From the synod (11): Pope’s speech following vote

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome] Last night, the synod fathers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a revised relatio, although three paragraphs out of 62 failed to reach a two-thirds majority, thereby showing the need for further discernment and discussion on access to sacraments for the divorced and remarried and homosexuality. The document, which will be analyse in a further post after the English translation is released, will form the basis for the discussion over the next year leading up to the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. 

Following the vote, Pope Francis gave what many afterwards described as a great speech, which was met with a long standing ovation. Below is Vatican Radio’s unofficial translation of the address, which was given in Italian. 

Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.

From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.

I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!

I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

- One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

- The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

- The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

- The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

- The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of  their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.
One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!

Posted in Synod2014

From the synod (10): relatio set for approval this afternoon

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]

Cardinal Ravasi

Cardinal Ravasi

In stark contrast to the headlines outside about division and chaos, the synod has drawn to a close today with its members saying they are happy with both process and results and expressing confidence that its conclusions will be approved with an overwhelming majority this afternoon.

Cardinal Gracias with pope Francis

Cardinal Gracias with pope Francis

This morning, the synod voted on a message to the People of God, which was later released. They also listened to the relatio synodi, or concluding document, as it was read out by members of the eight-man drafting team. The job of that team has to been to absorb changes called for by the language groups, which met over three days this week.

Both Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, and Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil, said today that the synod had been useful, had achieved its objectives, and that they full expected that it would be approved this afternoon.

Cardinal Damasceno with Pope Francis

Cardinal Damasceno with Pope Francis

Although there were differences among them, said Cardinal Gracias, the synod fathers “have been basically walking in the same direction”, seeking to find new ways of bringing church teaching into the lives of today’s society, faithful to the Magisterium while being attentive to the specific challenges many people faced. He said the document did not pretend to have all the answers, but committed the Church firmly to find new pastoral approaches.

“Our task was to determine the agenda for the ordinary synod meeting next year, and I think we have done that”, he told journalists.

Cardinal Damasceno Assis agreed that the revision process had been successful because the small group amendments had been largely absorbed into the final text.

Cardinal Ravasi said that the small-group revisions were an “intense” and necessary part of the synod process, as a result of which the document is “very rich”, he said.

On the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried, it was clear that no conclusion had been reached and that the issue will need further study.

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From the synod (9): the message to the People of God

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome.]

The following message was approved by the synod this morning by 158 out of the 174 voting members. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who headed the team redacting it, described it as a paraclesis, an early-Church literary form which combines consolation and exhortation. Unlike the relatio synodi, or concluding document which is being voted on this afternoon (and may be released afterwards), which delves into the complex pastoral issues discussed at the synod, this message is a simple and brief one of encouragement aimed at ordinary, Christian families. It identifies the pressures on contemporary marriage and family life, and assures people of God’s constant presence among them. In some lyrical passages, describing Christ moving among the dwellings, it captures the “pastoral” quality of this synod, which has been seeking to understand how better to come alongside people in contemporary society. Towards the end, it notes how the Eucharist is is the “high point” of the “threads of communion with God and neighbour” and records that the synod fathers “have reflected on how to accompany those who have been divorced and remarried and on their participation in the sacraments.”




            pope synod day 2We, Synod Fathers, gathered in Rome together with Pope Francis in the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, greet all families of the different continents and in particular all who follow Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We admire and are grateful for the daily witness which you offer us and the world with your fidelity, faith, hope, and love.

Each of us, pastors of the Church, grew up in a family, and we come from a great variety of backgrounds and experiences. As priests and bishops we have lived alongside families who have spoken to us and shown us the saga of their joys and their difficulties.

The preparation for this synod assembly, beginning with the questionnaire sent to the Churches around the world, has given us the opportunity to listen to the experience of many families. Our dialogue during the Synod has been mutually enriching, helping us to look at the complex situations which face families today.

We offer you the words of Christ: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). On his journeys along the roads of the Holy Land, Jesus would enter village houses. He continues to pass even today along the streets of our cities. In your homes there are light and shadow. Challenges often present themselves and at times even great trials. The darkness can grow deep to the point of becoming a dense shadow when evil and sin work into the heart of the family.

