The Catholic church is like an aircraft carrier. When it turns around, it happens so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. We see this once again with its latest ‘Synod on the Family’ of bishops convened by pope Francis to discuss the church’s attitude towards homosexuality and divorced people. Their current intolerant attitude has long been recognized as a source of alienation, especially for young people, and cannot last and this meeting started the process of change.
While an early draft of the statement spoke of ‘welcoming’ gays into the church and that divorced people be allowed to receive communion, that move narrowly failed to get the two-thirds majority to be deemed the consensus view of the church and so the motion failed. But the original wording will still be published and circulated to dioceses for discussion.
The synod will meet again next year and I expect there be to be massive lobbying until then on both sides to sway the bishops. But I expect this language to pass next time because pope Francis seems to want the change and he has the ability to exert pressure behind the scenes. As an example, cardinal Raymond Burke, a vociferous opponent of such changes, was reassigned to new duties. From running the Catholic Church justice system, a powerful position, he has now been made ‘patron of the sovereign military order of Malta’. This organization actually does useful work, being entrusted with assisting “the elderly, handicapped, refugeed, children, homeless, those with terminal illness and leprosy in all parts of the world, without distinction of race or religion” but is not the sort of post that wields doctrinal and political influence within the church or that ambitious careerists aspire to.
The message of Burke’s ‘demotion’ (as it has been portrayed by him and other conservatives) will not be lost on other ambitious clerics. The Catholic church is like a big business and its officials play the same games to curry favor with the boss as in any other corporation.
It should be clear that even if the wording is adopted in the next synod, official doctrine will still not have changed. But the battleship will have turned another degree.