Pope Francis said Saturday that a strongly divided gathering of bishops called to soften church doctrine on divorce, unmarried couples and homosexuals "laid bare" what he called "the closed hearts which frequently hide behind the church's teachings and good intentions."
The pontiff's forceful critique of ultraconservative bishops came at the Vatican at the close of a three-week synod that saw conservatives resist papal calls to make the 1.2 billion-member church more welcoming and inclusive to gays and to divorcees who have remarried outside the church.
Francis accused those bishops of judging, "sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families."
Conservatives opposed to the pope's overtures toward marginalized Catholics successfully resisted wholesale changes to doctrine that would allow remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Instead, the synod's final recommendations spoke of an "internal forum" in which a priest or a bishop may work with a Catholic who has divorced and remarried to decide jointly, privately and on a case-by-case basis whether he or she can be fully reintegrated into the church.
"In order for this happen, the necessary conditions of humility, discretion, love for the church and her teachings must be guaranteed in a sincere search for God's will," the document said.
Progressives have for years been advocating the "internal forum," and some observers said the mere fact that the phrase was included in the document was a victory for those promoting merciful change.
But the three paragraphs addressing the Communion issue barely won the two-thirds majority needed for approval.
Francis has in the past voiced concern for divorced and remarried Catholics, who under church law can not receive Communion or participate fully in church life until their previous marriages are annulled. The church teaches that marriage is "indissoluble" and that those remarrying without an annulment are committing the sin of adultery.
On the issue of homosexuality, the final synod document restated church teachings that gays should not suffer discrimination in society, but also repeated the stand that there was "no foundation whatsoever" for same-sex marriage, which "could not even remotely" be compared to heterosexual unions.
Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said that many of the 270 bishops in attendance felt that any official change in church views on homosexuality "was too delicate a theme" to impose on the faithful in their respective countries. African bishops were particularly forceful in their opposition to welcoming language toward gays, who are often victims of violence and discrimination in their African homelands.
At a preliminary meeting a year ago, conservative clerics made sure an interim report deleted a passage they thought was too welcoming to gays.
The synod is an advisory body that does not have the authority to change church doctrine. But the pope can use synod findings as a basis for his own writings, known as "apostolic exhortations."
Some information for this report came from Reuters.