We recognize the great challenge to remain faithful in conjugal love. Enfeebled Synod general Nicholsfaith and indifference to true values, individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and stress that excludes reflection leave their mark on family life. There are often crises in marriage, often confronted in haste and without the courage to have patience and reflect, to make sacrifices and to forgive one another. Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious.

We think also of the burden imposed by life in the suffering that can arise with a child with special needs, with grave illness, in deterioration of old age, or in the death of a loved one. We admire the fidelity of so many families who endure these trials with courage, faith, and love. They see them not as a burden inflicted on them, but as something in which they themselves give, seeing the suffering Christ in the weakness of the flesh.

We recall the difficulties caused by economic systems, by the “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (Evangelii gaudium 55) which weakens the dignity of people. We remember unemployed parents who are powerless to provide basic needs for their families, and youth who see before them days of empty expectation, who are prey to drugs and crime.

We think of so many poor families, of those who cling to boats in order to reach a shore of survival, of refugees wandering without hope in the desert, of those persecuted because of their faith and the human and spiritual values which they hold. These are stricken by the brutality of war and oppression. We remember the women who suffer violence and exploitation, victims of human trafficking, children abused by those who ought to have protected them and fostered their development, and the members of so many families who have been degraded and burdened with difficulties. “The culture of prosperity deadens us…. all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (Evangelii gaudium 54). We call on governments and international organizations to promote the rights of the family for the common good.

Christ wanted his Church to be a house with doors always open to welcome everyone. We warmly thank our pastors, lay faithful, and communities who accompany couples and families and care for their wounds.


            synod day 2bThere is also the evening light behind the windowpanes in the houses of the cities, in modest residences of suburbs and villages, and even in mere shacks, which shines out brightly, warming bodies and souls. This light—the light of a wedding story—shines from the encounter between spouses: it is a gift, a grace expressed, as the Book of Genesis says (2:18), when the two are “face to face” as equal and mutual helpers. The love of man and woman teaches us that each needs the other in order to be truly self. Each remains different from the other that opens self and is revealed in the reciprocal gift. It is this that the bride of the Song of Songs sings in her canticle: “My beloved is mine and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 2:16; 6:3).

This authentic encounter begins with courtship, a time of waiting and preparation. It is realized in the sacrament where God sets his seal, his presence, and grace. This path also includes sexual relationship, tenderness, intimacy, and beauty capable of lasting longer than the vigor and freshness of youth. Such love, of its nature, strives to be forever to the point of laying down one’s life for the beloved (cf Jn 15:13). In this light conjugal love, which is unique and indissoluble, endures despite many difficulties. It is one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common.

This love spreads through fertility and generativity, which involves not only synod logothe procreation of children but also the gift of divine life in baptism, their catechesis, and their education. It includes the capacity to offer life, affection, and values—an experience possible even for those who have not been able to bear children. Families who live this light-filled adventure become a sign for all, especially for young people.

This journey is sometimes a mountainous trek with hardships and falls. God is always there to accompany us. The family experiences his presence in affection and dialogue between husband and wife, parents and children, sisters and brothers. They embrace him in family prayer and listening to the Word of God—a small, daily oasis of the spirit. They discover him every day as they educate their children in the faith and in the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel, a life of holiness. Grandparents also share in this task with great affection and dedication. The family is thus an authentic domestic Church that expands to become the family of families which is the ecclesial community. Christian spouses are called to become teachers of faith and of love for young couples as well.

Another expression of fraternal communion is charity, giving, nearness to those who are last, marginalized, poor, lonely, sick, strangers, and families in crisis, aware of the Lord’s word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It is a gift of goods, of fellowship, of love and mercy, and also a witness to the truth, to light, and to the meaning of life.

The high point which sums up all the threads of communion with God and neighbor is the Sunday Eucharist when the family and the whole Church sits at table with the Lord. He gives himself to all of us, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when “Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11). In the first stage of our Synod itinerary, therefore, we have reflected on how to accompany those who have been divorced and remarried and on their participation in the sacraments.

We Synod Fathers ask you walk with us towards the next Synod. The presence of the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their modest home hovers over you. United to the Family of Nazareth, we raise to the Father of all our petition for the families of the world:

            Father, grant to all families the presence of strong and wise spouses who may be the source of a free and united family.

