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Pope Francis starts Pope Paul VI on path to sainthood

Pope Francis marked the end of a spirited gathering of Catholic bishops in Rome by beatifying the pope who started the Synod of Bishops, Paul VI. Pope Paul VI, elected in 1963, presided over the last part of the Vatican II council and over his 15-year reign implemented many of its momentous reforms to the Catholic Church. He is not as popular as either Pope John XXIII, who launched Vatican II, or Pope John Paul II, both of whom Francis canonized earlier this year.

You need one miracle for beatification — the first step toward possible sainthood — and the one attributed to Paul VI was the survival of a California boy (now a healthy teenager) who was supposed to have been born with serious birth defects.

In the beatification mass — also attended by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — Pope Francis appeared to allude to the episcopal showdown over including welcoming language toward gays and lesbians, as well as divorced heterosexual Catholics, in the synod's final document. "God is not afraid of new things!" Francis said in his homily. "That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways."

After more inclusive language failed to get support from two-thirds of the synod, the bishops settled on the anodyne statement that gays and lesbians should be "welcomed with respect and sensitivity." The bishops also affirmed Pope Paul VI's most controversial legacy, codifying the Catholic Church's opposition to artificial contraception, though they added a caveat that the church should respect couples' moral discernment regarding birth control.

The final document is advisory, meant to start a yearlong conversation before next year's follow-up synod on the family.