19 October 2014, The Tablet

Synod final document is a setback for Francis' reforms – for now

by Elena Curti in Rome

Whatever gloss the Vatican press officers put on it, the final document on the Synod on the Family is a setback for Pope Francis and those prelates who support his drive for a much more pastoral approach for those living in “irregular unions”.

Three paragraphs relating to gays and to offering Communion for divorced and remarried couples – much more anodyne than in the splendid mid-term relation – did not achieve the requisite two-thirds majority. This shows to the world that the Catholic Church still has a long way to go if it is going to address the yawning gap between its moral teaching and how most people – including Catholics – live their lives.

But there are nevertheless reasons for hope. First, the frankness and openness insisted upon by Pope Francis at this synod. This continued right up to last night with the publication of the final document known as the Relatio Synodi. At his insistence it was published in full and included the three paragraphs that had failed to receive the two-thirds majority. The voting figures were included also in the interests of transparency. This document, said Fr Tom Rosica of the Vatican press office was not magisterial but rather a “work in progress”. Together with the Pope’s spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, there was a clear overall majority for these sections. Fr Rosica insisted that the matters raised in them won’t go away but will remain on the agenda for the all-important Ordinary Synod on the Family next October.

It was revealed last night that the small working groups that met in the second week of the synod proposed a total of 470 amendments to the mid-term relatio. Reading through the reports of the three English-language groups I was struck, above all, by their timidity. They were fearful that in reaching out so generously to divorced and remarried, to gay couples, cohabiting heterosexual couples and those in civil unions, the message about the importance and beauty of marriage would be lost. They wanted to affirm more fully those married couples who struggled on, sometimes in the face of enormous difficulties. One group even opined that seeing grace and goodness in so called irregular unions (horrible phrase) would “confuse the faithful”.

The faithful are not confused. Rather, many Catholics who stay married are worried that so many fellow Catholics – especially their children – perceive the Church’s teaching in this area as irrelevant. Witness the recent Tablet survey which shows that a third of remarried Catholics continue to receive Communion with or without consulting their priest, and the figures from the Canon Law Society that shows the decline in the number of Catholics seeking annulments. The process is too lengthy and costly and not worth the bother.

On the gay issue, the Australian couple who addressed the synod and spoke about their friends’ attitude to their gay son was authentic witness. These friends, said the couple, welcomed their son and his partner into their home because “he is their son”.

Fortunately Pope Francis has eloquent supporters in Cardinals Kasper, Marx, Schönborn and Archbishop Bruno Forte and others.

Above all Francis can, better than anyone, articulate the welcome, love and mercy the Church offers to every individual. If any doubt read his rousing final speech to the synod

Elena Curti is Acting Editor of The Tablet

What do you think?


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User comments (7)

Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 21/10/2014 23:18:57

" --- embrace the teachings of the Church ---"

And what exactly do you mean by "the Church:" the very controlled, non-representative digging in by the few unelected males of advanced years?

Comment by: robinmolieres
Posted: 21/10/2014 16:32:05

Bishop Francis’ address to the synod fathers at the end of their deliberations was sound, generous and truly Ignatian in that he recognized our need to endure desolation, savour consolation, and be ever aware of the movement and discernment of spirits.

The synod could never have told us all what we wanted to hear but the simple fact that our opinions were sought, albeit in terms incomprehensible to most, is a huge step forward. The synod’s welcome to those people living in “irregular unions”, inviting testimony from those upon whom Church teaching weighs most heavily, would have been unthinkable before the arrival of Francis. I doubt anyone really expected that their witness would affect a sea-change in Church discipline but at least they were heard. It’s a start.

Comment by: robinmolieres
Posted: 21/10/2014 16:30:09

So where do we go from here? I hope that Bishops’ Conferences around the world will continue the work of discernment in seeking the most generous application of the synod’s conclusions. Justice is the best the secular world can manage. I pray that the bishops will attend to their higher calling to exercise mercy. (Shocking how “mercy” has almost become a dirty word in some people’s mouths over recent weeks!)

I and many Catholics whose love fails the ideal will, I suspect, continue doing what we’ve always done. We will give thanks to God for the love we’ve found in our life partners, which, regardless of what the synod fathers may believe, still reflects however imperfectly, the divine dynamic. We will continue to try to love God and are neighbour and be strengthened in our sincere endeavour by regular attendance at Mass and the reception of Holy Communion, not out of a misguided sense of right, but prompted by an appreciation of profound need. We’ll try to out-do Micah by loving tenderly, acting mercifully and walking humbly with our God.

Comment by: Trebert
Posted: 21/10/2014 16:22:27

Based on the results of this Synod reflected by the votes for and against each issue and the involvement of the Holy Spirit in these decisions may we assume that some bishops listened to the Holy Spirit while others did not? For me personally I need to rely on the God within on all matters, not necessarily what the institution has to say.

Comment by: David
Posted: 20/10/2014 10:38:13

As the Holy Father says quite clearly, this synod is no doubt a disappointment for 'do-gooders', 'progressives' and 'liberals':

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.”

But there is no need to remain disappointed. Simply embrace the teachings of the Church and find freedom, truth and love in their fullness.

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 19/10/2014 17:16:49

The Synod's final document is not a 'setback for Francis' reforms'.

Rather, it is a deep disappointment to those in the secular media and sections of the Church who (for the past eighteen months) have been commentating on a 'Virtual Francis' - a product of their imagination and wishful thinking.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 19/10/2014 12:38:38

What has been learned from all of this? Well one thing, what an absolute disaster synods often are. The misery this form of decision making has inflicted on the Church of England is now being visited on Catholicism.
Perhaps it is a good time to remember that expression, the truth cannot be decided on a show of hands.

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