            Father, grant that parents may have a home in which to live in peace with their families.

            Father, grant that children may be a sign of trust and hope and that young people may have the courage to forge life-long, faithful commitments.

            Father, grant to all that they may be able to earn bread with their hands, that they may enjoy serenity of spirit and that they may keep aflame the torch of faith even in periods of darkness.

            Father, grant that we may all see flourish a Church that is ever more faithful and credible, a just and humane city, a world that loves truth, justice and mercy.

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From the synod (8): a conversation that is just beginning

synod logo

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome:]

For those who like their bishops to be of one mind, the Church’s teaching to look consistent and timeless, and in general those who prefer tidiness to disorder, this synod has been a nightmare. Ever since Monday there have been elements of soap-opera, even farce. If the confusion needed an icon, it would be two German cardinals at opposite ends of the debate over the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Walter Kasper and Gerhard Müller, each denying remarks attributed to them in interviews.

synod genBut for those who, like Pope Francis, are happy to trade a bit of disorder for the sake of an honest exchange in freedom, the synod has been an undoubted success. The synod fathers who have come out to speak to the press have been consistent in praising the freedom with which they have been able to deliberate sometimes complex pastoral issues, and the space for creative thinking which they have been given.

It has not been tidy. The post-discussion report, released as a working document designed to express and hold in tension the various views, was criticized for failing properly to represent them. It would have been amazing if it had succeeded: as most synod fathers have been pointing out, the task of capturing hundreds of hours of speeches in a working document of a few pages is no small feat, and that if such a document had been broadly acceptable, it would have been a minor miracle.

Still, when it was read out in the synod hall on Monday, many were shocked at certain passages which had been inserted, they claimed, as if from nowhere, while others saw it as shoddy and poorly translated. The criticism of the document is a constant in the reports of the linguistic groups, one of which — the French language group B — slams it as “overblown, rambling, too wordy and therefore boring.”

Cardinal Erdö

Cardinal Erdö

The tensions have been visible in the press conferences: the relator, Cardinal Peter Erdö, for example, clearly distanced himself from the passage on welcoming gay people by making clear that it had been written by his special secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte; while Cardinal Wilfred Napier, the Archbishop of Durban in South Africa, made clear the unease of many of the fathers at the relatio being published at all (although it is standard practice to do so).

In previous synods, which were carefully controlled by the Roman Curia, those who complained at the method and the process were normally the bishops who wanted to
open up certain conversations. At this synod, the dynamic has been reversed: the accusations of being suppressed have come from those who feel threatened by the “pastoral” direction of the synod. They feel steamrollered (Sandro Magister captures their view well), but their criticisms of the process are almost certainly mixed up with their overall feeling of being carried in a direction they don’t want to travel.

Among the most vociferous has been Cardinal Gadecki, head of the Polish bishops’ conference, who said that the relatio constituted a deviation from church teaching, and American cardinal Raymond Burke, who said that the report had censored the “many bishops who are saying that changes cannot be allowed”. Yet given their starting point, that any opening up of these questions will lead to an erosion of immutable church doctrine, all they can do at this synod is dig in their heels and complain they have been ignored. They have certainly not been deprived space for their views. Cardinal Raymond Burke, for example, has a group of assistants in Rome busy setting up media interviews for him.

Their statements have led to a media narrative of a synod divided between liberals and conservatives. Yet a read of the reports of the language groups (see summaries here and here), who have produced amendments to the relatio which are currently being studied, show a far more complex picture – a series of tensions which are not easily diced into simple liberal-conservative polarities. Indeed, the very idea of there being “liberals” in  the synod is slightly ridiculous, given that almost every bishop here was appointed by Pope St John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict, for whom doctrinal fidelity was an essential prerequisite of advancement.

Cardinal Kaigama

Cardinal Kaigama

Many of the tensions reflect the very diversity of a global Church. It is hardly surprising that tensions have broken out over the passages concerning same-sex partnerships, given that in parts of Latin America and Africa the very notion of homosexuality is taboo. (The assertion of the Africans here has been one of the unexpected aspects of the synod.) As one Latin-American cardinal put it, “why should I start a conversation no one in my country wants to have?”

