TIME faith

Vatican Strengthens Ties with Evangelicals and Mormons Against Gay Marriage

Pope Francis general audience
Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter square, Vatican City, Nov. 19, 2014. Osservatore Romano/EPA

New alliances formed in Rome this week

In a month when papal conversation about marriage has been all the rage, the Vatican is enlisting a new set of allies to support its commitment to marriage between a man and a woman: American evangelicals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This week the Vatican hosted a three-day, international, interreligious colloquium called Humanum, “The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium.” Its goal was to “propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman.” Speakers came from nearly two dozen countries and a variety of religious traditions, including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Taoists.

The presence of American evangelicals and the LDS Church was particularly notable. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, each gave speeches, and representatives from the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council in Washington attended. President Henry Eyring of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ first presidency spoke and Elder Tom Perry of the LDS’s Quorum of the Twelve also joined. In the United States, this trio of faiths has worked together to stand against the government’s Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, but it was the first time they were coming together at the Vatican to talk about marriage.

The colloquium rallied around the theological concept of complementarianism, the belief that men and women have different roles in a marriage and religious leadership—husbands are spiritual leaders, and wives submit to them in love. To be “complementary” is to complete or fill the lack in the other thing. It opposes egalitarianism, the theological belief that men and women are equal in all respects in marriage and in religious leadership positions. Traditional Catholic, evangelical, and LDS belief interprets the Bible to support a complementarian relational structure. That may explain why mainline Protestant traditions that interpret the Bible to an egalitarian end—Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Church of Christ—were not featured at the event.

Pope Francis did not spearhead the colloquium, as many casual observers might think. It was organized and led by German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, a strong conservative voice at the Pope’s Synod on the Family last month. Müller is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican group that sponsored the event. Still, Pope Francis gave an opening address to attendees, in which he affirmed the Church’s teaching that children have a right to a mother and a father.

Skepticism about the other’s faith tends to run deep between Catholics, evangelicals and Mormons. In strict economic terms, the three faiths all compete for followers. They are heavily missionizing, and often they evangelize precisely in ways that distinguish themselves apart from the other faiths. But the Protestant work ethic runs deep in both evangelical and Mormon culture, as does deep commitment to faith convictions that the outside world may not understand. The gathering signals that some Vatican leaders recognize that banding together to support marriage as between one man and one woman may be a smart strategy going forward, especially as they have been standing separately against the western world’s changing sexual mores.

On paper, the colloquium concluded with an affirmation of marriage. “For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate….This we affirm.”

But in practice, it ended with something more significant—a strengthening of alliances. The event forged and deepened relationships across faith lines. “This group differs on many points—theological and political—but we agree that marriage matters,” says Moore, who walked around the Vatican with a copy of Luther’s 95 Theses in his coat pocket, a symbol of Protestantism’s break with Rome 500 years ago. “The colloquium started a conversation of groups on virtually every continent and virtually every religious tradition on how we can work together for the common good of marriage.”

For Eyring, of the LDS Church, the event marks a beginning. “They are talking about how are we going to get the word out and what more can we do. They want to do more,” he told the Deseret News. “It’s been amazing how receptive they have been to us,” Perry added, describing relationship he has been developing with Catholic leaders. “I think that we’ve developed a relationship now that they recognized that we have the strength and our structure in our organization that can reach out in a way that other churches do not have.”

American evangelical leaders say they are also leaving hopeful of the journey ahead. “The content of the colloquium was important, but perhaps more so were the connections made between people who share come concerns but who didn’t know each other before,” Moore says. “I am leaving the colloquium much more optimistic than I was when I arrived.”

Adds Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council: “The atmosphere was almost euphoric as the attendees from six of the world’s seven continents broke from the historic gathering to return to their respective nations renewed in their stand for marriage,” he says. “The courts may declare otherwise, and Hollywood may depict its demise, but the union of a man and a woman as the natural and enduring definition of marriage will endure until the end.”

TIME faith

Meet Blase Cupich: Chicago’s New Archbishop

Bishop Blase Cupich, Pope Francis' first major appointment in the hierarchy of the U.S. Catholic Church, leaves Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago
Bishop Blase Cupich, Pope Francis' first major appointment in the hierarchy of the U.S. Catholic Church, leaves Holy Name Cathedral as part of a ritual a day ahead of his installation as the new archbishop in Chicago, Nov. 17, 2014. Jeff Haynes—Reuters

Pope Francis was said to be personally involved in Cupich’s selection

On Tuesday afternoon, Blase Cupich, former bishop of Spokane, Wash., will be installed as the ninth archbishop of Chicago. Pope Francis named Cupich, 65, to the appointment in September to replace Cardinal Francis George, who is the city’s first retiring archbishop and who is fighting cancer. “This was not on my radar screen at all… I honestly thought that I was going to retire in Spokane,” Cupich says. “The Pope thought otherwise.”

