Vatican call for Church to welcome gay people did not go ‘far enough’
Archbishop of Westminster insists apparent rejection of thaw in relations between Catholic Church and same-sex couples is ‘not an end’ and urges Church to go further
Pope Francis’s drive to make the Roman Catholic Church more welcoming to gay people will not be halted by a backlash from conservative bishops, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric has insisted.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that he believed a declaration by a global gathering of bishops to discuss family issues, which was rejected by many traditionalist bishops, did not, in his view, go “far enough”.
Far from considering the text too liberal, he said he was disappointed that it had not used much stronger language about the need to “respect, welcome and value” people in same-sex relationships.
The final wording of the declaration from the extraordinary synod on the family, which spent two weeks meeting in Rome, was significantly watered down in comparison with an earlier draft which spoke of welcoming gay people and valuing gay their “gifts and qualities” in the Church.
Despite the more cautious tone of the revised text, which followed an outcry by conservatives, it failed to secure a two-thirds majority in a vote on Saturday.
But Cardinal Nichols insisted the setback was “not an end” and said he was hopeful a further synod next year would reinstate the more welcoming tone towards gay people.
He said Pope Francis had already “torn up the rule book” as part of a “process of dialogue and discernment for the future of the church”.
Bishops also failed to give a two-thirds majority endorsement to a section of the declaration speaking of the possibility of relaxing the ban on remarried divorcees receiving communion.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, the Cardinal said he had been disappointed with the text which was put to a vote.
He said: “I didn’t think it went far enough, there were three key words as far as I was concerned … ‘respect’, ‘welcome’ and ‘value’.
“I was looking for those words and they weren’t there and so I didn’t think that was a good paragraph.”
He added: “I didn’t think it was a good text because it didn’t include those words strongly enough so I wasn’t satisfied with it.”
But he insisted he was not concerned about the vote and opposition from traditionalists to the more welcoming tone.
“Why should I be worried when people express openly, clearly and courteously, with great care what they think?” he said.
“That’s how we live together, that’s how the Church works.
“We don’t work by lobbying and pressure groups, we work by sitting down and honestly talking with each other and that’s why these last two weeks have actually been a very good experience.”
There will now be a year-long period of reflection before a second synod which could discuss more concrete changes to the Church’s approach. Any changes are likely to be set out in a document known as an apostolic exhortation, issued by the Pope, some time after that.
But the outcome lays bare the rift at the top echelons of church hierarchy as the drawing the 77-year-old Argentine Pope’s critics boisterously out into the open.
Massimo Franco, a veteran political analyst and Corriere della Sera told the Telegraph: “This is a new season, now he must convince the Church not just the crowds.
“So far we have seen a Pope who gained the consent of the crowds while being observed silently by the religious personnel around him.
“Now we’ve had an occasion when top and upper level religious officials could speak out, and they did so in a controversial way on the most delicate issues.
“They want this pope and accept his leadership but they are saying ‘Wait a moment, if there’s an issue that risks touching the core of the doctrine, we don’t agree’.”
Speaking during a special service to mark the end of the Synod – at which his predecessor Paul VI was beatified – Francis underlined his emphasis on serving others rather than passing judgment.
“The Church is called to waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope,” he said.
Austen Ivereigh, author of a new biography of the Pope, argued that despite the opposition the overall outcome had been a “huge coup” for Francis by strongly endorsing his more pastoral, rather than judgmental, style.
“What would have been a setback would be if the whole pastoral focus of the document had been rejected but the whole direction of the pontificate has been massively endorsed by the Synod fathers.
“There isn’t a clear green light on those two issues to proceed but they will still proceed.”
Cardinal Nichols said the setback would not derail the process.
“We have had synods in the past, what is different with this one is that this is not an end and [The Pope] had said so very clearly – he tore up the rule book,” the Cardinal said.
“By the rule book those votes should have removed paragraphs from the text if it were the end of a synod.
“He said no, no, we are releasing the lot, we tell people … what the balance of voting is, this document – all of it – is the starting point for the next synod, please go away and reflect on these things, talk to people, talk about where we are at this point because this document is part of a process of dialogue and discernment for the future of the Church.”
Asked if he expected more welcoming language towards gay people in the final text, next year, he said: “I would hope so – and I would expect a similar level of honest, open, pensive and very, very charitable exchange of views in order to discern a way forward.”
This article first appeared in the Telegraph Oct. 19, 2014