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Call to push for a value added synod

VATICAN (SE): “My father was a Christian political leader, who was imprisoned for 17 years by the Communists. My parents were engaged to marry, but their wedding took place 17 years later,” Anco-Maria Cernea, the president of Catholic Doctors of Romania, said in what many described as the best input at the Synod of Bishops on Family Life on October 15.

“My mother waited for my father, although she did not even know if he was alive or not,” she related.

As a member of an Orthodox Church, Cernea said that her people are praying for the synod, making clear the ecumenical importance of the august gathering.

She reminded the synod fathers, “Classical Marxism pretended to redesign society, through violent takeover of property. This ideology calls itself progressive. But it is nothing else than the ancient serpent’s offer, for man to take control, to replace God and to arrange salvation here, in this world.”

She added, “Now the revolution goes deeper. It pretends to redefine family, sexual identity and human nature.”

As a doctor from a poor country, Cernea most certainly has the smell of the sheep that Pope Francis tells his ministers must be the prime qualification of a shepherd of the Church.

She begged the synod to stand against these aberrations of modern society.

The synod discussed a wide variety of issues concerning the family during its third and final week, before voting on the final draft of its findings, which were later presented to Pope Francis for his consideration.

The pope may or may not issue a final exhortation and to date, no indication has been given as to his intention.

In a rarity for a synod, Reinhard Cardinal Marx had a public dig at another synod father when he criticised George Cardinal Pell for some of his public statements and role in a secret letter sent to Pope Francis.

Indeed, the off the scenes exchange about changing doctrine does beg some political explanation, as it can be presumed that all the bishops gathered at the synod have an adequate grasp of Church practice to know that doctrine is outside the remit of a synod.

The prior of the lay-founded Ecumenical Monastery of Bose in northern Italy called on the synod to remember the plea for mercy continually being made by Pope Francis.

He told La Repubblica that what is at play in the off-the-scenes exchanges about doctrine is not the Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. “No, it is the pastoral dimension, their attitude towards those who make mistakes and towards contemporary society. Let’s be clear, what scandalises them is mercy!”

Discussions and interventions during the final week revolved around pastoral practice and difficulties. A bishop from Thailand spoke of polygamy, which is widely practiced in his diocese, and much time was devoted to the pastoral care of the same-sex attracted.

Attention was also given to incest, sexual and physical abuse within families, as well as infidelity, the stigma certain societies attach to unwed mothers and cohabitation.

Two discussion groups issued apologies for Church conduct both in the past and in the present day.

“We must stop continually scolding those who have failed in their first marriage without recognising that we have some blame in that failure, because we did not welcome them,” a report from a Spanish language group said.

“In the same way, there must be an end to the elitist and narrow minded attitudes many members of the Christian community have towards them,” it continued.

The German language group spoke of an ill-conceived attempt to respect the doctrine of the Church.

“Repeatedly we have had harsh and merciless pastoral attitudes that created suffering, especially for unwed mothers and children born out of wedlock,” it said, adding that cohabiting couples, the same-sex attracted and the divorced and remarried have suffered from the same treatment.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge said at a press briefing, “What’s clear is that trying to make universal pronouncements about issues concerning marriage and the family is so tough as to be almost doomed.”

Later he summarised the task of the synod as being a corporate challenge to the apostolic imagination of the Church—while neither abandoning Church teaching nor leaving things untouched.

“We have to speak differently, but staying within the wide parametres of Church teaching, which has its roots in Jesus,” the archbishop of Brisbane said.

“I have a stronger sense that it is possible than I did earlier in the week,” he reflected.

A story told of a little boy, who on receiving communion broke the host into two pieces and gave them to his divorced and remarried parents, reignited the discussion on whether people in such unions should be allowed to approach the altar of the Lord.

Archbishop Fouad Twal, from Jerusalem, noted, “We are not indifferent to the issue. However, it is a delicate matter and we cannot generalise. It is better to look at it case by case, keeping in mind mercy without forgetting the doctrine.”

In a more direct comment, Archbishop Coleridge commented, “We must root ourselves in reality. This is a pastoral synod that must rest on theological and doctrinal elements and be connected to real life experience of our families.”

He added that the synod must also be honest. “But I don’t know whether there will be changes for remarried and divorced people. A solid second marriage, with children raised as Christians, is not the same thing as a fling in a hotel.”

This was followed by calls for a rethink on how the Church can be welcoming to such couples and a second look at suggestions regarding what has been termed a gradual penitential approach.

AsiaNews commented that the acid test of the synod is the extent to which the college of bishops recognises the isolation of its members from the people of God and the need to ensure that Church teaching and governance are properly informed in the Sense of Faith (Sensus Fidei) of the entire people of God.

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn reminded the gathering that the very first Church Council of Jerusalem was marked by dramatic conflict and disagreement, which is not to be feared.

However, he pointed out that the conflict ended when the first pope, St. Peter, spoke. The Austrian cardinal called for a value added synod, not one that settles for the lowest common denominator.


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