The archbishop of Chicago is a key seat in the power structure of American Catholicism. The archdiocese is the country’s third-largest Catholic community with 2.2 million members — nearly half of whom are Hispanic — and a budget that tops $1 billion. Its two previous archbishops have been named cardinals.

Pope Francis was said to be personally involved in Cupich’s selection. So far the two men have had almost no direct communication — Cupich wrote the Pope a personal letter thanking him for the appointment, as is customary, but that’s it. They will likely meet for the first time in June for the presentation of the pallium, a cloak that the Pope places on the shoulders of new archbishops around the world.

Cupich is ready to hit the ground running. Known for his simple lifestyle, he brought just 20 boxes with him to Chicago, mostly of books and clothes. In a lightly edited Q&A with TIME, Cupich admits he is looking ahead to the pastoral challenges his new archdiocese faces, ranging from immigration reform to youth development to contextualizing the Church’s message about marriage and family. “I think it is a very exciting time in the life of the church,” Cupich says. “It is probably as exciting as what happened in the Second Vatican Council.”

Many people have commented that in picking you for the Chicago seat, Pope Francis was making a point about the kind of future leaders he wants in American churches. Is that overstated?

I think that the Pope has trust in every bishop that is appointed. I consider that to be the case, plus the fact that I don’t feel very comfortable carrying that burden. If I’m supposed to be at the end of the funnel of everything the Pope wants, that’s an onerous task. I think it is a very exciting time in the life of the church. It really comes down to a deeper appreciation, a more wholesome appreciation of what it means to recognize that the risen Christ is working in the life of the church. That is the basis of everything he is doing. It is not just about Jorge Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires who is now Pope Francis. It is about his being able to be attuned to where the risen Christ is active in the life of the church today, and trying in some way to point the church to that.

A lot of parishes are confused about what Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod on the Family means. How will you guide parishes on its takeaways?

I think it is important for people to not come to a conclusion too quickly about what the church is going to do … There is a commitment, as the Holy Father said, not about changing doctrine. This is about two things. First, making sure that we are looking at the full breadth of our doctrine, not just cherry-picking things that are familiar to us, but there is a whole tradition of teaching that goes back 2,000 years. Second is how do we apply that doctrine in pastoral practice. We’ve always had different accommodations for people who are on the journey, who are on the way, to bring them along. I think that those are the kinds of things and nuances that have to be worked out and that we have to speak about, but we have to do it in a way that is unifying. We have to make sure that everybody comes together. That is the role of the Holy Father.

What other themes are you thinking about this year?

You think about immigration, you think about jobs, about the economy — those are experienced in families. They impact marriage. That is the context I’m going to use this year to speak about those issues, to have people reflect on them, how do we approach those various areas and what needs to be done to improve those areas as it impacts families, as it impacts marriages, as it helps children. I think that this year, given the synod, I’m going to contextualize all of those questions that way.

Tell me about your preaching style. Do you like preaching?

I like it more than the people who listen to me! I did my doctoral dissertation on the lectionary readings that we use at mass, and how you have Biblical texts that have been taken out of their original Bible context and put together for mass, and now they form a new text. Out of that new text there is an interplay of new meaning … I try to be sensitive to the power of language, to the power of language that God uses to reveal something about what Christ is doing in our time. That is why I’m always excited about preaching, because there is always something new. Christ uses our imagination, uses the power of language and human speech in order to make present what he is doing … I was really grateful to have a chance to have some really in depth study about the power of language, using a philosopher who taught at the University of Chicago, by the name of Paul Ricoeur. I’m really happy to be in Chicago because a lot of what I do is rooted in his approach to language.

What do you make of the flurry of press coverage over your appointment?

It is tough to get used to. I was a big nobody before all of this, and I still consider myself to be that. One of my family members, having seen all the press coverage and watching the internet videos on me, said, ‘I don’t really get it. You are not that interesting.’ So that keeps me humble. You can always count on family to do that for you.

TIME faith

Joseph Smith’s Many Wives: The Faith at Stake in the News

Mormon Temple Salt Lake City
The historic Salt Lake Mormon Temple during the184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Oct. 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City. George Frey—Getty Images

An admission of historical facts by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints will be a test for the Mormon community

Religions at their core do not hinge on historical proofs. They hinge on faith. And that, ultimately, is what is at stake in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ public confirmation that Joseph Smith had dozens of wives.

Peggy Fletcher Stack at the Salt Lake Tribune reported the news three weeks ago when the essay first went live on the Church’s website. The story got national attention this Tuesday when the New York Times put Laurie Goodstein’s story about the development on A1. The shift is provocative: “Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old,” she wrote.

Polygamy, or plural marriage as the Church calls it, has long been one of the hottest topics of conversation surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church officially banned polygamy in 1890, and today only 2% of Mormons believe that polygamy is morally acceptable, according to the Pew Research Center. While scholarship about the LDS history has long discussed Smith’s multiple marriages, particularly his involvement with 15-year-old Fanny Alger, the Church itself has largely kept this part of its founder’s life out of the mainstream conversation.

