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Pope Francis at the opening mass for the Extraordinary Synod of the Family in October 2014.

Oct. 5, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – If you are confused with where the Pope stands on the outcome of the Synod on the Family, you’re in good company. The confusion extends beyond the secular world, to the media, to the faithful and even into the hierarchy. 

The Pope’s opening homily of the Synod on Sunday is a good example of this state of confusion. For some it sounded completely traditional, while for others it hinted at an agenda to alter Church practice. The closing words of that homily, and especially the pope’s address to the Synod Fathers at the opening of the first working day of the Synod today, suggest that unsettling change is coming. 

The now familiar concept often repeated by Cardinal Kasper and his team, namely that doctrine won’t change but pastoral practice must change, seemed to be present in the Pope’s remarks as he spoke both about traditional doctrine as well as being open to new ways of handling pastoral questions.

A good example from the homily is his stressing that we must be a “Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that ‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’” That passage of Scripture refers to the Lord dispensing the disciplines of Judaism around refusing to do work on the Sabbath. In the context of the Pope’s homily the quote causes one to wonder which disciplines he is suggesting should be changed in the Church.

The opening of the homily was for the most part a strong defence of the Church’s tradition on the indissolubility of marriage, as he called it, a “lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful.”  At the end however, he speaks of “not pointing a finger in judgment of others” but to “seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy” and “to be a ‘field hospital’ with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support.”

Such an invocation of mercy could easily fit within the framework of the teachings of Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI. In fact, the most experienced and most orthodox of Catholics operate with this understanding of mercy with regard to the difficult questions facing the Church today from our disordered culture. 

The Courage apostolate is a good example of this. Courage has led the way in maintaining an absolutely faithful approach to Catholic teachings on homosexuality, viewing homosexual acts as immoral and homosexual unions unable to be approved of in any way. Nevertheless their approach of care, concern, outreach, friendship and love is second to none in reflecting a merciful encounter with Christ.

In the context of the current papacy, and given the appointments to leading positions in the Synod of advocates of radical change to Catholic teaching and practice, however, the meaning of Pope Francis is less clear. 

The pope’s meetings with Kim Davis as well as one of his former students and his homosexual partner during his recent trip to America left a bizarre impression for faithful Catholics. Many were left feeling that what happened would have been far more Catholic if the actions of the Pope and his media team had been the exact reverse of what actually transpired.

Imagine if Francis met secretly his former student and same-sex partner, forbade photos to be published of that meeting, and lovingly called them to repentance. Imagine that when the media found out about the meeting the Vatican would neither confirm or deny it, then when pressed would acknowledge it but say that the only ‘real audience’ was with Kim Davis, the hero who went to jail to uphold the truth on marriage, allowing for videos of that meeting to be published.

But that is of course not what happened.

Pope Francis spoke in his homily Sunday of “God’s dream for his beloved creation… fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman,” which the mainstream media pointed out appears to exclude homosexual couples from marriage. He mentioned, “defending faithful (married) love,” “defending the sacredness of life, of every life” and “defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond.” The Church, he said, “is called to carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions.”

He concluded, however, that “the Church must search out” the man of our time steeped in error and evil, “welcome and accompany them,” adding that “a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock.”

In his opening address to the Synod Fathers the Pope got the media’s ear, warning the gathered cardinals and bishops to refuse to be intimidated by “the petrification of some hearts, which, despite good intentions, drive people away from God.”  He urged them to find “apostolic courage to bring life and not to make of our Christian life a museum of memories,” to “evangelical humility that knows how to empty itself of conventions and prejudices in order to listen to brother bishops and be filled with God – humility that leads neither to finger-pointing nor to judging others, but to hands outstretched to help people up without ever feeling oneself superior to them.”