Cardinal Marx

Cardinal Marx

Yet many cardinals have been equally assertive in saying that, just because Africa isn’t ready for this conversation doesn’t mean the synod shouldn’t be. They want the freedom to develop a pastoral approach based on discerning God in the good. In today’s press conference, the president of the German bishops’ conference. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, explained that

Not everything should be regarded in the same way. Gay people who for 30 years have been faithful to each other, supporting each other — these relationships are not recognised by the Church but they are not lacking in value. We have to have nuances. One person who is promiscuous and another who values fidelity: there’s clearly a difference. We can’t say it’s all black or all white. I have seen this as priest and confessor: the students come to confess and speak to me about these matters, and I need to walk with them. We can walk the same path and achieve maturity. How can we say to people: you’re gay so you can’t live the Gospel?

Whatever their theological differences, this discerning, pastoral, gradualist approach is broadly shared by the diocesan bishops of Europe and North America present at the synod. Thus Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna told us yesterday that civil unions, which were unthinkable in his childhood, were now the social norm. “We have to confront this new challenge but with the same principles”, he said, telling journalists that Pope Francis was calling the Church to a “pastoral conversion, to come out of itself”. On welcoming gay people, for example, he said that this “was basic Christian behaviour”.

Cardinal Schonborn

Cardinal Schonborn

One thing is clear: there isn’t going to be agreement on the thorny issues which this synod set out to tackle. The differences are sufficiently great for one commentator to suggest there not be a document at all. But that seems unlikely. The most probable outcome is a document which seeks to hold the disagreements in tension, and which looks to expert commissions – such as the one already set up to consider annulment reform – to submit reports for consideration by the ordinary synod next year.

Expect headlines highlighting division, failure to agree, paralysis and so on. Yet the more accurate reading is that this bold attempt to create a new global pastoral initiative in support of marriage and family is only just beginning, and consensus won’t come quickly or soon. But that was expected. This meeting was never supposed to produce solutions, but to set the agenda. It has begun with honest, free, prayerful discussion. It has not always gone smoothly, but it has been genuine.

This is a new experience for the Church. As Cardinal Schönborn put it, “This is the first time I’ve been a synod at which there was freedom and outspokenness. The method of the synod is developing in a very strong way.”

Posted in Synod2014

From the synod (7): Ignoring pressure groups, bishops confident in process

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]

Two synod fathers told journalists today that their discussions have been unaffected by lobbies and media reports of divisions, and that they expect to end with a document that reflects the thinking of the synod: one that is faithful to church teaching yet which reflects a new pastoral focus.

Cardinal Luis Martiínez Sistach

Cardinal Luis Martínez Sistach

The Archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Luís Martínez Sistach, spoke of the climate of “communion, brotherhood and pastoral focus” of his group, which despite its diversity has been unanimous in agreeing modifications to the existing document, the relatio post disceptationem.

A handful of delegates — among them two Vatican cardinals and the president of the Polish bishops’ conference — have expressed unhappiness with the interim document, claiming that it causes “confusion” about church teaching. Yet both Cardinal Martínez and the president of the US bishops’ conference strongly defended the document as reflective of the discussions, while stressing that it was a work in progress intended to be improved in the groups meeting this week.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville said it was a “wonderful” working document, which would be improved in the small-group discussions. The archbishop, who is president of the US bishops’ conference, said it reflected a pastoral focus, “not waiting for people to come to us but rather the Church reaching out and accompanying people, starting where they are, so that together we journey closer to Christ”.

This new, missionary and pastoral approach, which marks a significant new tone for the Vatican, has been misinterpreted in some media stories as a softening or liberalizing of church doctrine (see George Weigel on the New York Times here).

synod genYet nothing in the relatio questions church doctrines on sexuality, marriage and the family, instead taking them for granted.

As if in response to shrill conservative objections, Pope Francis said on Monday that religious and moral law was not an end in itself.

In part, as John Allen observes, reactions to the relatio reflect an accurate perception that change is afoot: a model built for clarity is giving way to another built for mission. Just as at the Second Vatican Council, those who are attached to the “clarity” model of Church regard the missionary focus of the synod as a kind of betrayal.