Marriage and family have been central to the Church’s origin and trajectory from the beginning. Smith’s love for his wife Emma Hale has long been touted in Mormon circles. Mormon faith is often primarily nurtured in family structures. Today, half of Mormons say it is essential for their families to hold regular “family home evenings,” a family prayer and activity time, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Church may be talking about Smith’s marriages more openly, but the conversation will lead to topics far more complex than just polygamy. The disclosures raise deeper questions about how faith works. The essay explains that God sanctioned Smith’s polygamy for only a time. That prompts questions about who God is, how God acts, how humanity should respond to the divine, how divine revelation happens, and why it changes. That’s all on top of the particular revelation about polygamy itself. As the essay itself concludes, “The challenge of introducing a principle as controversial as plural marriage is almost impossible to overstate.”

The whole situation is a good reminder of how religions develop over time. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the world’s youngest religions; it has not even celebrated its bicentennial. Christianity did not begin to decide which books would become the Bible until a century after Jesus Christ’s death when Marcion, a Christian leader, wanted the Bible to include just Luke’s gospel and Paul’s letters. The Council of Nicea, which set out orthodox belief about Christ’s relationship to God and formalized the Easter holiday, was 200 years after that. The Council of Chalcedon was another hundred years later in 451, when it standardized theology that that Christ was fully human and fully God. Now that Christian history and orthodoxy has been largely set for centuries, such big shifts can be easy to forget.

An online acknowledgement of Joseph Smith’s many marriages certainly is no Nicea, but it is another sign that the Church is trying to help its followers sort out their own history and theological place in the 21st century. The polygamy essay is one of 11 essays on controversial topics that the LDS Church has written and published online over the last year. Subjects include race and the priesthood—the LDS church did not ordain black men until 1978—and different accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision.

All this means that the LDS reaction may end up being more important than the historical announcement. Religious trajectories are often determined by how communities handle tension. How Mormon families, wards, schools, and young people respond to this official word is what will matter.

TIME faith

Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis is Papal Bull

Pope Francis leaves at the end of his general audience at St Peter's square on Oct. 29, 2014 at the Vatican.
Pope Francis leaves at the end of his general audience at St Peter's square on Oct. 29, 2014 at the Vatican. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

The "Pope Francis supports evolution" story is just the latest example of the press getting the Catholic Church completely wrong

It is official: the media has gone bananas in its coverage of Pope Francis.

The OMG-Pope-Francis-Supports-Evolution story of the past two days is just the latest example. Almost every news outlet, major and minor, has plastered Pope Francis’ name across the interwebs and proclaimed he has finally planted the Catholic Church in the evolution camp of the creation-evolution debate. The only problem? Almost every outlet has got the story wrong, proving once again that the mainstream media has nearly no understanding of the Church. And that madness shows no signs of stopping.

Pope Francis’ real role in this evolution hubbub was small. He spoke, as Popes do, to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Monday, which had gathered to discuss “Evolving Topics of Nature,” and he affirmed what Catholic teaching has been for decades. “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” he said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Anyone who knows anything about Catholic history knows that a statement like this is nothing new. Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical “Humani Generis” in 1950 affirming that there was no conflict between evolution and Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed that, stressing that evolution was more than a hypothesis, in 1996. Pope Benedict XVI hosted a conference on the nuances of creation and evolution in 2006. There’s an official book on the event for anyone who wants to know more. Pope Francis’ comments Monday even came as he was unveiling a new statue of Pope Benedict XVI, honoring him for his leadership.

None of that seems to matter to the media; the internet exploded all the same. Site after site after site ramped up the Pope’s words and took them out of context. Headlines like these added drama: NPR: “Pope Says God Not ‘A Magician, With A Magic Wand.’” Salon: “Pope Francis schools creationists.” U.S. News and World Report: “Pope Francis Backs the Big Bang Theory, Evolution” (with a subhed: “Also, the pontiff says he’s not a communist”). Huffington Post. Sydney Morning Herald. Telegraph. USA Today. New York Post. The list goes on and on. Only Slate did its homework.

Wednesday morning the stories continued with new, analytical twists. The New Republic came out with a story titled, “The Pope Has More Faith Than the GOP in Science.” The Washington Post posted a piece, “Pope Francis may believe in evolution, but 42 percent of Americans do not.” It doesn’t seem to matter that Pope Benedict XVI called the debate between evolution an creation an “absurdity” in 2007. MSNBC opened its piece saying, “Pope Francis made a significant rhetorical break with Catholic tradition Monday by declaring that the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real.” NBCNews called the Pope’s statement, “a theological break from his predecessor Benedict XVI, a strong exponent of creationism.”

This embarrassing narrative repeats itself over and over in Francis coverage. It happened last week when the Pope, again, voiced the Church’s long-standing opposition to the death penalty (having also done so in June, and after John Paul discussed the topic at length in an entire encyclical on being consistently pro-life in 1995). It happened at the Synod of the Bishops on the family, when the bishops talked about welcoming gays and the media whipped that up into an inaccurate story about an enormous policy shift toward gay marriage.

