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Pope Francis speaks with Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General of the Jesuits, outside the Synod Hall as Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, looks onDiane Montagna/LifeSiteNews

ROME, October 27, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican Synod on ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment’ concluded on Saturday evening, with the entire final document passing by the required two-thirds majority. 

Despite the overall approval of the 60-page document, several sections met with considerable opposition, including those on sexuality, synodality, conscience, the role of women in the Church, and the text’s treatment of the relationship between the final document and the working document (Instrumentum laboris).

“This document opens up so many minefields,” a source close to the Synod told LifeSite.

Following a press briefing on the vote with German bishops, respected Vatican journalist, Edward Pentin, tweeted out: 

Here below we highlight four points that met with the greatest opposition. 


The paragraph most opposed by the Synod Fathers was number 150, with 65 voting against (of a total of 248). It reads:

150. There are questions concerning the body, affectivity and sexuality which require a deepened anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration, to be carried out in the most appropriate ways and at the most appropriate levels, from the local to the universal. Among these, those relating in particular to the difference and harmony between male and female identity and to sexual inclinations emerge. In this regard the Synod reaffirms that God loves every person and so does the Church, renewing its commitment against all discrimination and violence on a sexual basis. It also reaffirms the decisive anthropological relevance of the difference and reciprocity between man and woman and considers it reductive to define the identity of persons solely on the basis of their “sexual orientation” (CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, October 1, 1986, no. 16).

In many Christian communities there are already paths of accompaniment in the faith of homosexual persons: the Synod recommends that these paths be encouraged. In these paths people are helped to understand their own [personal] history; to adhere freely and responsibly to their own baptismal call; to recognize the desire to belong to and contribute to the life of the community; and to discern the best ways of achieving it. In this way we help every young person, no one excluded, to integrate the sexual dimension more and more into their personality, growing in the quality of relationships and walking towards the gift of self.

Several things may be noted here. First, the call for a “deepened  anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration” about sexuality. 

Second, the inclusion of the term “sexual inclination.” This term appeared three times in the draft, but it only appears once in the final document, and in quotation marks. As LifeSite reported on Thursday, the term “sexual inclination” is tantamount to “LGBT” for the UN and homosexual lobby. Its inclusion in the draft document was seen by many as a watering down of Catholic  teaching and a step towards normalizing homosexuality in the Church. 

Third is the final document’s reference to the 1986 letter to bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the direction of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, on the pastoral care of homosexual persons. Reference to this letter was not included in the draft document; its inclusion is therefore regarded as an improvement. 

Lastly, the second paragraph this section speaks of “paths of accompaniment” for homosexual persons, but does not distinguish between apostolates such as Courage — which helps men and women with same-sex attraction to live chaste lives in accord with the Catholic faith — and other organizations that do not.  

The Instrumentum laboris and the final document

Number 3 of the final document clarifies the relationship between the Instrumentum laboris and the final text, saying they are intrinsically linked and are to be read together. 

Commenting on the relationship between the two documents at a press briefing following the vote, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, stressed that the Instrumentum laboris is the basis for the final document. 

“The one is the child of the other,” he said.

Observers argue that wedding the two documents in this way is problematic because it implies that the entire Instrumentum laboris — including its use of the loaded acronym “LGBT” — has been accepted. The move is therefore viewed as a way of smuggling the loaded “LGBT” acronym into the final document, albeit in a more subtle and hidden way.

Number 3 was rejected by 43 Synod Fathers (out of a total of 249). It reads:

The Final Document of the Synodal Assembly

3. It is important to clarify the relationship between the Instrumentum laboris and the Final Document. The former is the unitary and synthetic reference framework that emerged from the two years of listening; the second is the fruit of the discernment carried out and brings together the generative thematic nuclei on which the Synod Fathers concentrated with particular intensity and passion. We therefore recognize the diversity and complementarity of these two texts.

The present document is offered to the Holy Father (cf. FRANCESCO, Episcopalis communio, n. 18; Instruction, art. 35 §5) and also to the whole Church as the fruit of this Synod. Since the synodal journey has not yet been completed and foresees an implementation phase (cf. Episcopalis Communio, n. 19-21). The final document will be a map to guide the next steps that the Church is called to take.


Number 121 of the final document, on the synodal form of the Church, also met with considerable opposition, with 51 Synod Fathers voting against it. The passage reads:

The synodal form of the Church

121. The experience of the Synod made the participants aware of the importance of a synodal form of the Church for the proclamation and transmission of the faith. The participation of young people has contributed to “awakening” synodality, which is a “constitutive dimension of the Church. […] As Saint John Chrysostom says, ‘Church and Synod are synonyms’ – because the Church is none other than the ‘walking together’ of God’s flock on the paths of history meeting Christ the Lord” (FRANCESCO, Address for the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2015). Synodality characterizes both the life and mission of the Church, which is the People of God formed by young and old, men and women of every culture and horizon, and the Body of Christ, in which we are members of one another, starting with those who are marginalized and trampled underfoot. In the course of the exchanges and through the testimonies, the Synod has brought out some fundamental traits of a synodal style, towards which we are called to convert.

