Pope asserts marriage is forever at start of family meeting

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
LGBT Issues Overshadow Pope's Opening of Synod on the Family

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis opened a divisive meeting of the world's bishops on family issues Sunday by forcefully asserting that marriage is an indissoluble bond between man and woman. But he said the church doesn't judge and must "seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy."

Francis dove head-on into the most pressing issue confronting the meeting of 270 bishops during a solemn Mass in St. Peter's Basilica: How to better minister to Catholic families experiencing separation, divorce and other problems when the church's teaching holds that marriage is forever.

See more from the pope's visit in America:

50 PHOTOS
Pope's visit to the U.S. (Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia)
See Gallery
Pope asserts marriage is forever at start of family meeting
Pope Francis reaches out to 5th grader Omodele Ojo, of the Brooklyn borough of New York, as he is greeted while arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, Pool)
Pope Francis waves from his car, a Fiat 500, after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. The Pope is spending three days in Washington before heading to New York and Philadelphia. This is the Pope's first visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Pope Francis, left, walks with President Barack Obama, right, after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. The Pope is spending three days in Washington before heading to New York and Philadelphia. This is the Pope's first visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Pope Francis waves from a Fiat 500 as his motorcade departs from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, where President and Mrs. Obama welcomed him. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk down the Colonnade before meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Pope Francis wave to the crowd on the South Lawn from the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, during a state arrival ceremony. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama talks with Pope Francis in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis give the thumbs-up from the popemobile during a parade around the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
ADDS NAME OF GIRL - Pope Francis reaches to give a blessing to Sophie Cruz, 5, from suburban Los Angeles, during a parade in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. She also delivered a bright yellow T-shirt and a letter expressing wishes that her mother and father and millions of others who are in the U.S. illegally are allowed to remain in the country. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Seminarians greet Pope Francis, bottom center, as he walks into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, before holding a mass to canonize Junipero Serra. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Nuns sit in their pews while waiting for Pope Francis to arrive inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the popemobile during a parade in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, following a state arrival ceremony at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Pope Francis conducts Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The sun begins to rise as people gather on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, for a chance to see Pope Francis. The pope spoke to the crowd outside from a balcony after his address to a joint meeting of Congress. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Pope Francis listens to applause before addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Cartrice Haynesworth, center, has a selfie taken with Pope Francis as he walks through the crowd during a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/David Goldman, Pool)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Mark Perez wears a button bearing the image of Pope Francis while waiting for him to arrive for a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington September 24, 2015, in Washington, DC. The charity serves dinner to about 300 homeless people daily at the site, and it will serve a meal during the pope's visit. (Photo by David Goldman-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis touches the cheek of a young girl as he prepares to depart the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, en route to Andrews Air Force Base. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Pope Francis, accompanied by members of Congress, waves to the crowd from the Speakers Balcony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, after addressing a joint meeting of Congress inside. Doug Mills / The New York Times via AP, Pool))
Pope Francis carries his own briefcase up the stairs before boarding his plane before leaving from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to New York, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A New York City police officer searches nuns outside St. Patrick's Cathedral prior to the arrival of Pope Francis in New York, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015. (Damon Winter/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Pope Francis engages well-wishers including Gerard Gubatan, of the Brooklyn borough of New York, center left, after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, Pool)
Pope Francisí motorcade moves through New York City streets, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, on the way to St. Patrickís Cathedral where he will lead an evening prayer service. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool)
Audience members await the entrance of Pope Francis before he leads an evening prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today via AP, Pool)
Faithful cheer as Pope Francis enters St. Patrick's Cathedral to lead an evening prayer service Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis waves at the audience while sitting in the head of state chair before addressing the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Pope Francis addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pope Francis places a white rose at the South Pool of the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Pope Francis, center left, reads during a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Museum, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. The Pope is on a two-day visit to New York which includes addressing the United Nations and holding mass at Madison Square Garden before heading to Philadelphia. (Monika Graff/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis visits the 9/11 Museum, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. (Susan Watts/New York Daily News via AP, Pool)
NEW YORK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis visits Our Lady Queen of Angels School September 25, 2015 in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The pope is in New York on a two-day visit carrying out a number of engagements, including a papal motorcade through Central Park and celebrating Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Kena Betancur-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis, center, enters Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 New York. (Andrew Burton/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis celebrates high Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept 25, 2015, in New York. (Alejandra Villa/Newsday via AP, Pool)
A crucifix hangs above member of the clergy who watch as Pope Francis, not shown, celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 New York. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
In this photo provided by World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis kisses and blesses Michael Keating, 10, of Elverson, Pa after arriving in Philadelphia and exiting his car when he saw the boy, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at Philadelphia International Airport. Keating has cerebral palsy and is the son of Chuck Keating, director of the Bishop Shanahan High School band that performed at Pope Francis' airport arrival. (Joseph Gidjunis/World Meeting of Families via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Colleen Feldmann, of Fallsington, Pa., center, and Sister Donna with Missionaries of Charity in India, right, cheer as Pope Francis arrives at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. Francis wraps up his U.S. visit this weekend in Philadelphia, where he speaks in front of Independence Hall and celebrates Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to close out a big rally on Catholic families. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Pope Francis passes the crowd in his pope mobile on Independence Mall in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. The pope spoke at Independence Hall on his first visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson, Pool)
Pope Francis makes his way to the World Meeting of Families festival along Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (Jewel Samad/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the popemobile during a parade along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday, June 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd during a parade Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. The pontiff attended a music-and-prayer festival there Saturday night to close out the World Meeting of Families, a Vatican-sponsored conference of more than 18,000 people from around the world. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, Pool)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pope Francis waves to the crowd gathered on the route to the Festival of Families along Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Pope is concluding his U.S. tour by spending two days in Philadelphia, having visited Washington D.C. and New York City. (Photo by Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images)
American singer Aretha Franklin sings as Pope Francis and others listen during the World Meeting of Families festival in Philadelphia, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis greets inmates during his visit to Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pool)
Pope Francis gestures to inmates next to a wooden chair made for him by inmates during his visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
People gather on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway before the Papal Mass on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Philadelphia. Pope Francis is in Philadelphia for the last leg of his six-day visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Pope Francis waves from his popemobile as he heads to celebrate Mass at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
WYNNEWOOD, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis greets seminarians as he walks the loggia to his address to the Bishops at St. Martin of Tours Chapel at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, September 27, 2015 in Wynnewwod, Pennsylvania. After visiting Washington and New York City, Pope Francis concludes his tour of the U.S. with events in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday. ((Photo by Tom Gralish-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia as he departs for Rome on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. Pope Francis wrapped up his 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States on Sunday. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson, pool)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