That’s dangerous, especially because this furor seems to occur most often when hot-button Western political issues can be tied to the Pope’s statements—evolution, death penalty, gay marriage. Wednesday morning, Pope Francis asked for prayers for 43 Mexican students who were burned alive by drug traffickers. It is unlikely that that will get the same pickup.

Moral of this story: Don’t believe most of what you read about the Vatican. Papal coverage has gone wild.

Read next: Southern Baptists Strike a Different Tone than Catholics in Conference

TIME Religion

Southern Baptists Strike a Different Tone than Catholics in Conference

Pope Francis leads the synod of bishops in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican
Pope Francis looks on as he leads the synod of bishops in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican on Oct. 6, 2014. Claudio Peri—Reuters

As Catholic bishops emphasized welcoming gays, Southern Baptists voiced more concern about mainstream acceptance of gay marriage

Marriage has been in the Christian spotlight this October. The month began with Pope Francis bringing together 250 Catholic leaders to discuss marriage and the family at the Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops in Rome. This week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention is hosting a three-day conference in Nashville. The topic is “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage,” and the purpose is “to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches.”

At first glance, the two gatherings may seem similar. Both brought together various church leaders to discuss marriage and family. Both groups hold formal positions against gay marriage and seek to affirm and strengthen straight marriages. Both events were framed in prayer and liturgical structures, whether it was a candlelit prayer service at the Vatican or a Christian praise band rocking out on stage in Tennessee. Men were the primary speakers and participants at each gathering, even though both made an effort to include a handful of women’s voices.

But the differences are eye-catching. The Catholic bishops discussed a host of issues families face around the world from war to economics to cohabitation; the Baptists honed in on the growing acceptance of homosexuality in Western contexts. The Synod sessions happened behind closed doors; the ERLC event is live streamed. The Catholic Church is comprised of more than one billion people and has a two millennia history; the Southern Baptist Convention has a smaller network of 50,000 churches and is just 170 years old, though it often signals views in the mainstream evangelical community.

The most noticeable difference was tone. Pope Francis opened the synod on the family by asking the church leaders to speak freely, and saying his goal was to listen. “A general condition is this,” he told them on day one, “Speak clearly. Let no one say ‘this cannot be said.’ … At the same time, you should listen with humility and accept with an open heart what your brothers say.” The bishops took him at his word, and that openness inspired lots of debate on how to welcome gays within the confines of Church teaching.

The ERLC conference, by contrast, is not an open forum—dissenting voices are not included in the presentations. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the gathering on Monday in a defensive posture, saying that Western society is experiencing “a moral revolution” happening “at warp speed,” one that now celebrates things that were previously condemned. “We are accustomed to speaking from a position of strength,” Mohler said, explaining how traditional evangelical opposition to homosexuality is no longer mainstream.

Sin is a central topic in Nashville, and one that was noticeably absent from the Synod’s public documents. Mohler suggested in his opening remarks that Christians should approach gays in ways “not about their sin (homosexuality) but about our sin (all shortcomings).” Glen Stanton, director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, continued the theme: “Every one of us is stricken with an eternal disorder called sin,” he said in his talk called, “Love my (LGBT) Neighbor.” “How do we love gay and lesbian people? … The great equalizer is our sin.”

On the whole, the conference makes clear its strong on moral opposition to homosexuality. Many of the prominent speakers champion a pointed opposition to mainstream culture, and nearly all use the phrase “someone who experiences same-sex attraction” or “a homosexual” instead of using preferred, self-identifying terms of LGBTQ persons. Erik Stanley, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, compared the show Modern Family to a gateway drug for accepting gays and described Matthew Shepard’s murder as a gay hate crime hoax. Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist who declined to make a wedding flower arrangement for a gay couple, said, “They can destroy me but they cannot destroy God and his word.” The crowd gave her a standing ovation.

Some speakers have hinted at a more welcoming tone. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a former lesbian women’s studies professor who converted to evangelicalism, stopped living as a lesbian and married a male pastor, explained that she learned the hospitality gifts she uses as a pastor’s wife from her years in the lesbian community suffering from AIDS in the 1990s. She shared how she converted because a pastor was her friend who did not invite her to church but made her feel safe by turning off his air-conditioning and offering her vegan food to accommodate her then-progressive lifestyle choices. “I never felt like a project,” she said.

Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, offered a nuanced approach to the practical challenges of changing sexual ethics. Moore said he would not attend a gay friend’s wedding ceremony because that would involve participating in their marriage vows, but he would attend their wedding reception. He also would not cut himself off from relatives “who are lost or in situations you disagree with—Jesus never did that.” Churches should care more about issues like gay and lesbian homelessness, he said, and young couples should be thinking about the long-term commitments of their wedding vows and what they mean if one partner gets Alzheimer’s disease or has an affair. Moore even suggested Christians can learn something from Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign: Christians should not marginalize gays over other sinners. “If there is some particular sin that has to be whispered in our congregation, then we are not truly Christian,” he explained.

