Synod, Day 21, Saturday October 24, 2015 – As Seen by the Catholic Left
[The FrankenChurch view]
Synod’s final document focuses on discernment in family life
24/10/2015 Vatican Radio
The Synod of Bishops on the Family completed its final working day on Saturday, as bishops voted on a final document and approved a statement on families affected by conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine.
Philippa Hitchen has been following the different stages of the meeting and talking to many of the bishops, religious and lay people who’ve taken part in the discussions. She reports on the atmosphere inside the hall as the final Synod document was presented to participants….
It’s hard to describe the mix of emotions that washed around the Synod Hall on Saturday at the close of this three week meeting. Elation, exhaustion, incredulity and relief were certainly among the reactions I heard from Synod Fathers as they worked their way painstakingly through all 94 points of their lengthy final text. Surprisingly similar, I thought, to that indescribable blend of emotions that most mothers experience as they give birth to a new life.
There’s no denying there have been labour pains over the past weeks here, as tensions surfaced and fears were expressed, both in public and on the pages of letters sent to the Pope and members of the organizing committee. In the small groups and in the open debates, strong words and provocative language has been bandied around, both by those seeking some new developments in Church teaching and by those who resist any openings towards people in so–called irregular situations of cohabitation, remarriage or same-sex relationships.
Yet the final document has been welcomed by most as a carefully crafted work of art which seeks to balance the very different views and cultural perspectives of all Synod participants. Rather than producing any groundbreaking theological developments, it showcases a new, more inclusive way of working, which began with the questionnaires sent out to families around the world and concluded with the intense small group discussions inside the Synod Hall.
Inevitably, the more open, frank discussions of difficult issues, encouraged by Pope Francis at the start of the 2014 Synod, has required a new methodology to find agreement acceptable to all sides, without settling for a lowest common denominator. The key word in this process – unsurprisingly under a Jesuit Pope – is discernment, or the ability to listen, learn and respond to personal stories. Starting from the bible, the catechism and the teaching of popes past and present, pastors are encouraged to open doors and engage with every person and every family, not judging or condemning, but welcoming and caring for each individual need.
While the joys and sorrows of family life have been the main focus of discussions, the bishops have really been learning a new way of relating to each other in the family of the Church. Half a century on from establishment of the Synod of bishops, these Church leaders are moving towards a new way of collaborating more closely with each other and with the pope, respecting differences, while at the same time realizing the value of diversity.
You could call it a growing up and coming of age of that synodality that was born during the Second Vatican Council. Few of those Council Fathers are around today to witness the joy all parents feel as they watch their children mature and make their way in the world. But just as the document born during this Synod stresses the role of each generation in nurturing and handing on the faith, so today’s Synod Fathers will be looking back with gratitude as they strive to respond more effectively to the challenges facing the Church in the contemporary world.
[The NewChurch view]
1. Synod offers striking softening to remarried, proposing individual discernment
Joshua J. McElwee | Oct. 24, 2015 | National Catholic Reporter
VATICAN CITY A worldwide gathering of some 270 Catholic bishops has strikingly softened the church’s practice towards those who have divorced and remarried, saying such persons should discern decisions about their spiritual lives individually in concert with the guidance of priests.
Pope Francis also closed the meeting with a strong renewal of his continual emphasis of the boundless nature of divine mercy, saying: “The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy.”
Although the final document from the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops says discernment for remarried persons can “never overlook the demands of truth and love in the Gospel,” it seems to significantly move decision-making for how they can participate in the church to private conversations in dioceses around the world.
Suggesting use of what is called the “internal forum,” the document says priests can help remarried Catholics “in becoming conscious of their situation before God” and then deciding how to move forward.
“The conversation with the priest, in internal forum, contributes to the formation of a concrete decision on what is blocking the possibility of a more full participation in the life of the church and on steps that might foster it and make it grow,” states the document.
“For this to happen, the necessary conditions should be guaranteed of humility, privacy, and love of the Church and its teachings in the sincere seeking of the will of God and in the wish to give a more perfect response to it,” it continues.
While the words in the document lack specificity, they may signify a notable shift in the church’s practice that divorced and remarried persons cannot take Communion without receiving annulments of their first marriages.
Also notable is the fact that neither words the Communion or Eucharist appear in the paragraphs, allowing interpretation of their meaning and a possible opening for Pope Francis to make more specific decisions in the future.
Catholic teaching says that acts of governance in the church can take place either in an internal or external forum. The internal forum is the forum of conscience, where a decision is made in private counseling with a priest without a formal decree or any sort of publicity.
