In Rome, Pope Francis has opened a synod on family and marriage. The wide-ranging discussion preceding the assembly ensures that it will become another milestone of his papacy, DW's Stefan Dege writes.
Pope Francis clearly wants people to accept the Catholic Church. And what better way to do that than to address some of the wrongs plaguing the 2000-year-old institution? He has already tackled the church's sexual abuse of children and set the Vatican's finances in order. Now, he is placing his focus on sexual morality.
No pope before Francis has made such efforts to take stock: Is the church keeping pace with the times? Do its teachings fit with the changing realities of the faithful? Is it open to people whose lives break with doctrine, for example gay men, lesbians and divorcees? The surveys that Francis has carried out worldwide suggest that the answer is no. The public perceives the church as a closed club of true believers and dogmatists. Something has to change.
What better serves humanity: A church that changes in its thinking? Or a church that staunchly defends its doctrine, even if that means risking that some of its members feel excluded or that more and more Catholics give up on it?
These questions have reopened old wounds. Now, reformers and traditionalists are fighting about the church's course. The fight is becoming more and more pronounced - not just in the Vatican, but also in dioceses around the globe. Many fear a schism. And the pope? He has long avoided issuing a decree. Instead, he invites discussions, feeding them with suggestions, almost like a moderator. He believes in balancing interests, and the same is true with Sunday's synod on family and marriage. Though the meeting of bishops was unlikely to result in decisions, expectations were high.
Modesty a recipe for success
Francis is playing for time, showing that he is taking the long-term view. The cohesion of his church is paramount. He knows that the church needs them all - the proponents as well as the opponents of change. Hasty conclusions have a way of excluding some people, and not everything needs to be decided upon during his papacy. This pope is not vain or self-serving. He has hinted more than once that at some point his strength will be exhausted and it will be time for him to step down. It's exactly this modesty, this willingness to relativize his own role, that makes Francis credible and wins him respect.
Yes, this pope is one of the most political, the most straightforward and the most intrepid that we have seen in a long time. He is also one of the most humanitarian. He regularly makes strong, symbolic gestures. Who can forget his praying with refugees in Lampedusa, or his visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem? He has just completed a visit to America. There too, he appealed to the conscience of leaders - in Cuba, in Colombia, in the United States and at the United Nations. He spoke out on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. He criticized the excesses of the global financial system. Weeks ago, he reminded Europeans of their duties to refugees.
Pope Francis has already achieved more than many of his predecessors. The Catholic Church is back on the global political stage. It has regained moral authority. It is addressing the issues of its time. Among them is the Catholic image of the family. That makes Sunday's synod on the family a success - and certainly not the last of its kind under this pope's leadership.
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