What’s happening in Nashville gives the world a peek at the kind of culture different church leaders are cultivating in the midst of changing societal views on sexuality. For the evangelicals and Baptists in Nashville, it is time to double down. And that’s a reminder of just how dramatic the Vatican’s tone shift under Pope Francis—however small that opening may be—actually is.

Read next: What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like

TIME faith

What the Synod Taught Us About Pope Francis: He Takes Risks

Pope Francis Leads Ordinary Public Consistory
Pope Francis, flanked by former Vatican Secretary of State cardinal Angelo Sodano arrives at the Synod Hall for ordinary public consistory on Oct. 20, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

If there is a single takeaway, it may be this

The Vatican’s synod concluded Sunday with little fanfare. The bishops in the red and pink zuchettos, or skullcaps, filtered out, many departing for their different corners of the globe. The room’s burgundy, stadium-style seats were empty. The first major policy event of the Francis papacy was a wrap.

A lot happened in that windowless room in Rome over the past two weeks. What began with the Holy Father asking more than 250 participants inside the hall to speak their minds on issues of the family ended with them giving him a five-minute standing ovation. And beyond the hall, the synod prompted a dynamic conversation about where the global Catholic Church is headed under Pope Francis’ leadership.

If there is a single takeaway, it may be this: Pope Francis showed the world that he is not afraid of making mistakes. He takes risks, and his commitment to listening allows a host of voices to rise and controversy to surface.

The first big surprise came on the first day of the second week, when Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary—the synod’s organizer and a man usually seen as a conservative—read aloud a mid-Synod report that to many sounded like a shift in tone on welcoming the gay community. Liberals cried victory and conservatives urged caution. Three days later, the Vatican revised the section headline “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons”—but only in English, leaving the official Italian verb the same. The drama fostered murmurings that the mid-Synod document represented just a handful of bishops’ opinions and that Pope Francis stacked the deck of bishops composing the Synod’s report with more liberal voices.

Francis played the controversy close to the chest, but he furthered his own desire for openness and discussion in three ways. First, he requested that the synod’s concluding document be published in full, so everyone could see the vote tallies and the paragraphs that did not pass the bishops’ final approval. Only three paragraphs did not pass—the paragraph that expressed welcome toward gays fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for inclusion, and two paragraphs about divorced and remarried Catholics also did not pass by a slightly larger margin.

Second, Pope Francis did not shy away from difference and challenge. He reminded the bishops in his concluding speech that the synod was “a journey,” full of “running fast,” “fatigue,” “enthusiasm and ardor,” and also acknowledged it was “a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations.”

Third, he showed that amidst it all he maintains a sense of humor—he wryly joked about the “welcoming” gays controversy in the same concluding speech, misusing the word “welcome” and then correcting himself.

“We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops,” Francis said in Italian, amid some laughter among the bishops. “So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.”

The Synod’s peripheral drama also shook up the traditional power players on all sides. Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a vocal advocate of relaxing rules about communion for the divorced and remarried, got caught in an odd interview and ensuing controversy for saying that African bishops “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” and he distanced himself from the remarks. Cardinal Raymond Burke—a conservative whom Pope Francis had already removed from the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops—confirmed to the National Catholic Reporter that he will be removed from his post as chief justice at the Vatican’s highest court, and when asked who told him he would be removed, he said, “Who do you think?”

Many of the subtleties of the event, and the esoteric ways of the church, were lost in the way the event was communicated with the world. Much of the global coverage confused the Synod’s possibilities and its outcomes. After news reports that the Vatican was announcing an historic welcome of gays, mainstream outlets were forced to walked back the news. Some blamed the Vatican for a reversal, when in fact no conclusion had even been reached. Reuters said the bishops “reversed a historic acceptance of gays, dropping parts of a controversial document that had talked more positively of homosexuals than ever before in Church history.”

It would be wrong to cast the Synod in terms of such reversals or failures—gay marriage was never on the table, and reaching consensus implies that that was this Synod’s primary goal in the first place. Francis sought from the beginning to listen, and in true Jesuit style, to learn together what issues are facing families in the changing global context.

It also became clear that not all the issues about the family got similar play. By the synod’s end, issues of sexual ethics like divorce and homosexuality remained the hot-button issues. Big challenges to family life like war, disease, migration and sexual abuse failed to make a real appearance in the concluding document.

While no one knows the future, Pope Francis is looking toward newness. “God is not afraid of new things!” he preached at the Synod’s closing mass on Sunday when he beatified Pope Paul VI. “Here is where our true strength is found. … It is so that we can live this life to the fullest—with our feet firmly planted on the ground—and respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way.”

The challenges to newness ahead are plenty. This Synod was just the beginning of the Church’s deep dive into global family life. Next fall a larger group of bishops will gather in Rome to conclude the process this synod started, and as Pope Francis reminded the bishops in his concluding remarks on Saturday, “We still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront.”