Saturday’s final document from the Synod of Bishops is the fruit of three weeks of intense and sometimes heated deliberations among global prelates, who were called to Rome by Francis to consider issues of family life.
The bishops voted on the document in their last session of the meeting Saturday evening, giving each paragraph a simple yes or no vote. Each of the paragraphs was adopted by the assembly with the required two-thirds vote, 177 bishops of the 265 present for the voting.
The three paragraphs of the 94 paragraph document dealing with issues relating to divorced and remarried Catholics were closest in the voting, receiving respectively 187, 178, and 190 votes.
The middle paragraph, which received the most no votes of any paragraph in the document, 80, states that decisions on what action to take about divorced and remarried persons will not always be the same in every case.
“It is necessary to recognize that the responsibility with respect to determinative actions or decisions is not the same in all cases,” states that paragraph.
“The pastoral discernment, surely taking into account the righteously formed conscience of persons, must make itself aware of these situations,” it states. The consequences of the acts done is also not necessarily the same in all cases.”
Francis concluded the Synod after the voting Saturday afternoon with remarks that spoke eloquently about the journey the bishops had traversed in their days together, and emphasized anew his call for prelates to refrain from being “doctors of the law.”
“The Synod experience … made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness,” the pontiff told the bishops.
“This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy,” said the pope.
That paragraph also quotes at length Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Familiaris Consortio, saying that document means it is “the work of priests to accompany interested persons in the way of discernment according to the teaching of the Church and the directions of the Bishop.”
It proposes that divorced and remarried persons make an examination of conscience, asking how they have treated any children they may have had in their first marriages, if they attempted to reconcile with their partners, and what example they are giving to young people preparing for marriage.
“A sincere reflection can reinforce the truth in the mercy of God that is not denied to anyone,” it states.
Francis said in his remarks that the three-week Synod “was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would ‘indoctrinate’ it in dead stones to be hurled at others.”
“It was also about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families,” said the pope.
“It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above the hermeneutic of conspiracy or closed viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible,” the pontiff continued.
2. Synod on remarried Catholics, consensus in ambiguity
Thomas Reese | Oct. 24, 2015 | National Catholic Reporter
VATICAN CITY All right. Let’s get it over with. I was too pessimistic in my prediction of how the synod would end. I should have trusted the Spirit.
I was convinced that the opposition to allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to go to Communion (unless they had annulments) was so strong that the synod could not do anything. The best I hoped for was that the bishops would recommend further study of the possibility. The worst outcome would have been the synod saying definitively that church practice could not change.
My mistake was writing my column before the German-language small group made its report. To the amazement of all, the Germans reached unanimous agreement on their report that included a discussion of the internal forum.
“There must be perhaps a way of going with the people in these situations, with the priest to look if and when they can come to a full reconciliation with the church,” explained Cardinal Reinhard Marx, speaking of divorced and remarried persons. “That is the proposal.”
This unanimity was significant because in the German group were theologically sophisticated cardinals representing different points of view, including Cardinals Walter Kasper, who originally proposed the idea of the “penitential path,” and Gerhard Muller, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known to oppose that path.
That these cardinals could agree meant their recommendation carried great weight with the synodal fathers. Muller was especially crucial in bringing around bishops who were on the fence. “If the head of CDF says it is OK, it must be OK,” was the thinking.
What did the synod finally say about divorced and remarried Catholics in its final relatio or recommendations to the pope?
Like the Germans, the synod suggested the use of what is called the “internal forum,” where the document says priests can help remarried Catholics “in becoming conscious of their situation before God” and in deciding how to move forward.
“The conversation with the priest, in internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct decision on what is blocking the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the church and on steps that might foster it and make it grow,” states the document.
“For this to happen, the necessary conditions should be guaranteed of humility, discretion, and love of the Church and its teachings in the sincere seeking of the will of God and in the wish to give a more perfect response to it,” the document continues.
What is remarkable about the three paragraphs dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics is that the words Communion and Eucharist never appear. Yes, that’s right, they never mention Communion as a conclusion of this internal forum process.
So what does it mean? A conservative might interpret it as closed to Communion because it was not mentioned in the text. A liberal might interpret it as including Communion since it is not explicitly excluded in the text.
I think that the truth is that Communion was not mentioned because that was the only way the paragraphs could get a two-thirds majority. Like the Second Vatican Council, the synod achieved consensus through ambiguity. This means that they are leaving Pope Francis free to do whatever he thinks best.
Hats off to the drafting committee that found exactly the right language to achieve consensus even if it does not give a definitive answer to our questions.
