As synod starts, Pope says Church must not retreat into dogma

Pope Francis has stated that the Church “must not withdraw into dogma” and should recognise that “the world has changed”.

In an interview with Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Francis indicated that he wanted clergy to be less judgmental and more understanding of those living outside Catholic norms.

He told the newspaper: “The world has changed and the Church cannot withdraw into supposed interpretations of dogma.

“We have to approach these social difficulties, both new and old, by extending a hand to give comfort, not by stigmatising and criticising people.”

His comments were published on the day he celebrated a Mass to open the two-week Synod of Bishops, which has as its theme “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”.

At the synod, some prelates seemed to have picked up his point.

During the first days of discussions, concerns have been raised as to some of the language the Church uses to speak about those who don’t live up to its teachings.

Some synod members referred to phrases like “living in sin”, “contraceptive mentality” and “intrinsically disordered” as being unhelpful.

Vatican spokesman Fr Thomas Rosica summarised this, saying that labelling people does not help in bringing people to Christ.

Among the many themes that have emerged during the first days was that of “graduality”, said English Cardinal Vincent Nichols to reporters.

This means that Catholics may sometimes grow toward adherence to, or understanding of, Church teaching throughout their lives.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said “there are absolutely valid, important and even holy elements” in families that fall short of the Christian ideal of marriage in the Church.

Cardinal Nichols said he didn’t hear any synod member speaking about changing doctrine, “but I heard a great desire to deepen our understanding of doctrine”.

In the La Nacion interview, Francis dwelt on the question of young people’s attitudes to marriage, such as seeing cohabitation as preferable.

He said the fact that young people not getting married is “the culture of the time”.

He added: “What should the Church do? Expel them from their breast? Or approach them and try to bring them close and teach them the word of God? I am in favour of the latter position.”

At the start of the first working session of the synod, Pope Francis told members to “speak boldly and listen with humility”.


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