The intervening time will tell what taste this year’s gathering leaves in people’s mouths. Synods, in many ways, are like summer camps: pack a group of devotees together in a pressure cooker environment for a short but intense period of time, let thoughts and emotions run deep, and see what relationships and opinions last for the long term.

Pope Francis, for his part, is pressing on. Monday morning, he returned to the same windowless room with a new set of cardinals. The topic this time? Crises facing Christians in the Middle East.

TIME faith

Vatican Changes Draft Report Translation About Welcoming Gays

Pope Francis arrives at a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues, at the Vatican, Oct. 16, 2014.
Pope Francis arrives at a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues, at the Vatican, Oct. 16, 2014. Alessandra Tarantino—AP

"Welcoming homosexual persons” is now “Providing for homosexual persons"

The Vatican adjusted the English translation of a controversial phrase in its mid-Synod-of-the-Bishops report on Thursday, adapting “Welcoming homosexual persons” to “Providing for homosexual persons.”

The original Italian verb in question, accogliere, remains unchanged. Italian is the official language of the bishops’ meeting, and because the official language of the document is Italian, a Vatican spokesman explained at a press briefing, the report has technically stayed the same.

Parts of the paragraph that followed that phrase have also been updated in English. According to the Associated Press:

The first version asked if the church was capable of “welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities.” The new version asks if the church is “capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing … them … a place of fellowship in our communities.” The first version said homosexual unions can often constitute a “precious support in the life of the partners.” The new one says gay unions often constitute “valuable support in the life of these persons.”

Initial reaction suggests that the original English translations more closely follow the Italian. The change comes after press reports of a Vatican shift on teachings of marriage as between one man and one woman flooded the Western media earlier this week. In Thursday’s press briefing, a Vatican spokesperson urged media to not give too much importance to the new translation change.

Translation issues have prompted confusion at several points during the Synod so far. Summaries of Synod conversations have been relayed to the press at daily briefings in Italian, English and Spanish, and different points have been emphasized depending on the language of the person giving the briefing. Questions at the daily press briefings are also asked in a variety of languages, and usually replied to in Italian, English, Spanish or French. That means a question asked in English has been responded to in Italian, or a question in Italian could get a response in French.

A final Synod “message,” not report, is expected to be approved Saturday, according to the Vatican’s press office. The message will be composed by a group of church leaders. Pope Francis also added South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier to that group on Thursday. Napier has been critical of the initial mid-Synod report this week. “The message has gone out and it’s not a true message,” he told the press after the report was released on Monday. “Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control.”

TIME ebola

Blocked From Pope’s Synod By Ebola, Liberia’s Bishop Tells His Nation’s Story

Gbarnga ebola
Grave diggers prepare for new Ebola victim outside an Ebola treatment center in Gbarnga, Liberia on Oct. 7, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

“As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” says Bishop Anthony Borwah

One bishop is absent from Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the family. He was invited, he wanted to come, his name is on the participant list, but he is not in Rome. He is some 4,000 miles away. And few—if any—people outside the synod hall even know he is not there.

His name is Bishop Anthony Borwah, 48, and he leads the Catholic Diocese of GBarnga in central Liberia, where Ebola is wreaking havoc. Tony, as he is called, learned he could not travel to the Synod in late August, when the Ivory Coast closed its borders due to the Ebola outbreak and restricted the one airline that could have taken him to Abidjan, where he needed to apply in person for a Schengen visa to travel to the European Union.

(PHOTOS: See How A Photographer Is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread)

Borwah may not be at the Synod, nor is he able to participate remotely due to technological limits, but the gathering’s focus on the family is vital to his Liberian families. Ebola is their most urgent challenge, but it is not the only one, he explained to TIME in this exclusive interview. Borwah submitted an essay to the Synod—an “intervention” in Vatican-speak—about the situations facing Liberian families. Borwah’s essay is not being read aloud at the Synod but will be entered into the written record and considered in any final documents that the Synod produces.

“Enormous are the pastoral challenges of the family in Liberia today,” his essay begins, before continuing to describe the challenges including Ebola, polygamy, migration, unemployment, the lack of a father-figures, domestic violence, child trafficking, and sexual tourism. “Existential questions from the poor, prevalently during the Civil war, are been asked again: Where is God? What wrong have we (Liberians) done again? How come we have once again become the abandoned and scum of the earth?”

(PHOTOS: Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved Them Most)

The past few months since Ebola outbreak have been brutal for Liberia, where about 69% of the population is Christian, according to Pew Research Center. Borwah has lost dear friends to the virus, including his spiritual director, Father Miguel from Spain, his mentor and medical doctor Abraham Borbor, and his prayer partner Tidi Dogba. While the Catholic community as a whole has not had many deaths in Gbarnga, he says, those who are dying are relatives and friends. “As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” he says.

The Liberian Catholic community is doing what it can to combat the virus. Borwah has called on all Catholics in his diocese to gather in prayer against Ebola from 5 to 6 p.m. every day from September 1 through November 30. The church uses the first ten minutes for education and updates about Ebola, and then for the last 50 minutes they pray with the Holy Rosary. They are observing strict medical rules about what kind of interaction they can have while together for prayer. No touching, no handshakes, and entrances of churches, homes, and offices have buckets of chlorinated water for hand washing.

