THE SERVANT GENERAL
REPORT AND REFLECTIONS
ON THE III EXTRAORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY
OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
October 23, 2014
The III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
happened from October 5 to 18, 2014, at Vatican City. The
assembly was called by Pope Francis to discuss “The
Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”
There were 186 Synod Fathers (61 cardinals, 67 archbishops,
47 bishops, others), 8 fraternal delegates (Ecumenical Patriarchate
of Constantinople, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Russian
Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist), 16 experts
and 38 auditors, for a total of 248 participants, coming from
all continents of the world. The auditors were the lay participants.
The language of the synod was in Italian, French, Spanish,
English and German.
The preparatory document for the synod, the Lineamenta,
was issued on November 5, 2013, and solicited responses and
inputs on the topic coming from all over the Catholic world.
From this the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) was produced
by the General Secretariat and issued on June 24, 2014. At
the start of the synod assembly, the topic of the synod was
presented in the Relatio Ante Disceptationem, which would
guide the Synod Fathers in their interventions. After the
interventions, a document called Relatio Post Disceptationem
(RPD) was produced. It was a 14-page document with 58 paragraphs,
presenting a synthesis of the synod’s theme based on
the discussions in the synod hall.
Francis celebrated Holy Mass on October 5. Then the General
Congregations (plenary sessions) were conducted from October
6 to 10, with two sessions, one in the morning and another
in the afternoon. These were times for the bishops to provide
their interventions on the topics in the RPD. Each was given
4 minutes. There were also times of free discussion, with
each intervenor given 3 minutes. There were a total of 180
interventions and 80 free discussion inputs. From October
13 to 16, the assembly was divided into 10 Circoli minori
(small working groups), composed of an average 25 persons
each, divided according to language groups. These groups discussed
the content of the RPD and made recommendations for changes
and other inputs.
assembly returned in plenary on Oct 17 to 18. It produced
the Nuntius or Message of the assembly to families.
The revision of the RPD was also done and presented to the
body as the Relatio Finalis or Relatio Synodi
(RS). The RS was put to secret vote paragraph by paragraph
(there were 62 paragraphs), with 2/3 needed to be accepted.
There were 183 Synod Fathers present. The RS was accepted,
except for 3 paragraphs that failed to get the 2/3 vote. The
RS was submitted to the Holy Father as the fruit of the synod.
Francis celebrated Holy Mass on October 19, where Pope Paul
VI was beatified.
will be a second synod in October 2015. This Ordinary Synod
will have the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the
Family in the Church and the Modern World.” In the meantime,
the RS will be taken up by the particular churches (dioceses)
throughout the world and deliberated on in the intervening
year. The product of that synod will be submitted to Pope
Francis, for him to issue the appropriate document for the
Situation of the Family
The family is under threat throughout the world, due to rapid
developments in the past few decades in the socio-cultural
and spiritual dimensions. There are those challenges that
threaten the well-being of families, and challenges that threaten
the very existence of the family.
the former are poverty, migration, materialism, armed conflict,
individualism, children born outside marriage, one-parent
families, abortion, polygamy (mainly in Africa). Among the
latter are cohabitation, divorce, divorce and remarriage,
same-sex unions/marriage, pornography. A common denominator
of the latter set is that all have to do with sexuality. And
indeed, the whole area of sexuality is the battleground where
radical feminists and homosexualists are assaulting the traditional
teachings of the Catholic Church.
effect of loosening up in the area of sexuality, as is evidenced
with what has happened to the Protestant Churches, is to weaken
not only their witness to the world but also their own internal
integrity and strength. These Churches are losing more and
more members and are under serious threat of eventual disintegration.
This is a historical lesson that we would be well warned to
be mindful of.
interventions and discussions at the synod reflected “opposing”
values, with “opposing” put in quotes because
the values are not really contradictory. The Synod Fathers
by and large agreed on the basics of Church teaching on marriage,
family, life and human sexuality. It could be said, for lack
of better terms, that there were two sidesthe traditionalists
and the progressives. The latter desired a more liberal attitude
towards cohabiting couples, homosexuals and those in irregular
unions (divorced and remarried).
were many tensions or “opposing” values that surfaced.
They all had to do with traditional Church teaching versus
liberalized pastoral approaches. In effect, they had to do
with faith and culture. Or put another way, with doctrine
was the question of justice versus mercy. God’s justice
demands adherence to the law. On the other hand, God’s
mercy reaches out to the suffering and marginalized.
to this was the question of truth versus love. There is the
objective truth of God’s law, which necessitates obedience.
On the other hand, love conquers all.
was the question of equality versus discrimination. All men
are created equal, with equal worth and dignity as God’s
children, and thus are not to be discriminated against, some
say including access to the sacraments.
was the question of doctrine versus practice. Doctrine may
be clear and unchanging, but pastoral practice necessitates
flexibility and adaptability.
was the question of assuming the clarity of a teacher versus
the tenderness of a mother.
was the question of closed versus open doors. Is the Church
to be rigid in upholding her Magisterium, or bold in opening
even forbidden doors?
However, the most contentious paragraphs in the RPD were paragraphs
50, 51 and 53, all under the heading “Welcoming
homosexual persons.” It could possibly be said
that these paragraphs constituted the core of the tension
between traditionalists and progressives.
50 said: “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer
to the Christian community.” Indeed. But so does everyone
else. So what gifts, not as a person but in particular as
a homosexual, would be beneficial to the Christian community?
