As the prelates gathered for his worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops on family continued their deliberations Wednesday morning, Pope Francis took the extraordinary step of publicly apologizing to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square during his weekly audience for unspecified “scandals” caused by the church.
"Before beginning the catechesis, I would like to ask forgiveness in the name of the church for the scandals that have happened in this last period both in Rome and at the Vatican,” said the pontiff, speaking to thousands in the Square. “I ask forgiveness.”
Francis’ words, while unspecific, may be taken to mean that he wishes to apologize for the sometimes heated discussions resulting from his ongoing Oct. 4-25 meeting of the Synod of Bishops.
That meeting, which has drawn some 270 prelates to Rome, is discussing a range of issues -- including sometimes controversial ones such as the church’s pastoral practice towards the divorced and remarried and its stance towards gay persons.
Controversy came to a head in recent days with revelation that a number of church cardinals had written a letter to the pontiff, allegedly telling him that the Synod "seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions."
Several cardinals said to have signed the letter later disassociated themselves from its contents.
Francis could also have been referring Wednesday to the media fervor caused by the decision of a Polish priest working at the Vatican to come forward with his partner as gay, just days before the opening of the Synod.
Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa had been an official at the Vatican’s Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith since 2003. Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi called Charamsa’s moved “very serious and irresponsible” and said it was an obvious effort to influence the Synod’s discussions.
The pontiff’s apology Wednesday came at the beginning of a reflection that was mainly focused on care for children. He spoke of promises that adults make to children, but also warned against coming between children and their relationship with God.
“The tender and mysterious rapport of God with the souls of children should not ever be violated,” said Francis. “It is a real rapport, that God wants and God cares for. The child is ready from birth to feel loved by God.”
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]