Although synodality was barely discussed in this month’s meeting, it dominated the third part of the draft final document, surprising many of the Synod Fathers. The word has come to commonly be understood as implying a decentralization and democratization of the Church and the magisterium away from the papacy and the Vatican to local churches.

Pope Francis has long advocated a synodal Church. In an address marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, instituted by Pope Paul VI, the Pope said the “journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from his Church in the third millennium.”

“A synodal church,” he added, “is a listening church” in which “each one has something to learn.”

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini was among the first to propose the model of a “synodal” Church, in which the Pope no longer rules as an absolute monarch, but is part of “a sort of permanent council of regents.”

Following the released of the draft final document, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India — who was a member of the drafting committee —  said the theme of synodality came from neither the synod discussions nor from the committee. Gracias, who is also a member of the Pope’s C-9 council of cardinals, speculated that the section was inserted by prominent, papally appointed synod officials.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, openly opposed the idea on the synod floor, allegedly saying he’d seen other ecclesial communities such as the Anglican Communion use it and it “doesn’t work.”   

Role of women in the Church

Number 148 has also been sited by multiple sources as one of the more controversial passages in the final document. It reads:

Women in the Synodal Church

148. A Church that seeks to live a synodal style cannot fail to reflect on the condition and role of women within itself, and consequently also in society. Young men and women are asking for this with great force. The reflections developed need to be implemented through a work of courageous cultural conversion and change in daily pastoral practice. An area of particular importance in this regard is the presence of women in ecclesial bodies at all levels, even in positions of responsibility, and the participation of women in ecclesial decision-making processes, respecting the role of the ordained ministry. This is a duty of justice, inspired as much by the way in which Jesus related to men and women of his time, as by the importance of the role of certain female figures in the Bible, in salvation history and in the life of the Church.

A source close to the Synod said this paragraph’s reference to women being present in “ecclesial bodies at all levels,” disrupts the apostolic nature of the Church, represents a “deep rejection” of Christ’s intentions for episcopal leadership, and undermines the spiritual fatherhood of priests. 

The paragraph received 201 ‘yes’ votes and 38 ‘against’.

Translation Problems

At a press briefing after the vote, LifeSite asked Paolo Ruffini about reported translation problems during the voting.

The voting procedures dictated that the final document was to be given to the Synod Fathers in the morning and read in the hall, with simultaneous translation. After several hours for reflection, during the afternoon session the Synod Fathers were to vote on the entire document, paragraph by paragraph.

But according to Archbishop Charles Chaput, “many bishops were frustrated by the lack of advance translations for important issues they were expected to vote on. As one of the synod fathers argued, it’s actually immoral to vote ‘yes’ on significant issues if you can’t even read and reflect on what the text says.”

At the Oct. 27 briefing, Ruffini said that synod organizers underestimated how much time it would take on Saturday to read the entire document, and only got through parts one and two by morning’s end. When the synod fathers reconvened in the afternoon, they therefore voted on parts one and two. Part three was then read for the first time in the synod hall, with simultaneous translation, and was immediately voted on. 

Asked about the lack of time to reflect on part three for bishops who don’t read Italian, Ruffini told LifeSite: “The Synod Fathers have been here for a month talking about this … If something is read to you slowly, it’s not that you don’t understand it.” 

Pope Francis and the final document

Addressing the Synod Fathers in the hall after the vote, Pope Francis stressed that the “outcome” of the synod is not a document.

“We are full of documents. I don’t know if this document will have any effect outside, I don't know. But I know for a fact that it must have [an effect] in us, that it must work in us. We have done the document, the commission; we have studied it, we have approved it,” he said. “Now the Spirit gives us the document to work in our hearts.”

“We are the recipients of the document, not the people outside,” he continued. “May this document do its work; and we must pray with the document, study it, ask for light… It is for us, the document, mainly. Yes, it will help many others, but the first recipients are us: it is the Spirit who has done all this, and He returns it to us. Please don’t forget this.”

In his remarks, Pope Francis also reiterated that the synod is not “Parliament” but a “protected space, for the Holy Spirit to act.”

“That is why the information that is given is general and not the most particular things, the names, the way of saying things, with which the Holy Spirit works in us,” he noted, amid concerns that the Synod was not transparent.

“This is a protected space. Let us not forget this. It was the Spirit who worked here,” he said.