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What language will the synod speak?

The doctrine of marriage is not at stake, but the family as an irreplaceable resource in human society is.

This was the conundrum facing the synod when it convened on October 4 under the theme, The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world, after probably one of the most intense periods of lobbying from a wide spectrum of Catholic society ever seen.

Fear has been expressed that Pope Francis intends to change the doctrine on marriage, although at an audience on August 5 he clearly stated that he intends to defend the traditional Christian understanding of marriage.

Although he admits that as an institution marriage is under attack from powerful cultural forces, he said, “The faithful are called to bear witness to this basic truth of biblical faith and natural law, which is essential to the wise and just ordering of society.”

But the pope is also clearly interested in the pastoral response of the Church to those who have failed in their marriage and entered into a new relationship.

However, he did say, “The Church is also aware that such a situation is contrary to the Christian sacrament.”

At the same time, while much debate has centred around whether people in such irregular unions may receive communion or not, Pope Francis has not totally closed off the possibility at this stage.

He expressed great concern for the children of irregular unions, saying that he knows the pain that children feel when their parents are shunned and treated as not really belonging.

“For this reason it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes, always be attentive to people, starting with the little ones,” Pope Francis said.

Many have expressed fear that in responding to this dilemma, the pope will introduce pastoral practices that deny the age-old interpretations of what it means to be in a state of grace or what it means to have repented, while striving to maintain its teaching without contradiction.

But while this question has taken the headlines, it was not a big issue at the Extraordinary Synod last year and the vast array of problems family life presents in numerous cultures across the world will also be the subject of discussion and discernment at the synod.

For the first time, the Vatican did try to canvass opinion from the people in the street prior to the synod, but in fact received a scant response, as people said they found the language and complexity of the questionnaire in comprehensible. But dioceses or groups that did a simplification and revamping fared much better.

Some said that it projected an over-idealised state which was beyond their lived experience.

Some countries added questions specific to pastoral problems in their own lands. In South Africa, the bishops included child-headed families, others asked about polygamy.

But the question of language points to another issue; the manner in which the Church speaks and articulates its doctrine and teaching.

Increasing numbers of Catholics do not find it compelling and simply reject various parts of it, although expressing a desire to continue to belong.

The two most common areas of rejection seem to be two of the most basic to everyday life; human relationships and social justice. JiM.