Start-up lobbies such as the so-called Voice of the Family have sent representatives to the Vatican press conferences to challenge synod delegates, and have issued press statements condemning the synod.

Yet in the synod itself, delegates pay no more attention to them than to liberal lobbies such as We Are Church. The Barcelona cardinal said the delegates’ discussions had been wholly impervious to the influence of ideological or interest groups, reflecting instead the Church’s pastoral knowledge of the People of God.

“We are seeking the will of God, not the will of any groups”, he told journalists.

Francis at synod 3Archbishop Kurtz said he had consulted carefully before coming for the synod, but since it began has been listening primarily to other delegates. “It was largely the interaction of the delegates that were influential on me, that brought for not only my personal opinions but also the fruits of my consultation before the synod,” he said.

Cardinal Sistach said in his group there was complete freedom to express “different tendencies, sensibilities, and points of view” from which, he said, “much light can come.” The discussions had been underpinned, he added, by a pastoral focus, “that of a Church as mother and teacher who wants to see reality and to come close.” He said all the amendments his group were proposing had been agreed unanimously. 

Tomorrow the amendments will be incorporated by the redacting committee into the final document, the relatio synodi, which on Saturday morning will be read to delegates and voted on.

Previous synods have ended with a series of propositions which were voted on one by one. It is not clear whether delegates will have a chance to vote on different paragraphs of the relatio synodi.

Archbishop Kurtz added that the effort was underway to “to be truly reaching out” while being faithful to church teaching, in order to put in place what he called “a pastorally enduring approach.”


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From the synod (6): Interim report holds issues in tension while breaking new ground

synod logo[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]

The ‘interim report’ – full text here — read out this morning by the synod’s Hungarian relator, Cardinal Peter Erdö, masterfully holds in balance the various issues in contention while resolutely breaking new ground in the Church’s approach to those who do not live up to its teachings.

While containing no great surprises — most of its ideas had already emerged in the course of the synod — the most newsworthy element may be its synthesis of opposed views, which is designed to enable the Church to discern answers to difficult questions over the next year, and its call for a new missionary approach to marriage and family.

synod genOn the key neuralgic issue of the reception of sacraments for the divorced and remarried, the relatio post disceptationem makes no mention of the Orthodox model (in which second marriages are blessed but not recognized as sacraments), which indicates that it won’t be studied over the next year as a possible path.

At the same time, the document firmly rejects any notion that providing a welcome to the divorced and remarried somehow weakens the Church’s witness to indissolubility and holds open the possibility of a bishop deciding to re-admit someone to the sacraments after careful discernment on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, however, the issue is kicked into the long grass of further discernment and study. Paragraphs 47 & 48 note:

As regards the possibility of partaking of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some argued in favor of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, others were in favor of a greater opening on very precise conditions when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.

Suggesting limiting themselves to only “spiritual communion” was questioned by more than a few Synodal Fathers: if spiritual communion is possible, why not allow them to partake in the sacrament? As a result a greater theological study was requested starting with the links between the sacrament of marriage and the Eucharist in relation to the Church-sacrament. In the same way, the moral dimension of the problem requires further consideration, listening to and illuminating the consciences of spouses.

synod genAs many (including here) have been predicting, annulment reform seems to be one definite outcome of the synod, with power being devolved onto the local bishop, and providing a more user-friendly, accessible system for assessing invalidity, possibly via an administrative rather than judicial route. Paras 43 and 44 note:

Various Fathers underlined the necessity to make the recognition of cases of nullity more accessible and flexible. Among the propositions were the abandonment of the need for the double conforming sentence; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop; a summary process to be used in cases of clear nullity. According to authoritative propositions, the possibility should then be considered of giving weight to the faith of those about to be married in terms of the validity of the sacrament of marriage. It needs to emphasized that in all these cases it is about the ascertaining of the truth over the validity of the obstacle.

As regards matrimonial suits [i.e. nullity cases], the speeding-up of the procedure, requested by many, as well as the preparation of a sufficient number of operators, clerics and lay people, dedicating themselves to this, requires an increase in the responsibilities of the diocesan bishop, who in his diocese might charge a specially trained priest who would be able to offer the parties advice on the validity of their marriage.


The real ‘news’ of the relatio, however, is not easy to capture in headlines, because it calls for a new mindset on the part of the Church.