Josh McElwee also reports that the document touches on artificial contraception, quoting Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that prohibited the practice. But the Synod document also calls for a “consensual dialog” between spouses when considering children.
The document also speaks of taking decisions about having children after reflecting on what one is hearing in conscience, quoting the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes to say: “The responsible choice of procreation presumes the formation of conscience, which is ‘the most secret core and sanctuary of a man where he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths.'”
Apparently, the original text from the drafting committee was tightened up slightly in order to get consensus.
Finally, on the other controversial topic, homosexuals, the synod said they are part of our families and quoted church documents saying they should be “respected in their dignity and received with respect, with care to avoid ‘every type of unjust discrimination.'” The synod did not progress beyond where the American bishops were in 1997 in the pastoral message, “Always Our Children.”
The document also criticized international organizations that condition financial aid to developing countries on the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
So who won?
Clearly the drafting committee which would have been embarrassed if its text had been rejected.
The Germans who proved to be true churchmen willing to keep talking until they reached agreement rather than hurling condemnations at each other.
Pope Francis who got a synod where ideas were exchanged and debated with complete openness.
Catholic families of all types, who got the undivided attention of the synodal fathers during these three weeks.
Who lost? Those who wanted to emphasize the law over mercy, who were opposed to any changes in church practice.
Why do I know they lost? Because it was they who fiercely attacked the paragraphs dealing with divorce and remarriage, but they were defeated when the votes were counted.
In the days ahead, conservatives may attempt to spin the final recommendations in a way that supports their position, but they cannot get away with that unless they answer the question, “then why did you so fiercely oppose these paragraphs?”
I have often said that as a social scientist, I am a pessimist, but as a Christian, I have to have hope. The synod did not do everything I wanted and consensus had to be reached through ambiguity, so my pessimism was not completely wrong.
On the other hand, the synod did point the church in the right direction, and as Pope Francis reminds us, synodality is not just a three-week experience, it is at the heart of how he wants to see the church operate in the future. That gives me hope.
3. The End Is the Beginning
Grant Gallicho, October 24, 2015 – Commonweal
ROME—Put away the tea leaves. After three weeks of argument, intrigue, and, yes, prayer, the fourteenth Ordinary Synod of Bishops—comprising 270 clerics from around the world—has voted. Two-thirds of the synod father supported opening a path for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to fuller participation in the life of the church—including liturgically. In some countries, the divorced and civilly remarried cannot serve as lectors, catechists, or godparents.
In conversation with a priest, according to the synod’s final summary text, a person can become “conscious of [his or her] situation before God”—through the “internal forum.” This process, according to the text, may help a person discern what “prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the church,” and to figure out what can be done to “make it [the participation] grow.” (In 1991, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ruled out the internal forum as a pathway for the divorced and civilly remarried to return to Communion.)
The text does not specify whether this could result in a return to the Communion line. But, importantly, neither does it foreclose the possibility—something many synod fathers wanted to rule out. For weeks, those synod fathers had been arguing for a final relatio that closed the door on Communion for the divorced and remarried. They didn’t win the day. The synod—which is a consultative body, not a deliberative one—could have sent Pope Francis a document that simply reaffirmed the current practice of barring the civilly remarried from the Eucharist. It didn’t. That’s important.
The paragraph in which this proposal appeared won a two-thirds majority by just two votes—a squeaker, to be sure. But keep in mind that in the final relatio of the 2014 synod, the paragraphs on the most controversial issues (including homosexuality and the divorced and remarried), did not even get to two-thirds, and they merely suggested further study or restated church teaching.
By the middle of this week, as the Ordinary Synod on the Family began to wind down, a few important smoke signals began emerging from the Holy See Press Office. During one press briefing this week, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, among those responsible for drafting the synod’s final summary document, seemed to suggest that the “internal forum” path would not end up in the final relatio. It did. (It came as some surprise when Gracias cited famed moral theologian Bernard Haring while discussing the matter.) When Cardinal Reinhard Marx appeared at another briefing, he summarized the German-language group’s recommendation, which is more or less what made it into the final relatio—without stating outright that such a discernment process could bring the person back to the Eucharist.
On another controversial issue, how the church thinks and speaks about gay people, the final relatio punted. Indeed, it seems that the issue did not receive all that much discussion over the course of the three-week meeting. When Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny tried raising the issue in his small group, as he explained during a press briefing last night, he encountered resistance. There was “no way of discussing it in a peaceful way,” he said. (Bonny’s small group was led by Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, who used one of his interventions to compare the threat of same-sex marriage to that of ISIS.) It would be better to leave the homosexuality issue for further study than to treat it cursorily in the final document, Bonny said. Yet the final relation seemed to do just that. What it says about gay people amounts to a restatement of what appears in the catechism: They are our part of our family too, and they deserve love and respect. The relatio reaffirmed church teaching against same-sex marriage, and said there was no basis for comparring it to heterosexual marriage.
