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Catholic Church set to soften stance on divorce

October 24, 2015

Catholic bishops have voted on a list of reforms concerning, among other things, divorce and homosexuality, endorsing Pope Francis' call for a more merciful and less judgmental church.

Vatican Synode
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMA Press/E. Inetti

Catholic bishops voted on Saturday to finalize a document summarizing the Vatican's positions on issues relating to the family, as reformers within the church hoped to liberalize attitudes toward controversial matters like divorce and homosexuality.

Bishops from around the world adopted the final document at the end of a contentious three-week synod on providing better pastoral care for Catholic families. The text, which barely reached the two-thirds majority needed to pass, emphasized the role of discernment and individual conscience in dealing with difficult family situations.

Ahead of Saturday's vote, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn told reporters that "some people will be disappointed." More specifically, he said the final document would only touch briefly upon one of the biggest bones of contention dividing the Catholic Church: homosexuality.

The cardinal explained that the issue of allowing gays and lesbians into the church was still "too delicate" for many bishops around the world.

However, Schönborn said the bishops had agreed to take a more lenient stance toward divorced couples, who historically have been banned from taking Holy Communion unless they agreed to abstain from sex with their current partners. The 94-page document will agree to address each person on a case-by-case basis.

Divisions in the church

The Catholic Church has been divided over issues such as homosexuality and divorce, with German-language bishops among those leading the charge for a more liberal, open attitude toward "non-traditional" followers.

On the other hand, hard-liners, including many from African nations, have been staunchly opposed to any reforms allowing for laxer attitudes toward members of the LGBT community.

Pope Francis - seen as a vocal reformer by many - will give his final word on the document in a speech.

blc/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)