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The days leading up to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family (all photos in slideshow by John-Henry Westen/LifeSiteNews), which opened yesterday with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica celebrated by Pope Francis, have been marked with rather public disagreements among the highest-ranking clergy in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Walter Kasper – with the apparent backing of most German bishops and a few others – has been engaged in a worldwide media tour touting his proposals of altering the practice of the Church on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Meanwhile, nearly ten Cardinals have come out against the proposal with book launches and interviews.

Pope Francis himself sent out a tweet last Tuesday that many took as a comment on the public disagreements. “Division within a Christian community is a very grave sin; it is the work of the devil,” he said.

Mainstream media have been interpreting Pope Francis on one side of the cardinal’s debate.  The Irish Independent newspaper reported in an article entitled ‘Pope braced for a bruising showdown with hardliners,’ that “the Pope’s urge for reform is opposed by some cardinals, as well as many conservatives in America.”

“The Pope has hinted in homilies, addresses and interviews,” the paper said, “that he is in favour of adopting a more ‘merciful’ approach towards remarried divorcees who want to receive the Sacrament.”

The Pope’s homily at the opening Mass of the Synod yesterday contained some rather stern words for the ‘leaders’ of the Church, presumably the cardinals and bishops.  He spoke of them being greedy for money and power. “And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move,” he said.

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Pope Francis added: “We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard. Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent. … They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people.”

The hints were less subtle in the Pope’s homily from a couple of days before the opening of the Synod. 

“It’s the ruling class which closes the door to God’s way of salvation,” Pope Francis said, referring to Church leaders. “This attitude is quite different from that of the people of God, who understand and accept salvation brought to them through Jesus,” he added. “Their leaders, on the other hand, reduce salvation to the fulfilment of the 613 commandments they have created through their intellectual and theological fervour.”

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“These leaders,” the Pope concluded, “don’t believe in mercy and forgiveness but simply in sacrifices.”

He continued:

They want everything clearly sorted out and this is the drama of their resistance to salvation. Each one of us, he said, shares this drama and we should ask ourselves: How do I want to be saved? On my own? Through a spirituality which is good, but fixed and clear so that there are no risks? Or following the footsteps of Jesus who always surprises us, opening doors to that mystery of God’s mercy and pardon?

If I don’t follow Jesus but go looking for other gurus and seek refuge in man-made commandments, the Pope concluded, I may feel safe but the truth is I am buying my salvation, instead of receiving the free gift that God gives me.

But for all the assumptions of where the Pope stands with regard to some of the major questions in the Synod, the Pope stressed in his opening remarks to the gathered Synod Fathers this morning that he wants them to speak their minds without concern for the opinions of others, including his own.

“You have to say everything that you feel,” he urged.

The pope noted that a cardinal wrote him after the February consistory of cardinals, saying it was a pity that some cardinals did not have the courage to speak their minds out of concern that they were at odds with the mind of the pope.  “This is not good, this is not collegiality,” said Pope Francis, “because you have to say everything that the Lord feels you have to say, without human respect, without timidity.”

He added: “And, at the same time, you should listen with humility and accept with an open heart to what the other brothers say.”

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