Complete the circle
By George Evans
The Synod of Bishops on the family has ended and a final document has been agreed on by the Bishops. Traditional Catholic teaching has been reaffirmed after questions were raised following the October 13 delivery of a midterm report “that used strikingly conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to church teaching, including divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and those in same-sex unions.”(Catholic News Service 10/18)
It should be noted that frank discussion was held on several points and “Pope Francis said he welcomed the assembly’s expressions of disagreement.” (Catholic News Service, 10/18)
Synod fathers voted on each of the document’s 62 paragraphs. “All received a simple majority, but three failed to gain the two-thirds supermajority ordinarily required for approval of synodal documents.” (Catholic News Service, 10/18)
Two of those paragraphs dealt with a controversial proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper that would make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. The document noted disagreements on the subject and recommended further study. The document’s section on homosexuality, which also fell short of supermajority approval, was significantly changed from its counterpart in the midterm report and included a quote from a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: ‘There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ (Catholic News Service, 10/18)
I think it is thus fair to say that nothing earth shaking happened at the Synod. Tradition was affirmed and some controversial questions were left open for further discussion. Apparently the synod’s final report will serve as an agenda for the October 2015 world synod on the family, which will make recommendations to the pope.
It is also important to realize that synodal documents, whatever they may conclude, do not create doctrine. As Catholic News Service informs us, “Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters that the absence of a supermajority indicated a lack of consensus and a need for more discussion, but stressed that none of the document carried doctrinal weight. Pope Francis said he welcomed the assembly’s expressions of disagreement.”
The fact that free and, at times, heated discussion was the order of the day and was welcomed by the pope may be one of the great achievements of the synod. The church we all love moves slowly and carefully when it does move. The Holy Spirit we believe is always with it and embraces it with His love and concern. Pope Francis has started a process under the Spirit’s care and guidance. Of all the family issues with pressing pastoral concern, to me the one with the greatest immediate need for action is the divorced and civilly remarried Catholic issue. Presently church teaching excludes these church members from the Eucharist short of some very narrow pastoral exceptions. Many members are now former members because of frequent difficulty with the annulment process, lack of welcoming embrace from pastor or fellow church members or simple frustration, whether right or wrong, from the sense of condemnation by the church of their birth and all of their life. I have to believe that we can find with the help of the Holy Spirit a true and faithful solution to such situations that enriches rather than harms the Church of the loving and merciful Jesus. I know others may disagree on this point. I know that others may choose other family issues as more needy of immediate attention. My thought is to let the discussion/debate continue with prayer and discernment with a plea for God’s help.
For those of us not facing either of the two situations which apparently engendered the most debate in the recent synod – civil remarriage and homosexuality – it is critical to embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters who are. Our love, our prayer and our concern are not optional. Since we all are made in God’s image and likeness as Genesis reminds us early in the Bible and since we are our brother’s keeper as Gen 4:8-11 teaches in that wonderful unanswered question, we must pray for and support our pope and bishops during this coming year so they feel the hand of the Holy Spirit in making those decisions which best serve persons in all circumstances during the next year. Unless we each do our part we cannot rest in the peace of a job well done. Our church and all its people deserve the best from us all.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)
Complete the circle