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(Part 104)


October 27, 2015

The English version has not come out and so we cannot read the text directly as yet.

My comment is that the Relatio Finalis passed by a thread!! If there had been one more vote not in favor (thus 176), it would not have passed with the required 2/3 majority! This is intriguing, given that the two contentious paragraphs on irregular unions actually passed with more votes, 178 and 180. I can imagine the tension if the last pro vote came towards the end of the voting.

What does the final vote mean? For one thing, 1/3 of our prelates are not happy with the result! Are these the liberals or the conservatives, or cuts across the board? And so the tensions within our Church will continue. We continue on our path? We continue on a tumultuous path. The intent of the liberals will not change.

Even just with this write-up below, we can see the potential for future challenges. I cite two of them.

  • “There must be no discrimination against people with homosexual tendencies.” While the Church affirms opposition to same-sex unions, the language on discrimination has been abused and so used to get acceptance of the gay lifestyle in its fullness, including the legalization of same-sex marriage, giving transgenders access to women’s bathrooms, and the like.
  • “The text includes extensive reflection on the need to modify the language of the Church.” If this means becoming politically correct and not confronting people with their sin, then this is very dangerous (see Synodos Part 101).

Now the Relatio Finalis has been passed on to Pope Francis for his disposition. We continue to pray for the Holy Father, that the Holy Spirit will guide him in whatever document he comes out with. We also pray that the Spirit thwart the designs of those liberal prelates around the pope and so protect our Church.


Synod's Final Document: 'We Continue on Our Path'

Each of 94 paragraphs given approval by 2/3 majority of synod fathers

The Synod Fathers approved by 177 votes out of 265, a two-thirds majority, the final Relatio of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod on the Family, made up of 94 paragraphs, each one of which was voted on individually. The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., gave a briefing on the document, which was authorised for publication in Italian by Pope Francis.

Fr. Lombardi remarked that the text takes into account the many difficulties faced by the family, but also its great capacity for facing and reacting to them. The conclusive document of the Synod includes many of the amendments to the Instrumentum Laboris presented by the Synod Fathers and therefore reflects the voice of the Assembly.

With reference to the two paragraphs dedicated to complex family situations, which were approved by a very slender majority of 178 and 180 votes, Fr. Lombardi noted that they regard the pastoral approach to wounded families or those that are irregular from a canonical point of view and in terms of the discipline of the Church: in particular, cohabitation, civil marriage, divorced and remarried persons and the way of pastorally addressing these situations.

Fr. Lombardi underlined that the tone of the document is positive and welcoming, and that it has greatly enriched the Instrumentum Laboris. Similarly, the Pope's Motu Proprio on the reform of marriage annulment procedures made an effective and decisive contribution to the theme of the Synod.

The final Relatio reaffirms the doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, which is not a yoke but rather a gift from God, a truth based in Christ and in His relationship with the Church. At the same time, it underlines that truth and mercy converge in Christ, which leads to welcome to wounded families. Without expressly mentioning access to the Eucharist for remarried divorcees, the Synod document recalls that they are not excommunicated and refers the analysis of complex family situations to the discernment of pastors. This discernment, the text underlines, must be applied in accordance with the teaching of the Church, with trust in God's mercy that is denied to no-one. With regard to cohabiting couples, the text reiterates that this situation should be faced constructively, seeking to transform it into an opportunity for a path to conversion towards the fullness of marriage and family, in the light of the Gospel.

Other salient points of the document refer to homosexuality. There must be no discrimination against people with homosexual tendencies, but at the same time the text states that the Church is contrary to same-sex unions and external pressure on the Church in relation to this matter is not accepted. There are special paragraphs dedicated to immigrants, refugees and persecuted families who are often divided and whose members can become victims of trafficking. A welcoming approach was invoked for them too, recalling their rights and also their duties in their host countries.

There are specific paragraphs on women, men and children, the mainstays of family life: the text emphasises the need for the protection and the recognition of the value of their respective roles. It is hoped that a more prominent role will be identified for women in the formation of ordained ministers, while in relation to children mention was made of the beauty of adoption and fostering, practices which reconstruct ruptured family bonds. The Synod does not forget widows and widowers, the disabled, the elderly and grandparents, who enable the transmission of faith in the family and must be protected from the throwaway culture. Unmarried people must also be acknowledged for their commitment to the Church and society.

Among the “shadows” that are frequently cast on the family, the Synod notes the presence of political and religious fanaticism hostile to Christianity, growing individualism, gender ideology, conflicts, persecution, poverty, precarious employment, corruption, economic difficulties that can exclude families from education and culture, the globalisation of indifference in which humanity's place at the centre of society is usurped by money, pornography, and the declining birth rate.