Cardinal Erdö

Cardinal Erdö

It is a mindset captured by the call in Evangelii Gaudium for a more “pastoral” and “missionary” approach. There is (by church standards) fiercely strong language, for example, in paragraph 40, calling for better care of what the document calls “wounded families”.

What rang out clearly in the Synod was the necessity for courageous pastoral choices. Reconfirming forcefully the fidelity to the Gospel of the family, the Synodal Fathers, felt the urgent need for new pastoral paths, that begin with the effective reality of familial fragilities, recognizing that they, more often than not, are more “endured” than freely chosen. These are situations that are diverse because of personal as well as cultural and socio-economic factors. It is not wise to think of unique solutions or those inspired by a logic of “all or nothing”. The dialogue and meeting that took place in the Synod will have to continue in the local Churches, involving their various components, in such a way that the perspectives that have been drawn up might find their full maturation in the work of the next Ordinary General Assembly. The guidance of the Spirit, constantly invoked, will allow all God’s people to live the fidelity to the Gospel of the family as a merciful caring for all situations of fragility.

The “all or nothing” stance — either you accept the fullness of the Church’s teaching, or we have little to say to you — has been replaced, in the synod, by a missionary stance, which starts with where people are, and seeks to encourage them by small steps to the fullness of the Gospel of the Family.

The challenge of this new missionary approach is spelled out early on, in paragraph 11:

It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. This requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside with mercy.

Paragraphs 17 to 22 contain the basis of this new approach, seeking to discern in natural or civil marriages (and even cohabitation) positive elements which should be valued as seeds that can be watered and eventually blossom into the sacramental understanding.

Thus para 22 distinguishes between cohabitation “not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship” and a union that “reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests”. In this case, “it may be seen as a germ [i.e. a seed] to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage.” And again, in para 38, the document contrasts “a choice inspired by a general attitude, which is opposed to institutions and definitive undertakings” with “waiting for a secure existence (a steady job and income)”. Pastoral accompaniment, it says, “should always start from these positive aspects”.

synod day 2b


The document is also emphatic about the Church needing to make marriage and family the locus of a new mobilization of energies and resources, not by teaching dry formulas but through the concrete witness of couples. Hence para 31:

Christian marriage cannot only be considered as a cultural tradition or social obligation, but has to be a vocational decision taken with the proper preparation in an itinerary of faith, with mature discernment. This is not about creating difficulties and complicating the cycles of formation, but of going deeply into the issue and not being content with theoretical meetings or general orientations.

Hence the need for better preparation for marriage, requiring “a greater involvement of the entire community privileging the testimony of the families themselves, as well as a rooting of the preparation for marriage in the path of Christian initiation, underlining the connection between marriage and the other sacraments.” But also support for those already married by couples in the parish. Para 35 says:

Of great importance in this pastoral is the presence of experienced couples. The parish is considered the ideal place for expert couples to place themselves at the disposal of younger ones. Couples need to be encouraged towards a fundamental welcome of the great gift of children. The importance of family spirituality and prayer needs to be underlined, encouraging couples to meet regularly to promote the growth of the spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life. Meaningful liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist celebrated for families, were mentioned as vital in favoring evangelization through the family.


Cardinal Burke

Cardinal Burke

Considerable space is also given over to the question of welcoming gay people, which was the subject of a controversy during the synod after the attitude of an Australian couple who spoke to the synod was criticized by Cardinal Burke in a TV interview.

The document doesn’t take sides, but poses the challenge:

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

The document also strongly reaffirms marriage as a male-female union and rejects “gender ideology”. But it notes positive elements in some gay unions: “without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions,” it says, “it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners”. It also makes clear that the Church should pay “special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

On birth control, the document notes that “economic factors sometimes have enough weight to contribute to the sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, compromising the relationship between generations and rendering the view of the future less certain” while reaffirming that “being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love.” It calls for “a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life as that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest.”

pope synod day 2The relatio also opens up the likelihood of the Church helping people to live the teaching of Humanae vitae, noting that

help is required to live affectivity, in marriage as well, as a path of maturation, in the evermore profound welcoming of the other and in an ever-fuller giving. It has to be emphasized in this sense the need to offer formative paths that nourish married life and the importance of a laity that provides an accompaniment consisting of living testimony. It is undoubtedly of great help the example of a faithful and profound love made up of tenderness, of respect, capable of growing in time and which in its concrete opening to the generation of life allows us to experience a mystery that transcends us.


