After the media firestorm surrounding the recent Synod of Bishops on family issues -- with reports about plans to modernize doctrines on homosexuality, divorce and other sexy issues -- Catholic activists are bracing for the sequels.
Mark these dates. First there will be the "Year of the Family" preceding a "World Meeting of Families" next Sept. 22-25 in Philadelphia. The three-week Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family will follow that.
That pivotal synod at the Vatican opens on Oct. 4, 2015, and faces the tough task of issuing pastoral guidelines in response to the heated debates at this year's synod.
The world will be watching that Sunday as the pope preaches in the opening Mass. That sermon will be a challenge, since the official lectionary has already established Mark 10: 2-16 as the day's Gospel.
This passage -- crucial in debates about marriage and divorce -- proclaims "from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate."
Jesus tells then his disciples: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
Will the pope seek changes in that church doctrine?
"The pope cannot teach that divorce is impossible and possible at the same time," argued conservative Maggie Gallagher, in a National Review essay responding to rumors of change during the recent synod. "If divorced and remarried Catholics (who are committing either adultery or polygamy depending on your point of view in the Catholic tradition) can in good conscience take the Eucharist, then either Pope Francis is wrong, or the popes before him were all wrong."
Similar arguments surround attempts to be more flexible in pastoral care to gays and lesbians, as well as Catholics who are cohabiting, without changing the catechism's teachings that all sex outside of marriage is sin.
In his final sermon at this synod, Pope Francis issued sobering warnings to his flock's warring progressive and orthodox armies.
On one side, he said, in the Vatican Radio translation, there is a "temptation to hostile inflexibility (or rigidity), that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve." This is, he added, the "temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called -- today -- 'traditionalists' and also of the intellectuals."
Then, he warned the left that it faces a "temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the 'do-gooders,' of the fearful, and also of the so-called 'progressives and liberals.' "
Later, Francis affirmed a list of moral doctrines, including the "indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life" in marriage. The church, he stressed, must be a "fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people's wounds. ...
"This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans, the Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect."
That is the challenge, according to Father Thomas Reese of the liberal National Catholic Reporter. Most "bishops are pastors who worry that if they appear too welcoming or accommodating then people will think that all sexual unions are equal and there is no reason to get married in the church," he wrote.
"These bishops simply need more time to figure out how to be a loving parent and a clear teacher. For too many years they only worried about being clear."