The ninety-four-paragraph final relatio, as the text is known, is submitted to Pope Francis, who may issue a document on the family, as requested by the final relatio. That could be an apostolic exhortation. Or a motu proprio. Or an encyclical. Or not. It’s entirely up to him. Being the pope.
Francis closed out the synod with a barnburner of a speech, in which he described what the synod was—and was not. It was not about “settling all the issues” related to the family, he said. Or about “falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.”
It was about being “not afraid to stir dulled consciences.” It was about opening hearts that “frequently hid even behind the church’s teachings…in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge.”
It was about “rising above conspiracy theories…to transmit the beautify of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.”
It was a synod that saw the free expression of “different opinions”—“at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways.” It helped the church to learn that “what seems normal for one bishop on one continent is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another.”
The synod helped the church realize that “true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit, not ideas but people, not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness.” It’s about mercy. About overcoming the “recurring temptations of the elder brother and the jealous laborers.” Commandments were made for us, not vice versa, Francis said.
For the church to conclude the synod, Pope Francis said, bringing his address to a close, “means to return to our true ‘journeying together’ in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the church, and the support of God’s mercy.”
In other words, this listening synod, if it is to be true to the stirring vision of the pope who established it, can never truly come to an end. It is only the beginning.
[The QueerChurch view]
Synod Final Report: Not Much Is Said, But A Lot Has Changed
October 24, 2015 – Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
While the final report of the Vatican’s Synod on the Family has not said much in regard to LGBT issues, in fact, a great deal has changed in regard to the discussion on these topics at the highest levels of the Church.
The synod’s final report focused its discussion of LGBT issues solely on families with lesbian and gay members in them. This is a step in the right direction, but it must not be the last step. The other remarks–disapproving of same-gender marriages, and connecting international financial aid to marriage equality laws–have been stated before and are not surprising in this context, however, it is disappointing to see them repeated.
Helping to heal family divisions that exist because of lack of understanding of homosexuality or ignorance of Catholic teaching respecting the human dignity of lesbian and gay people is an important and needed ministry, especially in countries where awareness levels are low. In the United States, ministry with families such as these has been a great, shining hope for LGBT equality, as parents and family members advocate for including their loved ones in the Church.
Last year’s synod opened the door for greater discussion of LGBT issues in the Church. While the discussion was not as explicit this year, we saw a variety of interesting specific proposals that could eventually have a positive effect on the Church’s pastoral ministry with LGBT people: a transformation of Church language which has been offensive, harmful, and inaccurate; the need for local bishops to be allowed to respond more pastorally given the unique attitudes and practices of their communities; the desire for the Church to be more of a listening presence and accompanying friend instead of a disciplinarian rule giver.
We heard bishops willing to speak up for lesbian and gay people, including an apology from the German speaking bishops for the harm that Church. We heard bishops say that pastoral ministry must go forward regardless of whether a person’s opinions and life conform to the Church’s teaching. We heard bishops say that the road has been paved for a better discussion of these issues in the future.
Even though this synod did not achieve a stronger statement of LGBT acceptance, the movement for a more inclusive and equal Church for LGBT members can take hope from this meeting because the discussion has moved forward and we’ve heard that a large number of bishops see the need for this discussion to continue into the future.
We are heartened by the proposal coming from one of the English speaking groups, and also Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny, for a totally separate synod in the future on LGBT issues. Such an endeavor would not only give the time and focus needed to look at the myriad questions involved–including questions of gender identity, absent entirely from this synod– but also to hear, first-hand, from LGBT people themselves, their families, and pastoral ministers.
The bishops at this synod said they want a church that is a listening church. In 1997, the U.S. bishops, in their pastoral letter Always Our Children, on families with lesbian and gay members, they advised pastoral ministers: “Strive first to listen.” If bishops, pastoral ministers, and all Catholics will follow this sound, pastoral advice, they can transform the church into a welcoming and inclusive community for all, including our LGBT brothers and sisters.
[The AmChurch view]
Synod’s final report calls for ‘accompaniment’ tailored to family situations
Synod fathers approve 94-paragraph report at end of three-week gathering
by Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
Saturday, 24 Oct 2015
While not specifically mentioning the controversial proposal of a path toward full reconciliation and Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, members of the Synod of Bishops on the family have handed Pope Francis a report emphasising an obligation to recognise that not all Catholics in such a situation bear the same amount of blame.
