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Mixed bag at the synod shows many strong points

VATICAN (SE): How did the Synod of Bishops on Family Life end up? Well, as with many conferences and meetings, that depends on who you ask.

Although communion for divorced and remarried couples was not an overriding issue on the floor of the synod, it was one of the most contentious and most controversial, as it was the one issue that only narrowly collected the absolute majority of votes necessary to pass.

Speaking to the National Catholic Register, George Cardinal Pell said, “There is no mention anywhere of communion for the divorced and remarried. It is not one of the possibilities that was floated. The document is cleverly written to get consensus.”

However, Archbishop Bruno Forte, the special secretary to the synod, told a radio station run by the Italian bishops that the final report permits the reception on communion by some persons who have remarried outside the Church, following an examination of conscience and a discernment process with their pastor.

Vincent Cardinal Nichols gave weight to this opinion when he told a press conference, “No one will set out on this pathway of discernment with the single aim of receiving communion. And nobody will be accompanied on this pathway with the single principle that they can’t.”

He explained that the synod deliberately set aside the issue, because it became a yes-no question. “It is a pathway, and it is not for me or for the priest who is doing the accompaniment to preempt or foreclose that pathway,” he commented.

Pope Francis too had mixed reflections on the synod process.

He described the process as not being about settling issues, but attempting to see them in the light of the gospels and Church tradition. He called it an exercise in bringing hope without the facile repetition of what is obvious.

He added that it was more about promoting the importance of the institution of marriage between man and woman, and valuing it as a fundamental basis of society and life.

Most importantly, “It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the pastors of the Church,” Pope Francis said.

But it was also a depiction of the Church as being poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness—not just the righteous and the holy, but those who are righteous and holy only when they acknowledge themselves as poor sinners.

The pope also had a few castigating words to say about some sections of the synod, when he spoke of the struggle to rise above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints.

He added that it is also a big challenge to show the beauty of the newness of Christianity when at times it is encrusted in archaic or simply incomprehensible language.

He pointed out that although views were freely expressed, they were not always expressed in entirely well-meaning ways, but that does go to show that the synod is not simply a rubber stamp for authority.

He also described the faithful as being those who uphold the spirit of doctrine rather than the letter of the law.

He drew a parallel with the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, saying that the temptation to jealousy to which he succumbed is a long way from the ideal of mercy which the synod promoted.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge reflected that the synod brought to the surface many things that had been submerged, showing that pastors are not of one mind on some of the deepest questions facing their ministry.

However, he called that a positive, as any realistic approach to ministry must begin with the facts and this gives a more realistic basis to the development of synods in the future, as in the long run the synod may have a greater bearing on the shape and place of future synods than it will on family life.

He called the final document an improvement on the working paper, adding that although it does contain a lot of Church-speak, it is positive in tone and affirms rather than being condemning.

In concluding his final summing up, Pope Francis said that concluding the synod means returning to our true journey together and bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation that true light of the gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy.

Among the less publicised topics discussed at the synod are immigrants, refugees and the families that are often divided by work obligations, as well as those who have been victims of human trafficking.

The Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, said, “A welcoming approach was invoked for them too, recalling their rights and also their duties in their host countries.”

He also pointed out that there was support for giving women a greater role in the formation of students for the priesthood and a greater recognition of the beauty of adopting and fostering children, which can serve to help heal ruptured family bonds.

The synod also looked into the negative effect on family life of political and religious fanaticism, growing individualism, gender ideology, persecution, poverty, employment worries, corruption and all forces that exclude families from education and culture.

A special mention was given to what is termed the globalisation of indifference in this context.

The role played by grandparents in the family, especially in the transmission of faith, was discussed, as well as the situation of widows and widowers, the disabled and others that can easily be cast aside in a throwaway culture.

The value of interfaith and inter-denominational marriages was also praised, especially the contribution that they can make to interreligious and ecumenical relations among Churches and religions.

Father Lombardi concluded his press conference saying, “The synod fathers do not say all is complete, but affirm that they offer the relatio (final document) to the Holy Father to enable him to evaluate whether to continue on this route with a document on the basis of the synod text, to further examine the theme of the family from the perspective he wishes to offer.”

He stressed that it is a continuing path and not a completed one.


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