Roman Catholic bishops have failed to reach consensus on opening the Church’s doors to remarried divorcees and gays after a special synod on the family, in a blow to Pope Francis.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said participants had approved a “re-balanced” final report that took into account the concerns of the most conservative members.
In a final vote on Saturday after two weeks of heated debate, three paragraphs touching on the hot-button issues of a more welcome stance towards gays and divorcees did not receive the two-thirds majority needed.
The vote closed a synod of bishops from around the world which has seen conservatives clash publicly with liberals over a drive spearheaded by the Pope to soften the Church’s approach to sinners.
Francis, 77, has called for the Church to take a more merciful approach to unwed mothers, remarried divorcees and gays, famously saying of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?”
To change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) October 18, 2014
Ahead of the vote, the cardinals overwhelmingly approved a message to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics stressing the value of “unique and indissoluble conjugal love” but without touching directly on non-traditional unions.
A preliminary report on Monday made waves around the world by suggesting the Church should reach out to homosexuals, who have “gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community”, outraging traditionalists.
Observers said the early reports may have backfired on progressives seeking to steal the march on conservatives.
The vote reflects the attitude of the top echelons of the Church towards reform – and ultimately towards Francis’s rule, which has been coloured since his election in March 2013 by a determination to show the more humane side of the centuries-old institution.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, an ally of the Pope’s who has been pushing for reform, has said he believes the “majority” of those taking part in the synod are open to change.
Kasper suggested in February that remarried divorcees should be allowed to take communion under certain conditions.
This synod will be followed by a year of consultations, and a follow-up questionnaire will be sent out to dioceses around the world. A second, larger synod will then be held in October 2015.
After that, the results will be handed to the Argentinian pope, who will have the final say in outlining the Church’s stance on family matters.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, an ally of the pope, said there was no turning back. “There have been two steps forward, there may be one step backwards, but certainly not two,” he said.