Synod, Day 10, Tuesday October 13, 2015 – As Seen by the Catholic Left
Synod reports again express differences among bishops, cardinal denies stalemate
Joshua J. McElwee | Oct. 14, 2015 | National Catholic Reporter
VATICAN CITY The Catholic prelates attending the worldwide meeting of bishops on family have again revealed what appear to be rather significant differences of opinion on how the church should approach families, particularly over whether and how it should use more open or inclusive language in its teachings.
Where some prelates are expressing primary concern that any new language must clearly and directly outline church doctrines and disciplines, others are stressing that the church’s parlance must be less legal and more accessible to the men and women of today.
Participants of the ongoing Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops made their observations Wednesday with the second release of reports from 13 different small discussion groups that have been helping guide the meeting’s discussions.
The groups are organized by language preference and are split into circles of French, English, Italian, Spanish and German.
The four English language groups — led respectively by Australian Cardinal George Pell, British Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Irish Archbishop Eamon Martin, and Canadian Cardinal Thomas Collins — take different approaches towards what the prelates should be doing.
The first two groups particularly mention the language the church uses towards families, but seem to take very different tacks.
Pell’s group, being co-led by U.S. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, stresses a primary concern on clarity of church doctrine.
“Though every effort should be made to provide for streamlined, attractive language, a primary concern was the clarity of well-grounded explanations of Church teaching on marriage and the family,” wrote that group.
Nichols’ group, being co-led by Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, stated that they wanted to “search for a language accessible to the men and women of our times.”
That group even proposed modification of one key term that has often surfaced in discussions about the synod: the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
“We propose alongside the term ‘indissolubility’ to use a language which is less legal, and which shows better the mystery of God’s love speaking of marriage as a grace, a blessing, and a lifelong covenant of love,” they wrote.
Nichols sought to downplay any disagreement among the some 270 prelates participating in the synod meeting during a mid-day press briefing Wednesday, saying that use of the word “stalemate” was inappropriate.
“That is not my experience at all,” said the cardinal. “I do not think it is like that. There is a lot of energy in the synod. There are differences of opinion because … we’re a family and families have differences of opinions.”
“I myself have no sense of stalemate,” he said. “I have a sense of real willingness to explore in depth some of these really difficult issues. And that will continue. It’s hard work. It’s half way. But there is no sense of negativity in the synod.”
The Synod of Bishops is meeting over three weeks in a mix of general sessions and discussions in the 13 small groups. Wednesday’s reports are the second of three to be released from the small groups, which are discussing part-by-part a working document being used by the synod.
The discussions among the prelates have attracted a wide range of interest, and a certain amount of intrigue over what the synod might be considering. While the Vatican is providing daily press briefings on the deliberations, the meetings themselves are closed to the press.
The issue of the church’s language is known to have surfaced in discussions, particularly regarding the church’s stance towards divorced and remarried persons and gay people.
Nichols’ group focused their reflections on various themes: “The Divine Pedagogy, the Word of God in the Family, Indissolubility and Faithfulness, The Family and the Church, Mercy and Brokenness.”
That group defined marriage as having three “basic characteristics:” monogamy, permanence, and equality of the sexes.
Commenting on Jesus’ attitudes towards families, Nichols’ group said that Jesus often did what was considered inappropriate for his time — giving examples that he spoke to a Samaritan woman and did not condemn another woman who had committed adultery.
“He dirtied his hands through work, but not with stones to throw at others,” said the group, writing of Jesus’ ministry.
That group also asked the synod put a particular focus on God’s mercy towards humanity.
“All of us need God’s mercy,” they wrote. “In many societies today there is a sense of self-sufficiency, whereby people feel that they have no need of mercy and no awareness of their own sinfulness.”
“At times this is due to an inadequate catechesis on sin, not recognizing sin as a wounding of our relationship with God and with each other, a wound which can be healed only through the saving power of God’s mercy,” they continued.
“The group felt a strong need for a deeper reflection on the relationship between mercy and justice,” the group stated. “We should always remember that God never gives up on his mercy. It is mercy which reveals God’s true face. God’s mercy reaches out to all of us, especially to those who suffer, those who are weak, and those who fail.”
Eamon Martin’s group, being co-led by Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge, wrote that they identify a “need to see more clearly how the Church through the ages has come to a deeper understanding and surer presentation of the teaching on marriage and the family which has its roots in Christ himself.”
“The teaching has been constant, but the articulation of it and the practice based upon that articulation have not been,” they wrote.
That group also highlighted a need for the church to speak differently to different cultures, perhaps obliquely referring to proposals that certain issues of church authority could be handled by regional or local bishops’ conferences.
“A great richness and challenge of our discussions continues to be the different modulations of marriage and the family in the various cultures represented in the group,” they wrote.