The Relatio therefore gathers together suggestions for strengthening preparation for marriage, especially for the young who appear intimidated by it. They are in need, says the Synod, of an adequate emotional formation, following the virtues of chastity and self-giving. In this regard, mention was made of the bond between the sexual act and procreation between spouses, of which children are the most precious fruit, since they bear the memory and hope of an act of love. Another bond is that between the vocation of the family and the vocation to consecrated life. Education in sexuality and corporeality and the promotion of responsible parenting would also be central, in accordance with the teachings of Paul VI's encyclical “Humanae Vitae” and the primary role of parents in the education of their children in faith.

An appeal is launched to institutions to promote an support policies in favour of the family, and Catholics engaged in politics are exhorted to protect the family and life, as a society that neglects them loses its openness to the future. In this respect, the Synod reaffirms the sacredness of life from conception to natural death, and warns against the grave threats posed to the family by abortion and euthanasia. Further paragraphs are dedicated to mixed marriages, whose positive aspects in relation to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue are underlined, while confirming the need to protect religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection in society.

The text includes extensive reflection on the need to modify the language of the Church, making it more meaningful so that the proclamation of the Gospel of the family may truly respond to the deepest human aspirations. This means not only presenting a series of regulations but rather announcing the grace that gives the capacity to live well the good of the family.

Finally, the Relatio emphasises the beauty of the family: as a domestic church based on marriage between a man and a woman, the fundamental cell of the society whose growth it contributes, a safe entry to the deepest sentiments, the sole point of connection in a fragmented age, and an integral part of human ecology, it must be protected, supported and encouraged, also by the authorities.

The document concludes by a plea to the Synod Fathers by the Pope, regarding the possibility of producing a document on the family. As Fr. Lombardi explains, “The Synod Fathers do not say that all is complete, but affirm that they offer the Relatio to the Holy Father to enable him to evaluate whether to continue on this route with a document, on the basis of the Synod text, to further examine the theme of the family from the perspective he wishes to offer. 'We continue on our path'”.

(October 26, 2015) © Innovative Media Inc.

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(Part 103)


October 27, 2015

Here is a positive outlook on the recently-concluded Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. It illustrates the deep challenges that were present at the start and how it finally turned out.

While things did not turn out as the liberals would have wanted (praise God), this is not the end of the struggle. The liberals will not simply quit. They will await another opportunity. We must remain vigilant.

As the way forward, I emphasize two things mentioned here.

  • Couples and their children are agents of evangelization. There should be a closer link of family to mission. This is exactly the life and mission of CFC-FFL. Our vision is evangelization founded on family renewal. The two intimately go together. We strengthen families in order that such families will bring the light of Christ into the world.
  • It is not our Catholic Church or her pastoral practices that need to change and to conform to the culture of the world, but rather the task of the Church is to change the world darkened by sin. We must stand for authentic Church teaching and defend our Magisterium. We must not fall into the errors of political correctness.


Reports and commentary, from Rome and elsewhere, on the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

The Final Report of Synod-2015

The Relatio Finalis [final report] of Synod-2015, adopted this evening by the Synod Fathers, is a massive and encouraging improvement over the Instrumentum Laboris [working document] that was the baseline for the Synod’s work. The tremendous difference between the two documents illustrates just how fruitful a path the Synod walked over three sometimes-challenging weeks.

Considerable differences, considerable improvement

Laden as it was with sociology, and not-too-good sociology at that, the working document was, at more than a few points, hard to recognise as a Church document. The final report is clearly an ecclesial text, a product of the Church’s meditation on the Word of God, understood as the lens through which the Church interprets its contemporary experience.

The working document was biblically anorexic. The final report is richly biblical, even eloquently biblical, as befits a Synod meeting on the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum .

At times, the working document seemed almost embarrassed by the settled doctrine of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage, on the conditions necessary for the worthy reception of Holy Communion, and on the virtues of chastity and fidelity.

The final report reaffirms the Church’s doctrines on marriage, Holy Communion, and the possibility of living virtuously in the post-modern world. And it does so without cavil, even as it calls the Church to a more effective proclamation of the truths it bears as a patrimony from the Lord Jesus himself, and to more solicitous pastoral care of those in difficult marital and familial circumstances.

The working document was virtually silent on the gift of children. The final report describes children as one of the greatest of blessings, praises large families, is careful to honor special-needs kids, and lifts up the witness of happily and fruitfully married couples and their children as agents of evangelisation.

The working document made something of a hash out of conscience and its role in the moral life. The final report does a much better job of explaining the Church’s understanding of conscience and its relationship to truth, rejecting the idea that conscience is a kind of free-floating faculty of the will that can function as the equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

The working document was full of ambiguities about pastoral practice and its relationship to doctrine. The final report, while not without some ambiguities, makes clear that pastoral care must begin from a bottom-line of commitment to the settled teaching of the Church, and that there really is no such thing as “local-option Catholicism,” either in terms of regional/national solutions to challenges or parish-by-parish solutions. The Church remains one Church.

The working document was also ambiguous in its description of “family.” The final report underscores that there can be no proper analogy drawn between the Catholic understanding of “marriage” and “family” and other social arrangements, no matter what their legal status.

