For a synod on family issues that started so positively, the end came amid division over the issues of homosexuality and divorce – with Pope Francis stating that the Catholic Church should not be afraid of change.
After its interim report last Monday declared that gay people had “gifts and qualities to offer”, a fierce backlash by conservatives meant that the remarkably liberal – by Vatican standards – declarations at the international meeting of bishops was watered down drastically by the time the final version was reached on Saturday night.
Closing the two-week meeting on Sunday, Pope Francis said: “God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways,” adding that the Church had to “respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way”.
Experts and the faithful are now scrambling to make sense of a synod that demonstrated the gulf between conservative and liberal wings of the Catholic Church more starkly than ever. “If a same-sex couple has been in a relationship for 30 years, I can’t call that nothing,” said Mgr Georges Pontier, President of the French Bishops’ Conference. “Exclusion is not the language of the Church,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich. “You cannot tell Catholics living in irregular family situations, ‘you are a second-rate Christians’.”
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
1/12 The Pro-Gay Pope
In just a year, Pope Francis has managed to change the public perception of the Catholic Church, and the stance it takes on civil issues, like gay rights. Despite originally protesting the legalisation of gay marriage in his native Argentina some years ago, he told reporters this year: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
2/12 The Rebel Pope
No other Pope has urged a shake-up of the Catholic Church quite like Pope Francis, a true rebel of the dioceses. Who, incidentally, used to be a night club bouncer.
3/12 The Graffiti Pope
Pope Francis become... SUPER POPE in this Vatican-approved street art. But was he happy with the reference to the fictional DC comic character?"To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person," he said. So, that's a no, then.
4/12 The Biker Pope
Yes, the Pope used to own a Harley Davidson. And yes, he auctioned it off this year and donated the proceeds to a charity that feeds the hungry in Rome. Very Papal.
5/12 The ‘Blue’ Pope
Dropping the 'F' bomb during Sunday service? Classic Pope Francis. Sadly, down to a Spanish-speaking slip of the Italian language rather than pure bad-assery.
6/12 The ‘Because I’m Worth It’ Pope
That awkward moment when your Papal hat blows off, forcing your barnet into Sesame Street-like spikes. Pope Francis has been there.
7/12 The Chocolate Pope
Imagine the Pope's delight (horror?) when he was presented with a giant chocolate replica of himself outside the Vatican by by students on a chocolatier course at the Accademia of Maestri Cioccolatieri, near Venice.
8/12 The Rock Star pope
The one and only religious leader ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine? Introducing... Pope Francis.
9/12 The People’s Pope
His U-turn attitude towards sexuality won him Time magazine's coveted Person of the Year accolade, and the cover of gay rights magazine The Advocate.
10/12 The Merchandise Pope
Thongs, mugs, onesies, earrings and even a baby mobile adorned with decapitated Pope heads, the 'Francis Effect' has seen sales of Papal merchandise soar by 200% over the last year.
11/12 The Fashion Pope
The only Pope, as far as we're aware, to be compared to fashion royalty (Karl Lagerfeld. Yes way.) and win Esquire's Most Stylish Man of 2013 award, too.
12/12 The Modern Pope
Let it be said, Pope Francis knows a thing or two about social media. He might be a way off 'doing a Dalai' and opting for Instagram, but he's not above posing for the odd 'Selfie' on Twitter.
Some senior conservatives disagree. There were reports yesterday suggesting a possible attempt, seemingly rebuffed, by conservative cardinals to rope in Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on their campaign to steer the Church away from more liberal terrain.
Pope Francis, who also beatified Pope Paul VI at the Mass yesterday, has put a brave face on the week’s events. “Personally, I’d be very worried and saddened if there weren’t these temptations and these animated discussions and this spirited debate [and if instead] everyone was agreed or quiet in false silence,” he said. But, he also added that the Church must “waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope”.
La Repubblica’s Vatican expert, Marco Ansaldo, is in no doubt, however, that the honeymoon period for Pope Francis is at an end. The Pontiff was, he noted: “For the first time seeing a serious build-up of signs of dissent and ill will.”
Voting tallies released by the Vatican showed that three controversial articles, including the final version of one concerning gays, won an absolute majority but failed to get the two-thirds vote needed for a broad consensus – but some believe the door has been opened. One leading Vatican watcher, John Thavis, said: “This was not the day the music died. The ideas and proposals launched at this synod will be coming back.”
The articles were kept in the final document and will be discussed locally before next October when the synod meets again in Rome. After these talks, Francis will issue his “apostolic exhortation” – an authoritative document – on these contentious issues.