He insisted that the church cannot be "swayed by passing fads or popular opinion." But in an acknowledgment that marriages fail, he said the church is also a mother, who doesn't point fingers or judge her children.

One of the major debates at the synod is whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.

Francis launched the synod process two years ago by sending out a 39-point questionnaire to bishops, parishes and ordinary Catholic families around the world asking about their understanding of and adherence to church teaching on family matters. Their responses showed a widespread rift between official Catholic teaching and practice, particularly on sex, marriage and homosexuality.

A first meeting of bishops ended last October with no consensus on how to better welcome gays and divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in the church. Conservatives insisted that Catholic doctrine is clear and unchanging. Progressives acknowledged the doctrine but sought wiggle room in pastoral practice.

In the ensuing 12 months, both sides have dug in and sparks are expected to fly in Round 2. In fact, few Vatican meetings have enjoyed as controversial a run-up as this one. There have been allegations of manipulation and coercion; secret caucuses to plot strategy; de-facto laws passed to take the wind out of the debate.

Watch more coverage below:

Why The Pope Is The World's Premiere Leader

And on the eve of the synod, a Vatican monsignor outed himself as gay and denounced widespread homophobia in the church.

"We are happy if there is turbulence," said Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Italian running the synod. "We are in the sea, and so there has to be some turbulence."

Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's finance manager who is firmly in the conservative camp, predicted little more than a reaffirmation of the status quo would emerge in Round 2, albeit with perhaps better explanation as to why the status quo exists.

"It's quite impossible for there to be any change in the church's teaching on Communion for the divorced and remarried," Pell said on the sidelines of a conference last week about helping gays overcome their homosexual tendencies.

Watch more coverage below:

Pope Francis Met with Gay Couple During His Time in US

The conference was one of many initiatives launched by conservatives in the run-up to the synod aimed at reasserting traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality, which holds that gays are to be respected but that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."

In a clear challenge to that teaching, a mid-level official in the Vatican's orthodoxy office, Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, announced Saturday that that he was a proud gay priest (with a boyfriend), called for the synod to take up the plight of gays, and denounced homophobia throughout the church.

The Vatican summarily fired him.

Gay rights activists, who were in Rome to try to influence the synod from the sidelines, came to his defense and urged the synod fathers to assert that there is no place for homophobia in the church.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese, a practicing Catholic with a gay son, said she hoped that more transparency would help "kill for once and all this terrible lie" that everyone was born heterosexual.

But there is little sense the synod will show any new great opening to gays after the first round pulled back on a ground-breaking welcome initiated mid-way through. In that mid-way report, the bishops said gay unions could provide "precious" support for partners.

In a new book "The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?" author Edward Pentin asserts that the mid-way report was essentially manipulated by the Vatican's synod organizers, using heavy-handed, coercive tactics that didn't reflect the synod membership.

More movement may emerge on the other hot-button issue, whether divorced and civilly-remarried Catholics can receive Communion.

Catholics who divorce and want to remarry in the church must first obtain an annulment, a ruling from a church tribunal that their first marriage was invalid. Without the annulment, these civilly remarried Catholics are considered to be living in sin and cannot receive Communion, a condition that has lead generations of Catholics to feel shunned by their church.

Francis has sought a more merciful approach, insisting that these remarried Catholics be fully part of the life of the church. Progressive prelates led by German Cardinal Walter Kasper have called for a process by which a bishop could accompany these remarried Catholics on a path of penance that, over time and on a case-by-case basis, could lead to them receiving the sacraments.

Earlier this year, a handful of progressive German, Swiss and French bishops met in secret at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University to plot strategy ahead of the synod, allowing in only a handful of friendly progressive media in behind closed doors.

In the meantime, Francis pulled the rug out from under the debate to some degree by radically reforming the annulment process to make the decrees easier to obtain. Canon lawyers and conservatives have balked at the new law, asserting that it amounts to "Catholic divorce" — a charge Francis has vigorously denied.

Like it or not, however, the new law will make it easier for Catholics to get annulments, which may lessen the urgency of coming up with a definitive solution for the divorce/remarried issue at the synod.

Watch more coverage below:

Both Sides of Pope's Meeting With Davis

More from AOL.com:
Thousands attend funerals of Iranians killed in hajj crush
More rain, flooding forecast along soggy East Coast
Biden: No question transgender people can serve in military

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners