Catholic Church fails to get on youth wavelength

Thirty-four youngsters were called in to share their stories. (AFP pic)

VATICAN CITY: Hailed as a chance for the Catholic Church to reconnect with today’s young, a month-long meeting at the Vatican has ended with a whimper as bishops from across continents fail to see eye to eye.

The 267 prelates attending the meet had been tasked with finding a way to breathe fresh life into a centuries-old institution suffering from both a damaging global sex abuse crisis and widespread secularity in the West.

The synod’s concluding document, to be published later Saturday, “looks like an Ikea catalogue”, one exasperated bishop told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“You have everything you need for the bathroom and the kitchen, in all styles, so everyone can identify with it,” he said.

“One Eastern European bishop ventured to say that the church’s rule about ‘no sex before marriage’ had become untenable. We moved on to the next issue and didn’t talk about it again,” the bishop said.

“The conservatives later joined the fray by demanding a reminder of church morals,” he said.

Another bishop told AFP that “consensus on the digital (world) is possible, but not on sexual morality. The difference in opinions is too great”.

There were rumblings of discontent among some present that the text being debated and voted was only available in Italian.

‘Bold proposals’ fall flat 
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India said that some bishops from the developing world were concerned the final document would not fairly reflect the issues discussed, with some subjects, such as the sex abuse crisis, stealing centre stage.

The paedophilia crisis, which has shaken the church from Germany to Chile and the United States, was discussed during the first week but took a back seat when clerics from countries spared the scandal so far shifted the focus to other matters.

As Vatican watcher John Allen put it: “there is arguably no higher priority in Catholicism right now than dealing with the abuse crisis, but that doesn’t mean other important issues have gone on holiday while the church sorts it all out”.

But some complained there was no progress elsewhere either.

“Some bold proposals, likely to make newspaper headlines, were not taken up,” said French bishop Emmanuel Gobillard, one of the few to have talked about sexuality.

Signs of the times
He insisted however that the synod, bringing together the elements of a universal church in all its diversity, had been a remarkable one — just one that was “untranslatable” for the media.

The 34 youngsters called to share their stories moved many bishops, particularly an Iraqi who spoke of the war, he said.

Women invited to participate also said they felt their calls for a greater female role within the church had not gone unheard — though progressive Catholic lay groups slammed the lack of voting rights for the women religious superiors present.

As well as the bishops, two non-ordained religious men will be able to vote.

Attempts by young Catholics at the synod to get the LGBT acronym into the final text were strongly rebuffed, with German Cardinal Reinhard Marx saying it was “not a synod on sexuality, but on young people”.

Bishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya from Cameroon said the church had to “understand the signs of the times”.

If he used the acronym “LGBT” on his return, “99% of people would ask ‘what are we talking about?’,” he said.