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News / Churches & Religion

Pope wants to keep big Vatican meeting on the church’s future behind closed doors, ideology-free

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
Published: September 4, 2023, 11:30am

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis defended the decision to keep the discussions of a big Vatican meeting on the future of the Catholic Church behind closed doors, saying Monday the three-week conference was a religious moment for the church and “not a television program” that was open to scrutiny.

Francis was asked repeatedly on his way home from Mongolia about the Oct. 4-29 meeting, or synod of bishops, which is opening after an unprecedented two-year canvassing of rank-and-file Catholics around the globe about their hopes for the church.

Many Vatican watchers consider the synod to be a defining moment of the Francis pontificate, since the official agenda includes hot-button issues such as the role of women in decision-making roles in the church, the acceptance of LGBTQ+ Catholics and celibacy for priests.

While the synod is not a decision-making body, many Catholics who participated in the pre-meeting consultations are eager to see how their contributions are considered or not by the bishops and laypeople who were chosen to represent them. In a novelty, Francis has allowed laypeople including women to have a vote alongside bishops on specific proposals that will be put forward for the pope’s consideration.

Asked if journalists would have access to the meeting, Francis insisted the deliberation would be “very open,” with developments reported by a Vatican commission headed by the Holy See’s communications chief, Paolo Ruffini. That is also how recent synod meetings have been handled, with Ruffini providing daily updates of general themes discussed without identifying who said what.

Francis said he needed to guarantee the “synodal climate” by keeping the meeting closed to the media and public.

“This is not a TV program where they talk about everything,” he said. “It’s a religious moment,” in which participants speak freely followed by periods of prayer. “Without this spirit of prayer, there’s no synodality, there’s politics.”

The synod has generated both interest and criticism, with opposition coming in particular from conservatives who are warning that opening up issues of sexual morality could lead to schism. In a forward to a recent book, American Cardinal Raymond Burke warned the synod was like opening a “Pandora’s Box.”

Francis said such concerns were evidence of ideology infecting the process.

“In the synod, there is no place for ideology,” he said.

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