06 October 2015, The Tablet

Will the synod fathers be surprised by the Spirit?

by Christopher Lamb in Rome

A synod, the Pope explained yesterday, is not a parliament or senate which does deals or makes compromises. 

It is instead a “protected space” where the Holy Spirit is allowed to work and in turn guide the participants to be open to the God “who always surprises”.

Perhaps Pope Francis felt the synod fathers had not taken on board his message as today he decided to make another, this time unexpected, intervention. It should be noted that at the synod last year he spoke just twice: at the beginning and at the end of proceedings. 

This morning Francis assured the synod that Church teaching on marriage was not going to change and that their discussions should not simply focus on communion for the divorced and remarried. Fr Federico Lombardi, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, added that he also spoke to defend the methodology of the synod which is seeing a greater focus on small group discussion and discernment. 


The timing of the Pope’s remarks came a day after Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, a canon lawyer and the relator of the synod, presented a 15-page paper effectively shutting down debate on communion for divorced and remarried and restating Church teaching. He wrote: “it’s not the shipwreck of the first marriage, but the living together in the second relationship that blocks the access to the Eucharist.” 

As the relator, it is Cardinal Erdo’s job to identify issues for the synod to address and summarise the input already received. 

Yet surely the Pope has not decided to have a two-year long synodal process which in the end simply re-states old formulas? 

The Pope makes his second appearance, on day two of the SynodThe Pope makes his second appearance, on day two of the Synod (PA)


It is also clear that a number of synod fathers are not willing to going along with the Erdo approach. At a press briefing today Canadian Archbishop Paul-André Durocher diplomatically said  that Cardinal Erdo’s intervention was an “important piece” in the discussion but was simply “a piece”.

Regarding communion for divorced and remarried, we heard today that the synod is still making up its mind on a question that is very much “open”. I asked Archbishop Durocher whether this matter was one of discipline or doctrine - if it is the former then a possibility for development opens. He replied: “there is disagreement over that.”

On Monday, Francis said he wanted a Church that “interrogates herself” and sees the deposit of faith not as “a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink.”

He has laid down clear parameters for the discussion or discernment to begin - but also allowed space for some surprises. The question is whether the synod fathers are open to them?



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User comments (2)

Comment by: MargaretMC
Posted: 07/10/2015 16:57:58

From Vatican II onwards (and historians can tell us how long before then), the hierarchy has shown itself more than a match for the Spirit, capable of turning a deaf ear at every turn and, if some divine inspiration slips though, equally adept at strangling grace as it begins to bear fruit.

The Church is not in the dire position it is because of anything the laity have done - except perhaps to seek the Spirit and, not finding it in the Church, have been forced to look elsewhere!

Comment by: Chris McDonnell
Posted: 07/10/2015 15:37:09

There is still a rub at the heart of the Synod’s discussion. It is hard to respond to what is only perceived from the outside.

The joys and tensions, hopes and fears of the family can be talked about endlessly, appreciated in many ways but, I would suggest, such an exchange can never match the reality of the experience.

To say “I love you” is all very well; to understand something of the implication of saying those words is part of a lifetime’s experience.

No doubt there will be considerable time taken this week asking each other about the edges, what can be done and what can’t, writing the rule book for others to practice. In many instances, that is already too late.

Humanae Vitae is a document that now has little meaning within the practice of conjugal love in the family. That is not about selfishness but about care and respect for each other and the children already born through the love of their parents.

Many other matters will be discussed and views formulated and the tea-makers of the parish will be expected to accept what they are given and carry on making the tea. There is an inherent imbalance here that cries out for the Spirit to resolve in fairness and justice and not just through tokenism.

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