While it seemed to be at most a secondary concern for those actually attending the synod, considerable media pressure built up around the issue, thanks in large part to concerted efforts by outside groups and prominent campaigners in favor of a change to the Church's teaching on sexual morals.
Many of the synod fathers, most prominently Cardinal Wilfred Napier and Archbishop Charles Chaput, criticized efforts to advance distinctly modern and Western attitudes on human sexuality in the synod's documents.
Those bishops noted the Church teaches that the common dignity of humanity comes from being created in God's image, and that the dignity of each person in the Church is rooted in baptism. Elevating sexual desire or so-called "gender self-identification" to defining human characteristics, the bishops said, mis-locates the source of our humanity in ourselves, and not in God.
Some synod watchers expressed concern at what they saw as a concerted effort to import secular identity politics into the synod and relativize the authority of Church teaching. Several observers in Rome expressed concern that adopting the language of the LGBT movement in a "dialogue" about sexuality would, essentially, frame the conversation in way that excludes the Church's actual teaching.
The synod's final document made no mention of "LGBT persons," Catholic or otherwise, and called it "reductive" to define a person's identity by their sexual orientation. Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin called the document a "retreat" on the Church's ministry to gay people.
Contemporary secular attitudes about gender even received a fairly explicit refutation, as the synod fathers affirmed the "determinative anthropological relevance of the difference and reciprocity between man and woman."
On the other hand, while stressing the universal and unqualified love of God for all people and condemning sexual discrimination and violence, the synod's final document also stressed the need for "accompaniment" for "homosexual persons" in the Church as they "follow with freedom and responsibility their baptismal call." This language has been taken up by some activists.
An article carried on the website of New Ways Ministry welcomed the language saying it seemed "carefully chosen to allow for wide interpretation."
Francis DeBernardo, author of the post and executive director of New Ways Ministry, has previously said that so-called gender transitions help people "become closer to God." The organization has been the subject of numerous corrections and warnings by Church authorities over the years.
Some in the Church, both in favor and against the possibility, have suggested that following the synod some dioceses in different countries might adopt increasingly divergent means of "accompaniment," ranging from authentically pastoral presentations of Church teaching on sexuality and human dignity, to effective public acceptance of homosexual unions.
How far these different forms of "accompaniment" might be allowed to develop could hinge on whether the pope decides to develop the theme further in a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, or simply adopt the synod's report as his own. It may also depend on what is intended by the document's call for a more "synodal" Church.
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Although not addressed in the instrumentum laboris or raised by the synod fathers in their deliberations, the concept of "synodality" emerged as a surprise focus in the final document as a draft was circulated Oct. 25-26.
Pope Francis has previously called synodality a "constitutive dimension" of the Church, but there is little common understanding among bishops regarding what exactly the word means. The synod text calls synodality it a remedy for clericalism - which some have blamed for the sexual abuse crisis – and a blueprint for creating a more "participatory and co-responsible" Church.
Although there is broad consensus among bishops in favor of a more engaged, responsive, and interactive hierarchy, many of the synod fathers were caught off guard by the inclusion of the topic in a document purportedly focused on youth.
The text says that one of the results of the synod sessions has been emergence of "some fundamental features of a synodal style" which the wider Church is called to adopt. Some of the synod's participants found this statement confusing, even ironic.
One priest attached to a delegation from an English-speaking country told CNA that the "synodal style" highlighted by the document was not immediately clear.