Mercy and truth sometimes seemed in tension in the working document. The final report is far more theologically developed in relating mercy and truth in God, and thus inseparable in the doctrine and practice of the Church.

The working document was not much from a literary point of view, and was more than a little laborious to digest. The final report is quite eloquent at a number of points and will enrich the lives of those who read it, however much they may disagree with this or that formulation.

In sum, the final report, though not without flaws, goes a very long way – and light years beyond the Instrumentum Laboris – in doing what Pope Francis and many Synod fathers wanted this entire two-year process to do: lift up and celebrate the Catholic vision of marriage and the family as a luminous answer to the crisis of those institutions in the 21st century.

Subtexts and missed opportunities

Synod-2015 has also brought to light several serious problems that remain to be addressed as the Church moves beyond the twinned Synods of 2014 and 2015, with the Synod-2015 final report as a framework for further reflection (and for whatever post-synodal document Pope Francis eventually chooses to issue).

The first of these problems might be called one of theological and pastoral digestion. It was painfully clear from more than a few of the interventions in the Synod general assembly – and from some of the reports of the Synod’s language-based discussion groups – that large sectors of the world Church have not even begun to internalize the teaching of Familiaris Consortio (John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation completing the work of the 1980 Synod on the Family), much less John Paul’s Theology of the Body.

Worse, some parts of the Western European Church seem to regard any reference to such material as hopelessly old hat, even though it’s only thirty-some years old. The enthusiasm with which the Theology of the Body has been received in the more alert parts of the Church in North America was certainly part of the discussion at Synod-2015; but a great deal of work remains to be done to bring this uniquely Catholic perspective on embodiedness, sexuality, and human love to pastoral fruition in Latin America and Europe.

Still, it’s perhaps not surprising that it takes awhile for genuinely original teaching that stretches and develops the Catholic tradition to take hold; these things always take time. But given the rapidity with which cultural change (or cultural deconstruction) is washing over the western world, it’s certainly to be hoped that local churches which have not yet availed themselves of these resources hit the accelerator. Synod-2015 would also have been more honest had the debate brought to the surface the hard fact that the communion issue and the conscience issue often functioned as stalking horses for episcopates, largely from the German-speaking world, that want to forget Humanae Vitae
and deconstruct Veritatis Splendor
Those parts of the world Church have never forgiven Paul VI for reaffirming, in Humanae Vitae, of the classic Catholic view of the appropriate means for regulating fertility. Neither have they forgiven John Paul II for rejecting the proportionalist moral theology of such major German theological figures as Bernard Häring and Joseph Fuchs and insisting, in Veritatis Splendor, that some acts are, in and of themselves, gravely evil (malum in se).

One prominent Synod father from German-speaking Catholicism even went so far as to suggest, in an interview prior to Synod-2015, that there was always some good to be found in every situation, that malum in se had no real meaning in our world. (One immediately thinks of rape, the torture of children, sex-trafficking of young girls, ISIS crucifixions and beheadings of Christians, and wonders just what was going on in this remarkable statement.)

In addition to the intellectual pride that I’ve already noted as a problem in these contestations, one can’t also help wonder about a certain blindness to history. The unraveling of the moral fabric of the West is leading, step by step, to what Benedict XVI aptly called the “dictatorship of relativism” – the use of coercive state power to impose a thoroughly relativistic moral code on all of society. Why can’t prominent German-speaking bishops see this?

Another subtext to the debates at Synod-2015 was a question as old as the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius – and probably a lot older than that: Are we sinners in need of redemption, or are we basically good people who can, by our own efforts, pull ourselves up to the nobility to which we aspire?

The latter option now comes packaged as “expressive individualism” – the term used by Notre Dame law professor Carter Snead, in remarks reported earlier this week in Letters from the Synod, to sum up the postmodern notion of the human person as simply a bundle of desires, an embodied will.

It’s bad enough, as Professor Snead said, when five justices of the US Supreme Court believe this and then use it as the excuse to find “rights” in the Constitution that would have been unimaginable to those who wrote and adopted that text and its amendments. It’s far worse when one finds Catholic bishops who seem to be veering in a similar, misguided direction, acting under cultural pressures that seem to be creating a sense of pastoral desperation. Here, then, is another issue that needs serious examination in the post-Synod-2015 Church.

Finally, and despite all the good things in the final report, it’s a shame that a Synod intended to be about changing the world ended up being a battle over changing the Church – or remaining faithful to its constitutive doctrine and form.

This is not, one expects, what Pope Francis wanted, but it’s what happened, and that in itself is a missed opportunity. It also suggests that the passion for a “Church permanently in mission” of which the Holy Father speaks has yet to be communicated to some very important sectors of the world Church.

A Church turned inward is not the Church of the New Evangelisation. So it remains for those committed to the evangelical rebirth of Catholicism in the 21st century to more closely link family to mission than Synod-2015 was able to do.

George Weigel,

Distinguished Senior Fellow and

William E Simon Chair in Catholic Studies,

Ethics and Public Policy Center

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