23 October 2014, The Tablet

Synod ‘charting right course’, say cardinals

The hopes of Pope Francis for wide-ranging and open discussions of family situations at the Synod that ended last Sunday have been fulfilled, according to senior cardinals speaking this week.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn appealed to the media to broaden its “tunnel view” which had narrowed the subjects discussed at the synod down to Communion for remarried divorcees and homosexual relationships. It was essential to take a closer look at the broader family environment and include single parents, the widows and orphans of divorce, and “patchwork” families, he said.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, whose ideas on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics were one of the main discussion points, said in a lecture at Vienna University just before the synod ended that the Pope’s “roadmap for reform” would outlive his pontificate.

The president of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, said the important thing was that clear progress had been made and no doors had been shut.

Cardinal Schönborn recounted the view put forward by Ute Eberl, one of the few women participants at the Synod, who is responsible for family pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Berlin and who took part at the special invitation of Pope Francis. “Take a look at the living room first and not at the bedroom,” she had advised in her four-minute intervention, Cardinal Schönborn recalled. He fully shared her view and knew that the Pope did, too.

It was only natural that the change of perspective Pope Francis had brought about by looking positively at the reality of people’s lives had frightened some bishops who were worried that something of the “earnestness of the ideal of marriage” would be lost, Cardinal Schönborn said. That was why the Pope was at the moment exposed to a “massive wave of attacks”, especially by certain Italian media.

The head of the Polish bishops’ conference had important reservations about the Synod. He strongly criticised the mid-term document summarising the first week of the synod and said it was “unacceptable to many bishops”. It “seemed to U-turn some of the church teaching”, he said, departing from that of St John Paul II. He saw “traces of anti-marriage ideology” in it and a “lack of clear vision in terms of the purpose of the synod”. He called the final synod document “satisfactory but not revolutionary”.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the Russian Orthodox Church’s top ecumenical official, urged Catholic bishops at the synod to join in a united front to protect families against secular forces and stressed this in meetings with Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict and senior Vatican officials. 

Mrs Eberl said she was very impressed with the Pope’s final words. “He encouraged us to have controversial debates. Of course we could quarrel, he said. That wouldn’t make the Church fall apart. He would see to that. I found that very encouraging.”


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