In the ecclesial chess game the U.S. bishops bolstered their conservative contingent by electing some of their most vocal culture warriors while Pope Francis' choice for Chicago, Archbishop Blaise Cupich, fell to the alternate position. The bishops also chose to leave the Pope's trusted colleague and reformer, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, off the slate.
Cardinal Walter Kasper is Pope Francis' point person for reforming pastoral practices for divorced and remarried Catholics. A counter to some of the conservative coalitions that have formed, he and Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio are the most senior members of a newly formed group called the "Cenacle (Upper Room) of Friends of Francis" who exist to publicly build support for the reform efforts of Pope Francis.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx recently said with regards to divorced and remarried Catholics, "We must look for ways for people to receive the Eucharist. It is not about finding ways to keep them out! We must find ways to welcome them." And speaking about LGBT Catholics he remarked," When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship."
Cardinal Vincent Nichols clearly wants a church of mercy and stated the reason paragraph # 55 in the Relatio Synodi failed is because it didn't go far enough.
Cardinal John Dew seeks reform saying, "the church would be enriched if dedicated Catholics excluded from the Eucharist because of church rules could return to the Lord's table.
In October, Cardinal Luis Tagle stated, "The question of remarried divorcees remains open." He will call for a deeper look at the economic forces that strain marriages and the impact of forced immigration.
Fear characterized some of the responses from synod participants according to Cardinal Christoph Schonborn who suggested applying the principle of "gradualism" to the question of marriage which recognizes the good in irregular relationships like cohabitation.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels criticized conservatives saying, "Given the situation we currently live in, if we do not do our utmost to ensure people approach the sacraments, we face the risk of dechristianization."
Cardinal Oscar Rodrigues Maradiaga recently criticized Cardinal Muller saying, "You must be a little flexible. . . "
At the end of the October synod, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher suggested that paragraph #55 regarding homosexuality didn't pass because "many would have preferred a more open, positive language."
Archbishop Victor Fernandez, a close advisor of Pope Francis at the synod, stated, "We need to develop the doctrine on the family much more. If we came here only to repeat what we've always said, the church wouldn't grow."
Archbishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle, ahead of his African counterparts, supports allowing local bishops to make decisions regarding divorced and re-married Catholics on a case-by-case basis.
Recently, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane called on the Synod to find new ways of speaking about family saying, "we can't just keep mouthing the same things we have been mouthing for centuries in the same way, especially if people don't understand."(Tablet, 10Jan15) Earlier he urged the Church "to meet people where they are and care for them and journey with them."
Archbishop Malcom McMahon and Archbishop Diarmund Martin have gone on record as supporting Francis reforms. Bishop Johan Bonny has called the Church to give more space, "to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared-life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage."
Pope Francis is leading the charge to open the doors of the Church to those who have been marginalized, to those who have left because they are judged to be sinners and failed Catholics. He has allies. He has support. Even the disappointing final Relatio Synodi with its failed paragraphs, are a sign of that support. As Congar might have seen it, those who are fearful would like to squeeze the breath from this small movement toward reform being led by Pope Francis before it evan has a chance to live. But a solid portion of the language of the mid-term document is still intact in the final relatio, and the hope for a Church of mercy and welcoming is still alive.
As we move toward the synod, all the baptized are urged to enter the conversation and make their views known to synod leaders.