Paragraph 50 further stated: “Are our communities capable
of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation
…?” But there is nothing to value in a homosexual
orientation. Further, sexual orientation should not just be
accepted as a given, since homosexuality can be a product
of the social environment rather than genetic, and thus can
51 stated: “The Church furthermore affirms that unions
between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the
same footing as matrimony between man and woman.” True
enough. However, same-sex unions cannot be considered at all,
even on a lower level, in relation to matrimony. If matrimony
is a level 10, are we saying that same-sex unions can be a
level 9 or 5? Same-sex unions are totally contrary to the
ways of God. They are a total corruption of marriage. They
are an abomination.
52 stated: “Without denying the moral problems connected
to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases
in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes
a precious support in the life of the partners.” Well,
terrorists who blow themselves up make a huge sacrifice. Is
that then to be admired? It also is not right to consider
sin and evil as in any way giving precious support to such
Most of these contentious statements were overturned through
the work of the Circoli Minori and in the final Relatio
Synodi. Despite this, three paragraphs in the RS were not
accepted (lacked 2/3 vote). Two were paragraphs on communion
for divorced and remarried Catholics. The third was a paragraph
Considerations in Facing the Challenges
Church welcomes all of God’s children. In fact, she
looks to those who are suffering, who are lost, who are marginalized
or discriminated against, who have strayed away. However,
such cannot be at the cost of diluting or setting aside Church
teaching, which is intended to precisely bring people to God.
Church treats all with the respect and dignity that is inherent
to them as children of God. But treating with respect and
dignity does not include condoning sin. To love others means
to speak God’s truth to them.
recognize that we are all sinners. However, that fact that
we are sinners is not license to continue in sin, to make
no overt move toward repentance. Jesus showed mercy and compassion,
but he also told people to sin no more. Indeed, the ministry
of Jesus was about mercy, but mercy is an invitation to repentance
and reconciliation with God. It is false mercy that keeps
a person comfortable in his sin. Jesus came into the world
in order to win for us our salvation. Salvation can only come
with repentance for sin and a turning to faith in Jesus.
way for the Church is not to make it easier for those who
are not fully living a life of faith. The Christian life is
of the highest ideal. It is difficult and challenging. It
entails great sacrifices. It is not meant to be easy. Rather,
it is a call to embrace the very cross of Jesus.
a Lighter Note
Francis is truly a man of the people. He is simple, humble
and unassuming. One manifestation of this was that during
the morning coffee breaks, he freely mingled with everyone
else. If he was not dressed all in white, one might even not
have noticed him among the crowd.
assault on faith, family and life continues unabated, and
can be expected to intensify even more. The aim of the forces
of the enemy is to destroy family and life, which are creations
of God. To accomplish this, there is the need to destroy faith
in God, to remove God completely from the picture, so that
secular humanist values can predominate. It is only the Roman
Catholic Church that stands in the way.
synod did not come up with conclusions or plans of action
yet. This extraordinary synod was in effect a preliminary
discussion, an exchange of views among brother-bishops. There
will be an ordinary synod in October 2015, after a one-year
period of discussing the RS.
pastoral situation remains difficult. Difficult decisions
will have to be made. Can the procedures for matrimonial nullity
be made simpler and speeded up? Can the Church consider spiritual
communion for those in irregular unions? How can homosexuals
be treated with due respect?
Pope Francis himself, in his closing address to the Synod
Fathers, went back to the tension of opposing values. On the
one hand, he spoke of “hostile inflexibility ….
and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God.” This
“is the temptation of the …. ‘traditionalists’.”
On the other hand, the pope also speaks of “a destructive
tendency to goodness, that in the name of a deceptive mercy
binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them;
that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.”
This “is the temptation of the …. ‘progressives
the pope spoke of “the temptation to transform stones
into bread to break the long, heavy and painful fast; and
also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against
the sinners ….” He spoke of “the temptation
to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not
stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to
bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending
it to the Spirit of God.”
issues are unsettled. The pastoral challenges remain.
What is the way forward? We stand for the unchanging truths
of Christian morality, even as we treat all with charity and
compassion. We also must not focus only on the problems being
faced now, but look to how the Church can become stronger
and more effective in her witness. Easy solutions might just
result in greater problems later.
are the unchanging truths?
the family is crucial for the life of people, of society,
of the Church and of the world. It is a creation of God. As
the family is being severely assaulted by the enemy, the Church
must stand strong in its defense, enabling the family not
just to survive but to thrive, even in a hostile environment.
the focus must always be on Christ, and not on the human individual.
Jesus looks to human beings, but we look to Christ. The most
important and basic consideration in being able to resolve
the pastoral challenges to the family is to have family members
enter into an intimate personal relationship with Jesus.
we are called to holiness, to be holy as God is holy. We are
set apart, and are not to conform our lives to the world,
and certainly not to the anti-family and anti-life directions
of much of the world today. We are called to rise to the heights
of Christian commitment. Indeed we are called to be perfect
as the heavenly Father is perfect.
this, the way forward is the way of the cross. The Christian
life is not about comfort and convenience, but of denying
self and embracing the cross of Christ. It will be difficult
and greatly challenging, but the sacrifices and pain are what
in fact bring us closer to Christ.
our Church is a missionary and apostolic church. She exists
to evangelize, to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus
to the world, to help bring people to life-giving conversion.
Her goal is to gather the flock and to prepare this bride
for the Bridegroom. We aim to make it to heaven, to live in
eternal peace and joy with our Father.
Whatever developments are, now and in the future, we simply
remain faithful to our call, to be true disciples of Jesus
Christ and servants of our Church.
the Holy Spirit continue to guide our Church, in this year
of further deliberations, and forevermore.