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The Pope introduces new pastoral practices in the Catholic Church, disputes arise

The Pope will receive the reports from the members of the Synod, whom he convened nearly three weeks ago, on new pastoral practices on ministering to gays, divorcees and single-headed families in the Catholic Church on Saturday.

Since becoming the head of the Catholic Church some two years ago, Pope Francis has been vocal in calling for a more merciful and less judgmental church.

“I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful … I see the Church as a field hospital after battle,” he said. In keeping with his theme of mercy over judgment, he has called for a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” to start on December 8.

During this year, he will allow priests around the world to absolve women who confess to having had abortions.  This function is usually reserved to bishops. These new pastoral practices also enter in that vision for more mercy.

However, divisions are already being felt among the bishops from the 120 countries who convened at the Vatican nearly three weeks ago.  The Progressives, led by Germany, are more aligned with the views set out by the Pope.  It is the Traditionalists, incidentally from the continent of Africa and those from Eastern Europe, who want to maintain the status-quo.

As it currently stands, the Catholic Church refuses to give communion to divorcees and remarried Catholics whose previous marriages had not been annulled by the Church.  This is the stance African bishops are in favour of, maintaining that marriage is “indissoluble.”

For a church that wants to heal wounds, it is more sad than shocking that such views are held by those whose role is to guide the flock, so to speak.  According to Linda Frances Nakakande, the Executive Director of Action for Development, divorce is not an option for many African women due to the power relations created by culture and traditions. Therefore, it is a shame that a Catholic woman who manages to succeed against such barriers will not receive the Catholic Church’s support. Instead, another obstacle will be placed in her path.

The Pope has however made it clear, amid all the disputes, that he will be the final arbiter. Nevertheless, the convening of this Synod has brought about the opportunity for honest conversations to take place.

As Cardinal Oswald Gracias from the Progressives camp said this week, “I don’t think that we have seen the solutions. But at least, we have begun to speak about the problem and begun to say that this has got to be tackled and this has got to be studied.”

A large number of the bishops are in agreement with the fact that a conversation around these new practices is a “remarkable achievement for Pope Francis.”

One can only hope that a consensus might be reached so that in the words of Pope Francis, “instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads … to those who have quit or are indifferent.”

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