The now-infamous 2014 Catholic Synod of Bishops on marriage and the family ended this weekend, and anyone who was waiting with bated breath for some kind of change in Catholic doctrine or practice will have to keep waiting—perhaps indefinitely. Going into the Synod, by far the biggest question under discussion was whether remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive communion, with some Catholic clergy strenuously advocating for a relaxation of the current prohibition. When a preliminary draft of a report on the discussion was released last week, midway through the gathering, some of the language about cohabiting couples and homosexuals caused a stir. The American media got excited over what they saw as a shift in the Church’s sexual ethics, while traditionalists were dismayed by what they saw as a betrayal of the Church’s mission of clearly articulating the Catholic position.At the time, we argued that much of the reaction was more heat than light. Nothing in the document, which was itself non-binding, signaled a shift in Catholic doctrine. We also argued that a final report would probably reflect the criticisms many Catholics had about the tone of the interim report. That seems to be exactly what happened, via the NYT:
The preliminary version of the report set off a furor, with phrases implying that the church was shifting toward understanding and acceptance of gay couples. Earlier on Saturday, before the final report was issued, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy said it would be “welcoming” to gays, but not approving of them. […]The final document drops the language in the preliminary draft that spoke of “welcoming” gays and that they had “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” The final version says that gays must be met with “respect and sensitivity,” phrasing also in the church’s catechism, but emphatically asserts there is no basis whatsoever for comparing same-sex unions to marriage between a man and a woman.
The Synod may leave some observers with the suspicion that this was just the first step in the Vatican’s slow move to liberalize its teachings. Insofar as old issues once considered closed under John Paul II and Benedict XIV now appear to be “up for discussion” again, that may be a reasonable response. But when push comes to shove, next year’s larger gathering of Bishops on this same topic is likely to end just the way this one did: with a re-affirmation of Catholic doctrine mixed up with enough nods towards pastoral mercy and openness to leave everyone clinging to some sense of victory.