The 94-paragraph report, approved on the last working day of the three-week synod, highlighted the role of pastors in helping couples understand Church teaching, grow in faith and take responsibility for sharing the Gospel.
It also emphasised how “pastoral accompaniment” involves discerning, on a case-by-case basis, the moral culpability of people not fully living up to the Catholic ideal.
Bishops and other full members of the synod voted separately on each paragraph and the Vatican published those votes. The paragraph dealing specifically with leading divorced and remarried Catholics on a path of discernment passed with only one vote beyond the necessary two thirds.
Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna told reporters that the key word in the document’s discussion of ministry to divorced and civilly remarried people is “‘discernment.’ I invite you all to remember there is no black or white, no simple yes or no.”
The situation of each couple “must be discerned,” which is what was called for by St John Paul II in his 1981 exhortation on the family, he said.
The cardinal told Vatican Insider, a news site, that although St John Paul called for discernment in those cases, “he didn’t mention all that comes after discernment.”
The synod’s final report, he said, proposes priests help divorced and remarried couples undergoing conversion and repentance so that they recognise whether or not they are worthy to receive the Eucharist. Such an examination of conscience, he said, is required of every Catholic each time they prepare to approach the altar.
As Pope Francis said at the beginning of the synod, Church doctrine on the meaning of marriage as a lifelong bond between one man and one woman open to having children was not up for debate.
The final report strongly affirmed that teaching as God’s plan for humanity, as a blessing for the Church and a benefit to society.
While insisting on God’s love for homosexual persons and the obligation to respect their dignity, the report also insisted same-sex unions could not be recognised as marriages and denounced as “totally unacceptable” governments or international organisations making recognition of “‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex” a condition for financial assistance.
The report also spoke specifically of: the changing role of women in families, the Church and society; single people and their contributions to the family and the Church; the heroic witness of parents who love and care for children with disabilities; the family as a sanctuary protecting the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death; and the particular strain on family life caused by poverty and by migration.
The Catholic Church recognizes a “natural” value in marriage corresponding to the good of the husband and wife, their unity, fidelity and desire for children. But the sacrament of marriage adds another dimension, the report said.
“The irrevocable fidelity of God to his covenant is the foundation of the indissolubility of marriage. The complete and profound love of the spouses is not based only on their human capabilities: God sustains this covenant with the strength of his Spirit.”
But human beings are subject to sin and failure, which is why synod members recommend the need for “accompaniment” by family members, pastors and other couples.
“Being close to the family as a traveling companion means, for the Church, assuming wisely differentiated attitudes: sometimes it is necessary to stay by their side and listen in silence; other times it must indicate the path to follow; and at still other times, it is opportune to follow, support and encourage.”
A draft of the report was presented to synod members on Thursday, and 51 bishops spoke the next morning about changes they would like to see in the final draft.
Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters that several bishops mentioned specifically a need to improve the text’s references to “the relationship between conscience and the moral law.”
The text refers to conscience in sections dealing with procreation and with marital situations the church considers irregular, particularly the situation of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
First, though, synod members promised greater efforts to be with couples in crisis and praised divorced Catholics who, “even in difficult situations, do not undertake a new union, remaining faithful to the sacramental bond.” Such Catholics, they noted, can and should “find in the Eucharist the nourishment that sustains them.”
Those who have remarried without an annulment of their sacramental marriage must be welcomed and included in the parish community in every way possible, the report said. “They are baptised, they are brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit gives them gifts and charisms for the good of all.”
Quoting from St John Paul’s exhortation on the family, the report insists that pastors, “for the sake of truth,” are called to careful discernment when assisting and counseling people who divorced and remarried. They must distinguish, for instance, between those who “have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage,” in the words of St John Paul.
Priests must “accompany interested people on the path of discernment in accordance with the teaching of the Church and the guidance of the bishop,” the report said.
While the report makes no explicit mention of absolution and the return to Communion, it seems to leave some possibility for such a solution by quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s affirmation that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified” because of different conditions. Just as the degree of guilt will differ, the report said, “also the consequences of the acts are not necessarily the same in all cases.”
In several places the text praises the teaching of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical of Blessed Paul VI on married love and the transmission of life.
“Conjugal love between a man and a woman and the transmission of life are ordered one to the other,” the report said.
“Responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of the conscience, which is ‘the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths,’” said the report, quoting from the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. “The more spouses try to listen to God and his commandments in their consciences, the freer their decision will be” from external pressures, the report said.