23 June 2015, The Tablet

Synod document identifies ‘penitential road’

Today the Vatican published the October’s gathering working document – Instrumentum Laboris – that takes into account submissions from bishops’ conferences and others from around the world.

The working text puts forward a “penitential road” for divorced and remarried couples – under the authority of the bishop or accompanied by a priest – as was suggested last year by Cardinal Vincent Nichols. The text does not spell out the destination of the “pathway” and would require chastity. In this context, the implication is that it may well lead to the reception of the sacraments.

Divorced and remarried couples should be “integrated” into the Church, the document points out.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the document, Archbishop Bruno Forte, special secretary to the synod, said the gathering’s role is not to give a “yes or no” answer to the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Communion, but to reflect on it as bishops.

Elsewhere, the text says that diocesan pastoral plans should offer “accompaniment” to gay Catholics and their families. While reaffirming the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, it says that gays must be treated with respect and sensitivity.

The working document covers a wide range of areas affecting family life such as economic challenges, birth rates, migration and the role of women. It also examines how the Church can support and nurture the vocation of the family.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, said his office had received 99 submissions from bishops’ conferences and Eastern Catholic Churches, along with a further 359 observations from dioceses, parishes, individuals and civic groups. They were responding to a list of questions – the lineamenta– sent out at the end of year.

The cardinal added that the synod would devote more time to bishops being able to gather in small groups and that they would be free to speak to the media.

The text of the Instrumentum Laboris, issued so far in Italian only, also incorporates the final synod document from the meeting of bishops that took place last October.

The synod will take place from 4-25 October.

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