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Cardinal Nichols: statement on gay RCs 'did not go far enough'

24 October 2014


PROPOSALS on the pastoral care of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic Church might have failed to win support simply because "they did not go far enough," the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has said.

He suspected that a revised paragraph in the final report on the extraordinary synod on the family was opposed because many participants felt that it was insufficiently welcoming to gay couples.

"It is a guess; it is a hypothesis; but that was my dilemma," the Cardinal told a press conference in London on his return from the two-week synod (News, 17 October).

The paragraph was one of three that failed to receive the required two-thirds majority of approval from the 184 bishops; the other two dealt with the issue of communion for those who divorce and marry again.

Cardinal Nichols refused to reveal how he voted, but admitted to "dithering" because he did not like the language used. "We were going through these votes so quickly, and I was dithering between on the one hand [feeling] not satisfied by this, but on the other hand thinking it was the best we were going to get."

The final conclusions, published only in Italian, revealed disagreements between the bishops that were not resolved by the changes in language.

Changes included the alteration of a section heading that had initially been "Welcoming Homosexuals" to "Pastoral Attention to Persons with Homosexual Orientation".

Figures posted on the Vatican's website reveal that a majority of synod fathers voted in favour of two sections dealing with communion for those who had divorced and married again (58 per cent and 62 per cent), but not in large-enough numbers for the paragraphs to be formally accepted.

They also showed that more than 60 per cent of participants voted for a resolution on the pastoral care of homosexual people, again falling narrowly short of the clear two-thirds majority required.

Cardinal Nichols told the press conference that, although the three paragraphs had failed to win the support of the synod members, the issues of homosexuality and second marriages remained "on the table" in the discussions preceding a second and larger synod on the family in a year's time.

He said that it was significant that Pope Francis had decided not to strike them out from the final report of the extraordinary synod on the family, which concluded on Sunday with the beatification of Pope Paul VI Instead, the Pope announced that he would publish the paragraphs in the final document, a move that Cardinal Nichols described as a "very important reminder that this synod is a first step in a very long journey".

"He [Pope Francis] was saying this document is not a final document; this document is a paper [about] where we are up to now," Cardinal Nichols said. "I have been to quite a number of synods. I don't remember one that was as vigorous and as open and as direct as this one. . .

"When the report of the synod was finalised and voted on, there was a question of what happened to it. There was a question of whether some paragraphs should have been dropped, and it was simply given to the Pope - it was in his care - but he said: 'No, no, no; we have set out on a pathway of openness, and we are going to continue. This goes immediately to the press: we have got to let everybody know where we are up to, and where we are moving on from.'"

The Cardinal went on: "Those votes are an indication of where the debate is up to. None of this is off the table. It is an ongoing reflection, and it takes in the whole world. This might be a very keen issue for us. It might not be in other parts of the world . . . but we have the ongoing agenda in that paper, and very hopefully we have an indication of things that are wholeheartedly and totally accepted, and things that still have to be talked about with great honesty and openness and trust.

"I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person, and we keep recognising and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person, whatever their sexuality, whether they are cohabiting or in a second marriage."

In reflections recorded in Rome days earlier, Cardinal Nichols had said that it was a mistake to assume that the participants were divided, or that the Pope had been out-manoeuvred in any supposed attempts to change teaching.

He said: "If you hear any commentators saying that Pope Francis is disappointed, or has been defeated, don't believe them. Believe his own words that he says himself. In fact, he went on to say this: 'Many commentators or people who talk have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other. . . That is not the case.'"

'Welcome to our world' - Leader comment

'Don't be fooled: this was a big thing' - Paul Vallely

'Rome synod: happy, or divided?' - Press column

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