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World

Vatican Denounces Letter Criticizing Pope Francis On Family

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At the Vatican, some conservative cardinals are complaining about a three-week meeting, a synod to discuss challenges to the modern family. In a letter to Pope Francis leaked to the media, 13 of them say new rules for that meeting leave them at a disadvantage and could lead to what they describe as predetermined results on disputed issues. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, the Vatican has denounced the leak.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The letter was leaked Monday, a week after the Pope got it. Five of the 13 Cardinals have since denied they signed the letter. And today, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi tried to put the controversy to rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FEDERICO LOMBARDI: (Through interpreter) It's not surprising. Observations and doubts were expressed about the new synod rules. But once they've been established, the synod fathers must apply them in the best possible way.

POGGIOLI: Pope Francis had urged the bishops to speak freely and not be afraid of disagreeing with him. Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, says the pope got what he asked for, with conservatives speaking boldly.

THOMAS REESE: Which is kind of ironic. They're saying that it's being manipulated and preprogrammed when, in point of fact, all of the synods since the Second Vatican Council were manipulated and programmed but by the conservatives.

POGGIOLI: Francis addressed conservatives' concerns on day two of the synod, stressing that church teaching on marriage has not changed. Austen Ivereigh, author of a recent book on Pope Francis, says with new rules, the synod is going very well.

AUSTEN IVEREIGH: This is a much more open model. It's process, an authentic process of decision-making and discernment in the church.

POGGIOLI: The pope, says Ivereigh, is calling for creative new thinking about the pastoral application of doctrine.

IVEREIGH: New language, new methods, new strategies that meet the challenge of the contemporary age. It's a deliberately uncertain and open process.

POGGIOLI: Father Reese says the key issue at the synod is whether the grant communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, a doctrinal change firmly opposed by conservatives.

REESE: In a sense, we're having the same fights here as we had at Vatican II. The basic fight is over. What can the church change, and what can it not change?

POGGIOLI: Reese points out that the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council in the 1960s effectively changed doctrine that had been in place for centuries. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.