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Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich

ROME — Pope Francis has “pushed the door open” on the issues of homosexuality and Communion for the divorced and remarried, and no vote by a future Synod of Bishops is going to reverse it, according to one of the pope’s closest advisors. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference and a member of Pope Francis’ inner circle, said in an interview with Die Zeit that the pope himself had ordered the rejected paragraph on homosexuality to be retained in the Synod’s final document.

It was widely reported by the world’s press, including interviews with high-ranking prelates, that the paragraphs relating to homosexuality and Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics in the mid-term document aroused shock and outrage among some Synod fathers. The paragraphs asked whether the Church could learn to “accept” the homosexual “orientation.”

In the Synod’s final document, the fathers failed to approve a paragraph mentioning the Synod’s discussion of appropriate “pastoral attention” for homosexual persons and quoting Church teaching that homosexual unions are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.”

Despite only garnering 118 out of 180 votes, and thus failing to meet the needed two-thirds majority, the Vatican included the paragraph in the published document along with the vote tally. Likewise, the document included a paragraph on the discussions about opening Communion to civilly ‘remarried’ divorcees that had failed to gain the needed votes.

According to Cardinal Marx, this was done with the approval of the pope.

“Up to now, these two issues have been absolutely non-negotiable. Although they had failed to get the two-thirds majority, the majority of the synod fathers had nevertheless voted in their favor,” he said.

“They are still part of the text,” Marx said. “I especially asked the pope about that, and the pope said he wanted all the points published together with all the voting results. He wanted everyone in the church to see where we stood.”

“No, this pope has pushed the doors open and the voting results at the end of the synod will not change that,” he said. Cardinal Marx added that it is in the coming year before the next session of the Synod that “the real work is about to begin.”

Despite media reports to the contrary, Marx said the “progressive” group at the Synod had not suffered any setbacks, and cited the pontificate of Francis as proof. “Anyone who comes to that conclusion has not had their eye on what has been going on in our church over the past one and a half years,” Marx said.

“This pope knows exactly what he is doing, let no one doubt that. Francis wants us to move. His frequent use of the word avanti – ‘get moving’ – is ample proof of that.”

Marx denied that there had been a clash between theological camps at the Synod, saying that the “logic of confrontation” would have been “un-Christian” and “unwise.”

“In a reform process, whoever divides people into superiors and inferiors prevents us from being infected and surprised by the Holy Spirit. It’s not a case of throwing opponents. Whoever abuses a new beginning in the church in order to organize majorities for their own camp has not understood the spirit of this pope.”

Cardinal Marx also denied that there had been strong opposition to the progressivists’ stand from the bishops of Africa. “It has so often been insinuated in recent years that these two wishes are a phenomenon of the decadent West and that they do not play a role in the rest of the world church.”

“However, the numerous colleagues from Africa and Asia, but also from the Curia who approached me at the synod about them proves how totally mistaken that view is,” he said, in comments that have been translated and re-published by the National Catholic Reporter, the mouthpiece of the “progressive” wing of the Church in the US.

The cardinal added that one of the “central theological debates” at the Synod had been about “how to find a way out of the far-too-narrow logic of ‘Everything or nothing,’ ‘Sin or not sin.’”

Meanwhile in an address to the UK’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of Synod of Bishops, hinted that the voting process of the second session of the Synod may be altered. Baldisseri, who had reportedly come under criticism from some bishops at the Synod who felt the process was being “manipulated,” said, “No one can deny that the synodal process and structure had grown tired with the passage of time, and there seemed little opportunity for evaluation or renewal.”

The Italian cardinal said that the Synod’s “global gatherings have certainly not produced new dogma or overturned Church teachings,” but added that they were not “about taking a poll or voting in a democratic way on Church teaching and practice.”

Baldisseri quoted one of Pope Francis’ interviews where the pope said, “Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic.” 

Baldisseri also downplayed what he called a media-generated impression that there had been “great tension,” over some issues at the Synod or that “differing opinions within the Church” had been revealed. Instead, he said, the Synod process was merely an “honest and prayerful attempt to discern answers to complex pastoral challenges across many cultures and ways of thinking.”  The Synod’s bishops, he said, had felt that “the discussions allowed for a genuinely dynamic synod, and that its overall purpose was achieved.”

Cardinal Baldisseri added that Pope Francis hopes to return the Synod processes back to resemble more the early councils of the Church. The pope, he said, “wished to reform the synodal structure so that it could better discuss and consult on major questions facing the Church, just as it did in the early centuries of Christianity.”