The Catholic Church is also collaborating with the government on the national Ebola Task Force Team, Borwah says. The National Catholic Health Team is training nurses in three Catholic dioceses in Liberia, and Catholic clinics remain open. “Our Human Rights Department is also actively involved in violations issue[s] that may occur under such a crisis situation and the state of emergency when rights are restricted,” Borwah adds. “We hope to soon begin the distribution of food to mainly quarantined communities and other affected areas.”

The Ebola devastation extends beyond just a health crisis for Liberian families. The virus’ highly contagious nature means that family members are kept at a great distance from infected loved ones. Ignoring the restriction, on the other hand, can lead to death, but Liberian families are very affectionate especially in difficult times, Borwah explains, and the inability to show real human kindness is wounding morale.

Poverty is also increasing, he says. Already more than 80% of families in Liberia live below the poverty line, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Now the price of rice and other essential commodities has spiked since the ebola outbreak due to port and border closures, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Labor shortages due to migration restrictions are also putting the fall’s rice and maize harvests at risk. Women, the FAO has noted, are particularly hard hit as many are the primary caregivers and can’t repay their small business loans. Schools are closed while the virus is present, and so students stay home and teachers do not get paid. “The Ebola situation has badly crippled the economy resulting in rife impoverishment and hunger,” Borwah says.

Increased poverty means increased desperation over the loss of family members to Ebola, he continues. That frustration is compounded when the government buries or cremates loved ones, often without family members present. “These new wounds are a tragic addition to festering wounds that families here experienced as a result of a more than 15 years of fratricidal civil war that officially ended a decade ago,” he says.

Borwah is grateful for global aid groups and donors like Catholic Relief Services and CAFOD, the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales, but more support is needed, especially when it comes to supporting survivors. “Recently one of the survivors—my kinsman—committed suicide when people avoided him and he felt that he was unworthy of love anymore,” Borwah says. “We need more support to feed the thousand whom are hungry and angry and to care and counsel the Ebola survivors who carry the stigma.”

There is a dimension to the Ebola outbreak that also concerns him—the idea that Ebola’s spread could have a man-made and not just a natural source. “I believe that the causes of Ebola are not just physical but spiritual,” he says. “I like calling it the ‘Ebola phenomenon’ because it’s existence raises more questions than answers.”

Then there are Liberia’s non-Ebola-related challenges. Infidelity in marriages is common, with the causes ranging from poverty (mostly on the part of the women) and cultural permissiveness (on the part of the men), he says. “Generally the economy of the nation is in the pocket of few men, hence there is a lot of women prostitution,” he says. “I often say that these prostitutes are prophets and friends of Jesus as they signify the inequality, marginalization and injustice meted out against the poor and nobodies of our society especially women.”

Women, he adds, are generally subject to men culturally, and are often subjected to brutal domestic violence and impoverishment. The government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done a lot to raise the dignity of womanhood in beloved Liberia, he continues, but “the walk is still too long.”

Families are navigating questions of shifting identity. Western technological and cultural shifts mean that young people often have different value systems from their parents, and that is dividing families. “Parents can no longer control their children in the face of this new ethics, something, which brings a lot of pain and worries about the future of the family,” he says.

Borwah has a message for the world: “The friends of Jesus Christ—the nobodies, the poor, women and the innocents, the caretakers of others—need both the spiritual and material help. They are losing faith, hope and love. They are poorer, hungrier and very desperate. God has not and will not abandon us, so please do not abandon us to the onslaught of Ebola.”

And, in the midst of it all, Pope Francis, Borwah says, has not forgotten the Liberian people. “The Holy Father prays for Ebola stricken people everyday, even as the Synod goes on,” Borwah says. “He is very close to our suffering.”

His final words: “Please pray for us.”

TIME Religion

What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

Pope Francis leads a mass honouring the canonisation of two Canadian saints in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 12, 2014.
Pope Francis leads a mass honouring the canonisation of two Canadian saints in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 12, 2014. Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images

It's not the big shift people think it is

The Catholic world and the media were riled Monday by a Vatican document interpreted by many as signaling a softer church stance toward homosexuality, but the inclusive tone of the document is a long way from actual policy change.

At issue are three words most people have never heard of: Relatio post disceptationem. That’s the name of the document the Catholic Church’s Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops released Monday, one week into the Synod’s gathering to discuss the state of the family in the modern world. It translates, “Report After Debate,” and it was read aloud in the Synod hall to kick off the Synod’s second week. One of the report’s 58 sections—the one causing the biggest stir—is titled, “Welcoming homosexual persons.”

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” the passage begins. “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

For a Church that has historically linked the word “homosexual” with the word “sin,” the idea of welcoming gays in any capacity can appear to be a significant move. Headlines immediately spoke of a “dramatic shift” and a “more tolerant” stance from the church.

