Pope, closing synod, calls for more open-hearted Church

By Philip Pullella VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis closed a contentious bishops' meeting on family issues on Sunday calling for a more open-hearted, compassionate Church rooted in people's lives and not a programmatic, arid one that fears changes and challenges. At the end of the three week gathering, the bishops agreed to a qualified opening toward divorcees who have remarried outside the Church and currently cannot receive communion. But the final document effectively sidestepped the issue of whether the Church should use more welcoming language towards homosexuals - a topic that threw a preliminary meeting into turmoil a year ago. On Saturday, the pope excoriated Church leaders who he said sometimes bury their heads in the sand and hide behind rigid doctrine while families suffer.. The overall results appeared to be a qualified victory for Francis, who is the final arbiter and will now write his own major document on family issues. "A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts," he said on Sunday. The pope has stressed since his election in 2013 that the 1.2 billion-member Church should be open to change, side with the poor and rid itself of the pomp and stuffiness that has alienated so many Catholics. The synod avoided the very real possibility of ending in a total deadlock on some issues but the fact that conservatives came very close to defeating the articles on divorcees underscored the deep divisions that remain in its wake. The conservative Voice of the Family group said the meeting had left a "a crisis of trust" between the faithful and Church leaders over the opening to divorcees, which it said would lead to "the scandalizing of the faithful, not least our children and grandchildren." Father Tom Reese, a progressive analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, said that the synod was a defeat for "those (conservatives) who wanted to emphasize the law over mercy, who were opposed to any changes in Church practice." COMPASSION The pope continued his theme of a more compassionate, more listening Church in his Sunday homily of a Mass with the bishops in St. Peter's Basilica. He weaved his comments around the Bible story of Jesus stopping to restore sight to a blind man while his apostles had not been moved by the man's cries. "This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered ... our hearts are not open," Francis said at the Mass, attended by the synod's 270 bishops. He said Church leaders needed to beware "a scheduled faith" where everything was programmed, and a condescending point of view where "whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded". The pope's tough speech on Saturday night was the latest in a series of his admonitions to his bishops to be more flexible and merciful without changing basic doctrine. In it, he appeared to criticize the ultra-conservatives who nearly derailed some of the synod's openings. He said the synod had "laid bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church's teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families". (Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Ros Russell)