Synod, Day 13, Friday October 16, 2015 – As Seen by the Catholic Left

Synod, Day 13, Friday October 16, 2015 – As Seen by the Catholic Left

Synod Sounds

Grant Gallicho, October 17, 2015 – Commonweal

ROME—The Holy See Press Office has taken to holding two-part press conferences, which is great if you want to hear more voices explaining what’s happening inside the synod hall, but not so great if you want lots of time for Q & A. Yesterday was one such presser. First we had reports on the synod fathers’ various interventions, and then we heard a couple of “fraternal delegates” to the synod—that is, representatives of non-Catholic religious communities.

So, what’s happening inside the aula? Discussions are becoming “more emotional,” according to one Vatican spokesperson. There’s been a slight shift from earlier interventions. The synod fathers are hearing about a very wide range of issues, including Humanae vitae, violence between Christians and Catholics (was this a reference to Ukraine? Unclear), the suffering of childless couples, adoption, intrafamily violence, families displaced by migration, care of the elderly, who often suffer isolation and a feeling of uselessness that leads to suicide, families torn by sexual abuse, “the martyrdom of silence in many families where incest has taken place.” The synod fathers also heard interventions about sexual education. One urged the church to resist the dominant, “disastrous” secular model of sex-ed. It should present its teachings as a pathway of love, not sin.

Some synod fathers spoke at length about Pope Francis’s reform of the annulment process (it’s speedier now, and less expensive). Others shared personal experiences of ministering to couples, recounting the experience of being formed by the husbands and wives they had set out to form. It’s easy for bishops to be drawn into the sense of being in control, one synod father said in the aula, as though they are the only ones to impart knowledge. But, he continued, ministry with couples always involves mutual enrichment.

At the heart of the synod, according to one participant, is human sexuality. He acknowledged that most bishops don’t know how to talk about it because they’re celibate. This is why married couples are essential to the discussion. And indeed, the synod fathers heard from some—Sharron Cole, a former [emphasis added] board member of a natural family planning organization [and who came to the Synod with FrankenCardinal Dew from New Zealand], even pressed them to reconsider Humanae vitae.

Its prohibition against non-NFP contraceptive methods has “provoked massive dissent,” she told the synod.

She continued:

Many Catholic married couples have made their own decision in conscience about how to exercise responsible parenthood which may mean the use of artificial contraception. For some, this has meant leaving the church. Others remain but often with a sense of unease.

As an ex board member of Natural Family Planning, I know that this method of contraception permitted by Humanae vitae is an effective method for motivated couples. However for many couples, the method is simply not practicable –they may hold multiple low-wage jobs, have mental health problems, or struggle for diverse reasons. Every family has difficulties which might lead them for a period of time to use artificial contraception in the interests of responsible parenting. Marriage naturally leads to a desire for children which is a biological imperative and a great grace of the sacrament. In my experience, very few couples suppress this desire with its constraints tending to be the couple’s resources to cope, not selfishness.

In response, according to Cole, the church has either pushed for better catechesis or ignored the dissent. But “this paralyzed status quo” must end, she said. “It will take not more catechesis but rather listening with deep empathy to restore the credibility of the church in matters of sexual ethics. The time is now for this synod to propose that the Church re-examine its teaching on marriage and sexuality, and its understanding of responsible parenthood, in a dialogue of laity and bishops together.”

The question of Communion for some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics came up again, but it was “not a dominant topic.” Does the church “do nothing…or go the penitential way?” Or should the bishops be “prophets in the annunciation of the Gospel and going against the mainstream.” At the press briefing, Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia, a fraternal delegate to the synod, gave a rather moving explanation of the way the Orthodox handle Communion for the divorced and remarried. No one gets married planning to be divorced, he said. Couples married with the idea of being together for eternity. “But there are moments when the love that keeps a couple together changes,” he said. Sometimes they start destroying one another instead of helping one another. The Orthodox consider such a situation a condition of sin, and a bishop can resolve the problem by dissolving the marital bond. This provides the chance for a person “to rebuild himself or herself—which is a penitential moment,” according to Metropolitan Stephanos. This is why the first marriage rite is “triumphant,” and the second penitential. “For the second ceremony, they really need to face the truth,” he said.

In small-group discussions, Metropolitan Stephanos continued, he has seen the Orthodox idea of oikonomia being introduced “very gradually.” This means understanding that “there is the rigor of the doctrine,” but that people have to live it, and that means figuring out different approaches to differing situations. “Humans aren’t robots that we put in a container and order to march in one direction,” he said.

Obviously there remains a good deal of disagreement about how to handle the question of Communion for remarried Catholics—and the answer may be not to handle it at all, but to kick it to a study committee after the synod draws to a close next Sunday. That idea has been mentioned a couple of times at the press briefings. That’s how Pope Francis handled annulment reform, which was much discussed at last year’s synod. My money is on the committee solution to this issue too.

Anglican Bishop Timothy Thornton, also a fraternal delegate to the synod, emphasized that there is no neat distinction between doctrine and pastoral practice. “Pastoral work is sometimes the most difficult work you can do,” he continued. Dialogue is essential to this process. And that’s precisely what he’s seen during this synod. In his small group, Bishop Thornton explained, there’s one person who thinks very differently from him, and they’ve gone out of their way to have conversations throughout the synod. Perhaps that’s one measure of its success.