But before rushing to conclusions, everyone, on all sides, should calm down.

First, here’s what the document actually is:

The relatio is a mid-Synod snapshot of 200+ Catholic leaders’ conversations that happened in the Synod hall last week. It is a starting point for conversations as the Synod fathers start small group discussions this week. It is a working text that identifies where bishops need to “deepen or clarify our understanding,” as Cardinal Luis Antonia Tagle put it in Monday’s press briefing. That means that the topic of gays and Catholic life came up in the Synod conversations so far and that it is a topic for continued reflection.

Second, here’s what the document is not:

The relatio is not a proscriptive text. It is not a decree. It is not doctrine, and certainly not a doctrinal shift. It is also not final. “These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view,” the document concludes. “The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialogue that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015.”

So, what does all of that mean? Cardinal Tagle perhaps said it best when he said at Monday’s press briefing, with a smile, “The drama continues.”

The relatio reaffirms at several points that marriage is between a man and a woman. Substance on that point is not changing. The Vatican has been repeatedly clear that this Synod will bring no changes to doctrine, or even a final document with new rites. To “welcome gays” does not mean the Church is no longer equating “gay” with “sin.”

Instead, tone—as it has always been with the Francis papacy—is what is on the table. The style that Pope Francis lives is one that starts with a spirit of embrace, of mercy, and not with sin. It begins with figuring out at what points embrace is possible before determining the points at which it is not. That may be one reason why people like top Vatican watcher John Thavis are calling this mid-synod report “an earthquake.”

But it is also important to remember that the Synod on the Family is almost a two-year-long process, and this snapshot is just that, a snapshot of one week in that process. There will be more such snapshot documents in the coming months. The conversation started earlier this year when bishops around the world surveyed their congregations about family life, it kicked off more formally last week with the gathering in Rome, next the bishops will take the conversations back to their communities, next summer there’s the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia (a traditionally conservative American diocese), and then finally next fall there will be the second Synod with even more bishops from around the world with even more discussion.

Looking for revolution can be misleading. It can mar the actual story of what is and what is not happening. Casual Vatican observers—especially those in the United States, where conversations about sexuality have a different trajectory than in the Vatican or in many developing countries—should be careful to not read into the conversation what they want to hear. The interest in a relatio, a relatively obscure document, does however point to another shift: people actually care about what a group of bishops is doing.

That itself, for many, may be a revolution.

Read next: Pope Francis Wouldn’t Have Wanted the Nobel Peace Prize

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Wouldn’t Have Wanted the Nobel Peace Prize

Pope Francis Attends His Weekly Audience at St Peters Square
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he holds his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on March 19, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

Accepting the honor would've been out of character for the Holy Father

Malala Yousafazi and Kailash Satyarthi were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday morning. Pope Francis, a hotly-rumored choice for the honor, did not. And that’s almost certainly just how Pope Francis would want it to be.

Popes do not win the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s just not done. Not even Pope John Paul II was awarded the prize, even when it was widely rumored that he would be its recipient in 2003 for his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

MORE: Pope Francis, 2013 TIME Person of the Year

Part of the current Holy Father’s global appeal is that he shies away from accolades. They do not fit with his mission, or the ethos of humility that he is trying to infuse into Holy See culture. This is a man who pays his own hotel bill the morning after being named the heir of Saint Peter, even though the Vatican owns his hotel anyway. He is a man who wears old shoes and simple robes, and who refuses to live in the Vatican’s apostolic palace. He has his eyes on a bigger prize, to quote words of the Apostle Paul, toward the upward call of God.

Friday, he again showed that characteristic humility. The announcement of Malala’s win came at 11 a.m. Rome time. Typically, every day this week at 11 a.m., Pope Francis has been finishing a coffee break with the bishops from around the world gathered for the Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family. (The gathering is the first major policy event of his papacy, and one he specifically called so that church leaders could discuss practical issues facing modern marriages and families.) But this morning, he quietly snuck out of the Synod hall a few minutes before the Nobel Prize committee announced the honoree. Whether it was his intent or not, that move made sure that he would not be in front of any cameras or an audience that might have applauded him if he had won.

Malala’s win also means that Mother Teresa, who won the prize in 1979, remains the most prominent Catholic in history to have received the honor. It is fitting for Pope Francis, by his absence, to continue the legacy of honoring women’s role in society—not only has he been working to bring attention to challenges of family life in the Middle East, but he also has shown sensitivity to women and to their leadership in Church life.

Plus, in what is one of history’s ironic twists—or some might say, providentially recurring themes—Mother Teresa opened her acceptance speech with a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint for whom Pope Francis chose to be named.

“Lord, make a channel of Thy peace,” the prayer begins, “that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that, where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that, where there is error, I may bring truth; that, where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that, where there is despair, I may bring hope; that, where there are shadows, I may bring light; that, where there is sadness, I may bring joy.”

For many, Pope Francis is doing just that, Nobel or not.

Dias reported from Vatican City

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