can come here and say well, I have an answer, this is what we should do, without listening to others. This is what I would call polarization, where people become rigid, and there is no moving forward,” he said, and stressed the need to “be humble and not think we are the only ones with truth or that we have the only answer.
“It’s important to listen to others and to exchange views and compare oneself and one’s ideas to others, to the words and realities experienced by others,” Cardinal Lacroix said.
Pope Francis’ Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops on Synodality was launched in October 2021 and is a multiyear process that will culminate in October 2024, with a second Rome-based gathering closing the process.
Aimed at making the Church a more inclusive and welcoming place for all of its members, the synod has sparked debate over the inclusion of hot-button issues such as women’s priestly ordination, priestly celibacy, and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community, including the blessing of same-sex unions.
Prior to the opening of the synod on Oct. 4, a group of five conservative cardinals published a set of “dubia,” or doubts, they had submitted to the pope ahead of the synod on the issues of women’s priestly ordination and the blessing of same-sex couples.
In his responses, published by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis reaffirmed the Church’s closed door to women’s priestly ordination but said it could be studied further, and he opened the door to same-sex blessings, so long as the union is not confused with Catholic marriage.
Asked whether participants had to make a formal pledge to adhere to Church teaching, Cardinal Lacroix said, “The object of this synod, as you know, is not to address doctrinal aspects, but to look at our attitudes and our way of discerning to learn to journey together.
“Once we go home, we can face all these issues,” he said, noting that the theme of the current synod is on “journeying together,” so while participants are sharing their own experiences on a variety of issues, “it’s not a matter of addressing specific topics.
“Of course, we could exchange ideas, but not just my ideas are important, not just the ideas of the others are important, what is important is for these ideas to make the object of common discernment,” he said.
“We mustn’t expect changes at a doctrinal level, this is not a doctrinal synod. Of course, there will be suggestions that will be proposed to the Holy Father, and he will discern how to continue,” Cardinal Lacroix said.
Asked whether individuals in irregular situations were participating in the synod, such as divorced and remarried Catholics or homosexual individuals, Cardinal Lacroix said, “It’s not language or sexual identity that sets us apart. We are all baptized children of God … without labels, we are not going to put any labels on people.
“People are as they are, they are brothers and sisters, they are part of this body we make up together,” he said, saying that “creating groups, separated groups, this would create polarization.
“We are who we are, what we are, and we will continue to be throughout the entire synod, nobody is going to be excluded because they think this or that,” he said.
According to Ruffini, engagement of the issue of sexual orientation during synod interventions focused on the need to face the issue with “responsibility and understanding,” as well as Church teaching, with some asking for “a greater reflection” on the Church’s teaching on this issue, with others saying this reflection “is not necessary.”
The focus, Ruffini said, was on pastoral outreach to gay couples, with some participants insisting on the need to “avoid every form of homophobia” and to keep in mind that no one knows the internal situation of other people.
On this topic, a reference was made to Jesus’ encounter with the adulteress in the Gospels, highlighting his forgiveness as well as his command to “go and sin no more.”
The clerical sexual abuse crisis was also mentioned, with participants insisting on the need to “avoid every abuse,” whether it be sexual abuse, psychological abuse, or abuses of power and conscience, as well as the need to “do everything to be close to the victims.”
Sheila Pires, communications officer for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and secretary of the synod’s communications commission, said the topic of women was also discussed, with participants highlighting the “need to recognize women within the Church.”
The point was made that women and nuns must not be treated like “second class citizens,” and that they should also “be protected from abuse.”
Other topics addressed were the desire for “a Church that is pro-poor,” as well as migrants, climate change, ecumenism, and the need to strengthen ties with the Eastern churches in communion with Rome.
Also present at Wednesday’s press conference were laywoman Grace Wrakia, a synod participant representing Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, who spoke about her culture and its sense of communal relationship, as well as Italian layman Luca Casarini, a synod participant with the “Mediterranea Saving Humans” organization, who spoke of his work with migrants.