The Synod on the Family has ended with no consensus on the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and the rejection of any change in the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
The two-year process culminated today in the publication of a document prepared for Pope Francis that sets out the synod’s views on the Church’s mission to the family. The final document is notable for its warmth and pastoral tone, its emphasis on supporting families in difficulty and in particular the welfare of children.
It recommends more detailed and extensive marriage preparation and also support in the early years of marriage which are judged to be critical.
The document makes no direct mention of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics but there is reference to a “path of discernment” and the “internal forum” which some priests and bishops already use to determine whether a person can be readmitted to the sacraments.
As such it leaves the door open offering the possibility of the further development of church teaching on the subject.
“The key word is discernment. Everyone is invited to think there is no black or white, or yes or no. The task is to discern,” said Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna earlier today.
The issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, and the Church’s response to same-sex unions, have been the most fiercely contested issues in the synod which has seen open disagreement among progressive and conservative Synod Fathers.
The gathering is the second half of a process that began last year with a worldwide consultation of the laity followed by an extraordinary synod in Rome. This year’s synod began on 4 October and ends with a Mass tomorrow.
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The final document contains 94 paragraphs and was assembled by a 10-man drafting committee. The Synod Fathers spent today refining its contents and voting on each paragraph. Unlike the extraordinary synod, every paragraph achieved the required two-thirds majority of votes. The final paragraph urges Pope Francis to issue his own document on the family.
The final document states that cohabiting couples and those who have married in civil ceremonies have positive elements and are stable. Both are said to have the potential to progress to sacramental marriage. It points out that couples often live together because they are waiting for financial security in difficult economic times.
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“In other countries, even, the number of couples cohabiting continues to grow, not only because of the rejection of values of the family and of marriage, but also because of the fact that to marry is perceived as a luxury, because of social conditions, so that material poverty pushes people to cohabit,” says the document.
The document recommends that a ministry dedicated to those whose marriage has broken down is particularly urgent. It singles out the need to support and seek justice for victims of domestic violence and to protect minors from sexual abuse. Specialised centres of listening and mediation to be set up in the dioceses should be set up to support those involved in marital breakup.
The importance of integrating divorced and remarried Catholics into the life of the Church is stressed with a reminder that they are “not excommunicated”. Rather, it calls for them to be recognised as baptised brothers and sisters with gifts and charisms needed by the Church.
“It is therefore necessary to overcome various forms of exclusion as practised in liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional spheres. They can live and grow as living members of the Church, knowing her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them in the journey of life and the Gospel,” reads the document.
Although St John Paul II ruled out Communion for remarried divorcees in his 1981 apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, the document identifies a part where Pope John Paul refers to the very different situations leading to marital break up. These include those who have been abandoned by their partners and those responsible for ending the marriage. The document says that interested persons should embark on a “path of discernment” with a priest under the guidance of the bishop.
“Those who are divorced and remarried must ask themselves how they behaved towards their children when their marriage entered into crisis; whether there have been attempts at reconciliation, what is the situation of the abandoned partner; what have been the consequences of the new relationship on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; what example does it offer to young people who have to prepare themselves for matrimony,” says the document.
Discussions held with a priest in the “internal forum” in which a person is helped to examine his or her conscience is also mentioned in the document. It states: “The conversation with the priest, in the internal forum contributes to the formation of a correct judgement upon which obstacles rest the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and upon the steps which can favour this and make it grow.”
In many dioceses around the world, bishops encourage their priests to have such discussions which can ultimately lead to a person’s readmission to the Sacraments.
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On the subject of homosexuality, the document reiterates traditional teaching and unequivocally rejects same-sex marriage. It is strong in its condemnation of those institutions that seek to make overseas aid to poor countries conditional on those countries legalising gay marriage.
The document repeats church teaching that individuals must be respected and welcomed regardless of their sexual orientation and emphasises the Church’s support for families with a gay member.
There is praise for Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae that bans the use of contraception and calls on young couples to be open to new life. It says the Church “rejects with all its might” coercive attempts by states to force citizens to use contraception, undergo sterilisation or have abortions.”
Yesterday, the three Belgian prelates stressed that the final document is the beginning of a process of change to a Church that is more collegial and which is listening as well as teaching.
Today, Cardinal Schonborn said that the nucleus of the report is a great “yes” to the family.