The document ends by looking forward to the ordinary synod of bishops, which will begin 4 October 2015, and the year of discernment that precedes it.

Although what in in this relatio “are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view” the synod trusts that “the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all.”

The document will now be examined and modified in the light of this week’s small-group discussions.


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From the synod (5): a snapshot at the end of the first week

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]

pope synod day 2The family synod’s first visible fruit will be evident tomorrow (Monday), when a summary of the week’s intense deliberations will be handed to the 10 circuli menores, or small groups, which began meeting Friday afternoon. Tomorrow, in other words, we’ll get a glimpse of what the synod considers most important, and where the fault-lines lie.

The circuli menores are grouped by language — three in Italian, three English, two Spanish, two French — and include both the 190-odd synod fathers (bishops and cardinals) as well as lay experts. Their job is to scrutinize the document we will see tomorrow — the relatio post disceptationem, or post-discussion report — and their input will inform the drafting of the final document, the relatio synodi. 

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández

The drafting of the relatio synodi will be carried out at the end of the week by a team of nine. In addition to those who normally at synods draft the concluding document — the relator or chair (in this case Hungarian cardinal Peter Erdö), the special secretary (Italian theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte) and the synod’s Secretary General (Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri) — Pope Francis has added six others whose judgement he trusts.

They are: his chief drafter at the 2007 meeting at Aparecida, Argentine theologian Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández; the president of the Latin-American bishops’ council (CELAM), Mexican archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes; the Spanish General Superior of the Jesuits, Fr Adolfo Nicolás; the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl; the head of the Korean bishops’ conference, Peter Kan U-Il; and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s council for culture.

This, thoroughly global, team have the all-important task of turning the deliberations of the two-week discussions into a document that will form the basis of the year-long discernment by the Church of a whole series of complex and vital issues connected with marriage, family and sexuality. At the moment it looks as if that document will be published a few days after the extraordinary synod ends next weekend.

Francis at synod 2

That, of course, is not the end of the process, but the beginning of a new one, that ends with the ordinary synod in October next year.

It is a format designed to allow spacious thinking.

Whatever else can be said about the synod so far, it’s clear that it has allowed the leaders of 114 bishops’ conferences, as well as cardinals here in Rome, invited observers from other faiths as well as lay experts, to speak freely, honestly and emphatically.

Participants say that’s partly due to Pope Francis himself, who arrives early, and is available and accessible throughout the day, milling just like the other participants at the coffee breaks.

The fact that so many have praised this aspect of the synod is an indication of how constrained and controlled some have felt in previous synods.

(speaking) Archbishop John Dew of New Zealand

(speaking) Archbishop John Dew of New Zealand

Among them is Archbishop John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, who was one of those who wanted to discuss the issue of reception for the divorced and remarried back in the 2005 Eucharist — which was also attended by the then Cardinal Bergoglio — but was told it was off the agenda.

“I talked about the possibility of communion for the divorced and remarried and got a lot of criticism,” he told Vatican Radio. “Now at this Synod its being talked about openly by many, many people”, he said, adding: “People feel freer and you can sense that in the atmosphere.”

Ongoing disagreement

No one has made much effort to conceal the fact that exchanges over the communion issue have been sharp and at times bitter. Tensions boiled over on Wednesday afternoon as the two groups at either end of the spectrum faced each other down.

Archbishop of Dublin,. Diarmuid Martin

But mostly, say participants, the atmosphere has been characterized by warm and careful listening.

So far all we know is that the issue has not been resolved and is not likely to be anytime soon.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, told journalists yesterday that Monday’s post-discussion report “will draw attention to the differences that are appearing” but added that the differences reflect vintage theological debates that the synod itself won’t resolve.

But while discussion on the issue continues –“everybody is looking at different possibilities” said Martin — nobody disagreed on fundamentals: “everyone, including Cardinal Kasper, is clear that indissolubility cannot be changed”, he said, adding that no one is favour of what he called “Catholic divorce”.