“There are certainly points of convergence, arising from our shared sense of God’s plan which is inscribed in creation and which comes to its fullness in Christ crucified and risen, as proclaimed by the Church,” they continued. “But the different ways in which that mystery takes flesh in different parts of the world make it challenging to balance the local and the universal.”
“That remains an overarching task of this Synod,” stated the group.
Collins’ group, being co-led by U.S. Archbishop Charles Chaput, said they were concerned that the synod’s working document does not clearly define marriage.
“This is a serious defect,” they wrote. “It causes ambiguity throughout the text.”
Suggesting a definition, the group printed a half-page-long section of the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et spes defining marriage.
Collins’ group also praised four types of witness families today give, identifying them as: holiness in prayer, not being self-referential, being sensitive to environmental issues, and living together in charity, in shared, everyday life.
That group also said some bishops in the group “noted the importance of women in the life of the Church and the need to focus more attention on giving them appropriate leadership roles.”
At the Vatican briefing Wednesday, Nichols said he hoped that instead of issuing its own final document that Francis would later issue an apostolic exhortation on behalf of the synod.
“My hope is certainly that he will complete this process because it seems to me that it will need bringing to a conclusion, and there’s only one person who can do that,” said the cardinal.
Nichols also praised the universality of the church in his remarks, saying that the local church has to “strive for is a kind of critical distance from its local setting, its particular culture.”
“The church has to have a critical distance, a bit like an arc light,” he said. “If there’s going to be some light, then the two elements have to be at a critical distance. The universality of the church holds the local church to a critical distance, otherwise it gets too close to the prevailing culture and the light disappears.”
The Synod of Bishops is meeting Wednesday-Friday in open session. The prelates will resume meeting in small groups Monday and Tuesday.
German group at Synod united: Church doctrine has developed over time
Joshua J. McElwee | Oct. 15, 2015 | National Catholic Reporter
VATICAN CITY The group of German speaking prelates attending the worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops on family — which includes a rather diverse range of what might be called progressive and conservative voices — has called on the gathering to recognize that church doctrine has developed over time.
The group has also said the church’s understanding of Jesus’ mission on Earth means that there cannot always be one universal principle that applies to all concrete situations.
Writing in their report on the discussions taking place in their small group for the ongoing Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops, the German bishops say: “It … became clear to us that we are too static and not biographical-historical in many debates and observations.”
“The Church’s doctrine of marriage was developed and deepened in history,” they write.
The group explains how the church’s understanding of marriage has developed over time — first emphasizing monogamy of marriage, then “the personal dignity of the spouses” before coming to understand the family as the “house church.”
“This historical path of deeper understanding is today also visible in the biography of many people,” the group writes. “They are first touched by the human dimension of marriage, in the environment of the Church they become convinced of the Christian view on marriage and from there they find their way to the celebration of sacramental marriage.”
“As the historical development of the Church’s teaching has taken time, so her pastoral care must also accord the people on their path to sacramental marriage a time of maturing and not act according to the principle of ‘all or nothing,’” states the group.
The German speaking prelates write in one of 13 reports from the different small discussion groups meeting during the Synod, separated by language preference. All 13 of the reports — the second of three expected to come from the Synod — were released Wednesday.
There is only one German speaking group at the Synod, which includes an incredible range of intellectual backgrounds.
Among those in the group are: German Cardinals Walter Kasper, who has proposed a “penitential path” for divorced and remarried persons to receive Communion; and Gerhard Muller, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and known to oppose that path.
Co-leading the group are: Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn and German Archbishop Heiner Koch.
The report is written in German and is available in full at the Vatican website. Dutch blogger Mark de Vries has posted an English language translation.
Continuing in their reflection on the development of church teaching, the German group states: “The Church inevitably stands in the conflict between a necessary clarity in teaching about marriage and family on the one hand, and the specific pastoral task to accompany and convince those people whose lives only conform in part with the principles of the Church on the other.”
“It is important to take steps with them on the road to the fullness of life in marriage and family, as the Gospel of the family promises,” they write.
The group begins its report with an exploration of the relationship between mercy and truth, grace and justice — saying the concepts “are constantly treated as being in opposition to one another.”
“In God they are certainly not in opposition: as God is love, justice and mercy come together in Him,” they write. “The mercy of God is the fundamental truth of revelation, which is not opposed to other truths of revelation.”
“It rather reveals to us the deepest reason, as it tells us why God empties Himself in His Son and why Jesus Christ remains present in His Church through His word and His sacraments,” they state. “The mercy of God reveals to us in this way the reason and the entire purpose of the work of salvation. The justice of God is His mercy, with which He justifies us.”
A consequence of this understanding of salvation, the German speakers write, is that there cannot be one universal principle that accounts for all particular situations.
“It excludes a one-sided deductive hermeneutic which subsumes concrete situations under a general principle,” they state.