Get AQ Email Updates

One comment on “Synod, Day 13, Friday October 16, 2015 – As Seen by the Catholic Left

  1. Synod Snapshots

    Grant Gallicho, October 16, 2015 – Commonweal

    ROME—The bells of St. Peter’s tell me that it’s 8 a.m. The traffic on the Via di Porta Cavalleggeri, the six-lane thoroughfare that bends along the Vatican’s southern wall where it meets Paul VI Audience Hall—where synod meets—tells me that it’s rush hour. The calendar tells me that nearly two weeks of this General Synod on the Family are in the books. All anybody wants to tell me is that they have no idea whether, when the whole shindig wraps next Sunday, the bishops will have anything to show for it.

    We the media honestly have no idea. We learn what we learn from interviews with synod fathers, from three-minute speeches some release to the public, from near-daily Holy See press briefings, which sometimes feature a bishop or two, and satellite press conferences that may or may not actually be press conferences.

    I’m thinking of the one called by Voice of the Family, a pop-up activist supergroup intent on holding the line on any and all church doctrine and discipline regarding the family. Somehow they got press credentials for last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family (as did several other activists); this year, it seems, not so much. Yesterday morning VOF managed to fill an upper room at the Hotel Columbus, just off St. Peter’s Square, with a bunch of journalists hoping to catch some news from the headliner: Cardinal Raymond Burke. The cardinal spent much of the 2014 synod, and the year between that meeting and this one, resisting any change in church practice. So, as expected, when reporters had finished sitting through the undercard—which presented so close a reading of the synod’s working document as to determine that, in the words of one speaker, one of its paragraphs constituted a “direct attack on parental rights” that is “opposed to Catholic teaching”—and the main event, which was generally much calmer, they wanted to ask the cardinal some questions.

    But the organizers wouldn’t have it.

    Because Burke isn’t participating in this year’s synod, the VOF emcee explained, he wouldn’t participate in any Q & A. Reuters tried anyway, and Cardinal Burke politely declined, explaining that, being on the outside of the synod proceedings, he was “unable” to talk about it. Yet that didn’t stop the cardinal from giving an interview to Il Foglio the other day, in which he commented on Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to allow some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to rejoin the Communion line (still against it). And when the Tablet of London asked Burke another question, VOF shut down the press conference, or whatever it was, and quickly moved the cardinal out of the room. In fact, Thursday morning Burke recorded an interview about the synod with LifeSiteNews, which VOF posted to their website today. Suffice it to say that was the last time VOF will be be short seats at one of its media briefings.

    The Holy See Press Office, meanwhile, won’t have any trouble attracting that crowd, even if the bedraggled media masses would much rather have direct access to the synod proceedings, rather than the summary reports—as workmanlike as they often are—of the daily to-ings and fro-ings. (Actually, while I, like any journalist, even one whose journalistic clock is ticking, would like nothing more than to report from inside the synod hall, or at least to read every speech, I understand why Pope Francis set it up this way. Prying eyes don’t always enhance the frankness of conversations.) So what has emerged in recent days? Communion, Communion, Communion.

    I don’t want to give the wrong impression. As I said before, if you’re talking about the family, you’re talking about everything. And Pope Francis has stated that he doesn’t want the synod fathers to get mesmerized by the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. So, for example, it’s become clear that the synod is deeply concerned with marital formation—pre-Cana preparation for marriage, and post-Cana accompaniment. (Most intriguingly, one synod father called for Laudato si’ to be integrated with church marriage programs.) But it’s clear that a good many bishops here really do want to talk about Communion for the civilly remarried. Some synod fathers have said it’s more or less off the table. But according to yesterday’s Holy See presser, that seems not to be the case. Indeed, according to Vatican Radio’s Romilda Ferrauto, who has been briefing the media on synod proceedings, that topic was raised “again and again.” Many synod fathers said that “the role of church is not only to be faithful” but also “to accompany the people in spite of their failures, without watering down the teaching,” according to Ferrauto. Still others spoke of considering this problem on a case-by-case basis. Specifics were not offered, but it sounds a lot like the Kasper proposal.

    The word, “accompaniment,” one of Francis’s favorites, came up again and again. For example, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops conference, described his synod takeaway thusly: “The focus on the idea of accompanying the divorced with love and friendship, so that they can understand that they are loved by the church. They are not outcasts.” Still, he made it clear that the Polish bishops are entirely opposed to permitting the divorced and civilly remarried to receive the Eucharist. What it means to accompany such couples while urging them to live as brother and sister wasn’t spelled out.

    Whether that line of thinking took hold during subsequent synod deliberations remains to be seen. (Indeed, pastoral responses will be the theme of this third phase of the synod.) But one moment from yesterday’s press conference has stayed with me, as I imagine it has with many bishops. As related by Fr. Manuel Dorantes, Spanish-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, one synod father told the story of a couple he knew. They were remarried, unable to receive Communion—a fact their child was well aware of. Near the end of Mass one Sunday, while the parents remained in their pew, the child approached to receive the Eucharist—but she didn’t consume it. Rather, she brought the host back to her parents, and offered them some. This little girl knew her parent’s wounds. She sought to bind them. Now where do you think she got that idea?

Leave a Reply