Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., talks with Catholic News Service after he was elected the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Nov. 12, 2013 in Baltimore. Photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy Catholic News Service

US archbishop urges both sides to cool down at Vatican

VATICAN CITY (RNS) After two days of fighting between happy liberals and angry conservatives, the Vatican on Wednesday (Oct. 15) dispatched a leading moderate from the U.S. church to tell both sides to temper their expectations about impending changes in church doctrine.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stressed that a working document on family issues released on Monday (Oct. 13) is simply that -- a draft document still subject to amendment by about 200 bishops and lay delegates meeting at Vatican City.

Monday's midpoint report from the two-week Synod on the Family raised expectations that the Catholic Church was poised to revolutionize its teaching on homosexuality, divorce and cohabitation, saying gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities” to offer the church.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., talks with Catholic News Service after he was elected the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Nov. 12, 2013 in Baltimore. Photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy Catholic News Service

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., talks with Catholic News Service after he was elected the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Nov. 12, 2013, in Baltimore. Photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy of Catholic News Service


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On Wednesday, Kurtz, flanked by Spanish Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach and Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, urged both sides to take a breath.

“The working document is an important moment, but it is a moment,” Kurtz told journalists. “It’s at the surface of the synod discussion. I see the synod as a process. My focus is going to be on the document that will be the fruitfulness of the whole process and that includes our amendments.”

Kurtz was vague on what kind of changes the bishops may or may not approve by the time they head home this weekend. The synod is just a kickoff to a follow-up summit in October 2015.

Even so, both sides continued to maneuver for and against changes that have been called nothing short of an "earthquake." Conservatives led by American Cardinal Raymond Burke and German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller have been leading a strenuous pushback.

Cardinal George Pell, a conservative who is one of Pope Francis' closest advisers, told The Tablet he thought the document was “tendentious and incomplete." He said it needed to be "enhanced and corrected."

Meanwhile, liberal German Cardinal Walter Kasper appeared to inflame the debate after telling Catholic agency Zenit that a “growing majority” of synod delegates support allowing Communion for Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment.

“I hoped there would be some opening and I think the majority is in favor,” Kasper told Zenit. "That is the impression I have, but there is no vote. But I think some opening would be left [to happen]. Perhaps it would also be left to the next part of the synod."

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told CBS This Morning the synod would find common ground that would satisfy hard-liners, including Burke.

“All of this is almost like antipasto to help the Holy Father arrive in a fresh new way to teach the timeless teachings of the church on marriage and family.”

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