Quoting both St. Thomas Aquinas and the 16th century Council of Trent, they say that for both “the implementation of basic principles of prudence and wisdom to the particular and often complicated situations is pending.”
“This is not about exceptions to which the word of God does not apply, but about the question of a fair and reasonable application of the words of Jesus — such as the words about the indissolubility of marriage — in prudence and wisdom,” they state.
Using Aquinas’ seminal work Summa Theologiae, they quote the saint: “To prudence belongs not only the consideration of reason, but also the application to action, which is the goal of practical reason.”
Allowing Local Strategies Sounds Like a Good Idea–Except If You’re in Newark
October 14, 2015 – Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Today, I would like to look at a creative strategy being discussed here at the synod in Rome that may bode well for LGBT people. An idea that has been proposed by several bishops in several different ways is to allow for more local decision-making on pastoral approaches to some of the family issues considered more controversial such as divorce/remarriage and LGBT issues.
One of the first bishops to raise this question was Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, who made headlines at the end of 2014 when he became the first Catholic bishop to call on the Church to bless same-sex couples. In Caelo blog carried an English translation of the text (original can be found here) of Bonny’s synod intervention on October 5th. Here’s the relevant passage:
“In their local Churches bishops encounter a great variety of questions and needs, to which they must provide a pastoral answer today. Across the world, faithful and pastors have made use of the Synod and the questionnaire to present their pressing questions to the bishops and the Pope. Those questions clearly differ between countries and continents. There is however a common theme in those questions, namely the desire that the Church will stand in “the great rive of mercy” (IL 68, 106). It is important that the Synod give space and responsibility to the local bishops to formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God which is entrusted to their pastoral care. The individual bishops’ conferences have a special role in this. The Synod not only deals with ‘the family as Church,’ but also with ‘the Church as family.’ Every family knows what it means to work on unity in diversity, with patience and creativity.”
Michael O’Loughlin of Crux wrote a good article on the subject of local pastoral decision-making in which he connected the idea to changes that have come about since Pope Francis entered the scene:
“For decades, some bishops and theologians have complained of what they see as an excessive concentration of power in Rome, and the need to empower bishops’ conferences and local churches to handle more matters on their own.
“What has changed under Francis is the sense that movement in the direction of greater ‘collegiality,’ meaning shared authority, is possible.”
O’Loughlin also quoted another synod proponent of local decision-making:
“Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila said cultural differences might precipitate the need for various solutions, but always with unity in mind.
” ‘There is unity of the faith, one Church, one doctrine, but the situations differ,’ he said. ‘There was a serious proposal to see what space could be given to the bishops’ conferences to address issues somehow peculiar to them, but always in the light of the common faith.’ “
At today’s press briefing, Abbot Jeremias Schroder, OSB, arch-abbot of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Odile, Germany, said that many proposals for decentralizing pastoral strategies have been raised many times during the synod discussions, especially around dealing with cohabitation and pastoral outreach to homosexual people. He said that the German Catholic public are very concerned with the issue of outreach to divorced/remarried people, and “that seems to be an area where regional pastoral solutions could be envisaged.”
He then went on:
“I also have the impression that the understanding of homosexuality, the social acceptance of homosexuality, is culturally very diverse and that seems to me very obviously to also be an area where bishops conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a given context.”
[You can view a video interview with Schroder in which he discusses the idea of local decision making by clicking here. His discussion of this topic begins at about 1:05.)
I have to say that I have been very intrigued by this idea, and I left the synod press briefing feeling excited by this possibility. But by the time I got back to my guesthouse room and re-connected my computer, I saw a story that made me wonder if local decision-making is really a good idea.
David Gibson of Religion News Service had posted a story with the headline: “NJ archbishop sets rules for barring Catholics from Communion.” Here’s the gist of it:
“Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.
“In the two-page memo, Myers also orders parishes and Catholic institutions not to host people or organizations that disagree with church teachings.
“He says Catholics, ‘especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.’ “
Myers’ local decision-making shows the downside of a decentralized approach. It allows local bishops to be exclusionary in their pastoral ministry. I mentioned this problems somewhat the other day in my post about criminalization laws for LGBT people. In some cases in the world, bishops give tacit approval or even strongly support such laws, which are obviously opposed to Catholic teaching. In these cases, it is good for the universal Church to have some oversight to fraternally correct bishops whose policies, pastoral or political, are not in line with Gospel values.
But, as I’m learning here at the synod by hearing so many different cultural perspectives of our universal Catholic Church, solutions don’t have to be binary: Plan A or Plan Z. In fact, there seem to be a great variety of ways to approach a problem, more than my puny mind has ever imagined, that’s for sure. We just need to both trust and facilitate the Holy Spirit by letting all the voices and all the perspectives speak their truths so that we can arrive at good solutions for all.