Marriage indissolubility “is something that belongs to Revelation. So we’re starting from a basic agreement.”

A push for better formation

Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin

But he said there was consensus that this and other “celebrity issues” should not be allowed to cloud the synod’s overall task, which was to develop better ways of strengthening marriage and family.

A very large number have been speaking not about the celebrity issues around the synod, but the day-to-day pastoral challenges they find. Many of these celebrity issues are there, but there’s a much stronger idea that the synod shouldn’t be hijacked by these and that the solutions to many of the problem areas go back to catechesis and formation.

This is the area where the real change is needed. “This synod can’t simply repeat what was said 20 years ago,” he said. “It has to find a new language to show that there can be development of doctrine.”

At the heart of the new thinking being explored by the synod is the need to respond to the rapid loss to contemporary western society of the core understanding of marriage.

“It’s very hard for a young person to understand what lifelong commitment means when commitment means something else in society,” said Archbishop Martin. “And without a really strong renewal of catechesis it isn’t going to happen.”

But this isn’t just about better or even marriage preparation courses. It is going to require a major mobilization of energies and resources at every level. The synod

has to address the ordinary day-to-day commitment of Catholics in married life, it has to find a way of addressing and talking to young people to help them to understand more what commitment in marriage is all about. Most of the problems won’t be solved in a two-day marriage preparation course; what is needed is a much stronger catechesis of marriage and family life among the Christian community and in society in general.

vigil eve synodInterestingly, Archbishop Martin said the Church had to find ways in which young people and those preparing for marriage received formation and support not just from their school, but also their own relatives and the parish community. “If we delegate it purely to the school,” he said, “it won’t work.”

In observations like this it’s possible to view the final results of the synod in a year’s time: a multifaceted, multidimensional, multi-pronged mobilization of the Church’s resources and energies at every level.

The family, say synod delegates over and over, is the vital cell of both society and Church. If Catholics have strong families, these become not just vital transmitters of faith between the generations, but evangelizers of contemporary society.

An example of this was provided by a Latvian bishop earlier this week. In Latvia, the divorce rate is higher than 80 per cent, yet among Catholics, less than 20 per cent. Latvians, said the bishop, were fascinated by this and asked what the Catholic ‘secret’ is.

A global crisis

1569082_ArticoloMartin is one of four synod fathers who also attended the 1980 synod on the family, called by Pope John Paul II shortly after his election. He said he was struck by how, while the same issues were discussed, the difference now was that the crisis had gone global: what alarmed the bishops of Europe and North America then — the rise of divorce and cohabitation — now alarms the bishops of Africa and Latin America too.

Archbishop Martin said the shift also explained why, when the 1980 synod sought to restrict access to annulments, today’s synod wants to make them more accessible, recognizing that culture no longer supplies the basic understanding of fidelity and permanence required for marriage to be valid.

As well as that “anthropological” shift, there was also a crisis of faith: many nowadays “enter into sacramental marriage without any real understanding of the faith dimension.”

Martin confirmed that cultural changes underlay this synod’s willingness to look at annulment reform.

Certainly the current [annulment] procedures are difficult and result in long delays and even in a fairly developed country with canonical expertise it’s too slow. It’s difficult to get teams of judges and experts together to carry out the investigations. I think there’s a recognition [at the synod] of that fact.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky

The president of the US bishops’ conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, confirmed in an interview with Crux that “anything we can to assist with the annulment process, to streamline it, is worth doing.” That view “has been very strong” at the synod, he said.

He also said there was a desire to make the annulment process less legal and more healing. “Annulment is a canonical process that’s not intended to be therapeutic, but what I’m hearing [at the synod] is that there has to be a pastoral context for it. When a couple or a person comes asking for an annulment, it shouldn’t feel completely bureaucratic.”

A synod with two tasks

If there is one thing clear at the end of the first week, then, it is that the synod sees itself as having two main tasks: to bolster preparation and support for marriage, and to offer paths of healing and welcome to those who have suffered marriage breakdown, notably through annulment reform.

Among the exhaustive range of topics discussed last week, it’s safe to say that those will be the main two areas for translating ideas into concrete proposals: not just this week, but over the next year.

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