There has been a great deal of news reports (and worries from orthodox Catholics) about the direction of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, currently taking place at the Vatican. With all of the negative news, and the mid-point “report” which was released — which seems to bear no resemblance to the actual discussions taking place during the Synod — we believe that the “uprising” led by Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Burke and others is a great piece of news. It shows that the “Fathers” of the Synod are not willing to have a liberal/modernist agenda slammed down their throats, and foisted upon the Church. The Truth is unchanging. We might need to examine how we can present that Truth in a more appealing way, how we can win over those who have been blind and deaf to that Truth, and how we might need to draw individual persons into embracing and living that Truth which was revealed to us by Jesus Christ our Lord, but the Truth itself cannot and will not change. Ever.
With this in mind, the Fathers of Mercy would like to share with you the reports of the three working groups of the Synod that were conducted in English. We are taking these reports directly from the Vatican website. For those who prefer to read them on the Vatican website, or would like to read the reports of the French, Italian or Spanish language working groups in those languages, you may do so [here].
Relatio – Circulus Anglicus “A”
Moderator: Em.mo Card. Raymond Leo BURKE
Relator: S.E. Mons. John Atcherley DEW
I present this report of behalf of the English speaking group Anglicus “A”. The group has suggested a number of amendments to the RELATIO POST DISCEPTATIONEM, some are major amendments and others quite small, nevertheless they have significant meaning attached to them. In proposing amendments we have shifted the focus from particular situations described in the Relatio to the people involved in the situations, concentrating on the goodness to be found in them.
We believed that there needed to be a new introduction to the Relatio. Our proposed Introduction is placed within the context of the great gift of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the grace of God freely given through the sacraments. It also provides a theological anthropological foundation, which we believe is needed in order to address serious issues spoken on in the Synod. We have addressed these issues within the context of Scripture and the remarkably rich Magisterium of the Church. We want the final Synod document to speak of human life, marriage and family life, as we know it to be revealed to us by God through reason and faith, both aided by the grace of God. The Relatio Synodi must proclaim the truth of the Gospel, the truth of human life and sexuality as revealed by Christ. The Word of Christ illuminates our knowledge of human nature and the intrinsic sexuality of man and woman through the natural law.
We agreed that this is to be a pastoral document, as has been expressed as the wish of the Synod, a document which speaks to people about the often critical issues which confront families today. Those issues cannot be separated from Church teaching found in the treasury of her documentation. We are aware that the final Relatio Synodi will be discussed and debated over the next year; therefore as we proposed amendments we indicated appropriate references to the Sacred Scriptures and Magisterial documents
We referred to the methodology used as appearing to be based on the SEE, JUDGE, ACT principles, but in this case it was LISTEN, JUDGE, ACT.
LISTEN and observe what others are saying and what the situation is regarding marriage and family life in the world today.
JUDGE according to what we have been gifted with through the Deposit of Faith.
ACT through our pastoral accompanying of all God’s people entrusted to our care.
We have attempted to show in our amendments that the “Listening” or “seeing” must always be through the lens of the Gospel. Our Proposals have stressed God’s love and our pastoral love and care for individuals, while at the same time honestly recognizing and acknowledging sinful situations, and searching for ways to invite conversion of heart.
In our amendments we see suggest a return to the SEE, Judge, Act formula.
We know that the final Synod document gives us a wonderful opportunity to influence the prevailing culture and for the Church to present the way of Jesus Christ who is “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14). Our amendments have tried to show that living as disciples of Jesus Christ, with all the challenges that brings is the life that leads to true joy and human happiness.
For example, where the Relatio appeared to be suggesting that sex outside of marriage may be permissible, or that cohabitation may be permissible, we have attempted to show why such lifestyles do not lead to human fulfillment. At the same time, we want to acknowledge that there are seeds of truth and goodness found in the persons involved, and through dedicated pastoral care these can be appreciated and developed. We believe that if we imply that certain life-styles are acceptable, then concerned and worried parents could very easily say “Why are we trying so hard to encourage our sons and daughters to live the Gospel and embrace Church teaching?”
We did not recommend the admission to the sacraments of divorced and re-married people, but we included a very positive and much –needed appreciation of union with Christ through other means.
The group recognizes and favors the concern and compassion the Relatio shows for those who face difficult pastoral situations in their lives. However our amendments suggest that we express these carefully so as not to create confusion in the minds and hearts of our people.
We had serious questions about the presentation of the principle of GRADUALITY. We wished to show in our amendments that we are not speaking of the GRADUALITY of DOCTRINE of faith and morals, but rather the gradual moral growth of the individual in his or her actions.
We also believe that in the Relatio Synodi we need to express words of encouragement and support to those who are faithfully living out their marriage vows and bringing up their families according to the teaching of the Church. We are grateful to those married couples who gave their witness in the Synod Hall and thank them sincerely. We also wish to address words of encouragement to grandparents and extended family members who support their families often at great expense to themselves.
There is agreement that the Relatio Synodi needs to be a pastoral document in which we use language which does not hurt people but which encourages them and helps them in their journey to God. It must speak the Truth of the Gospel clearly and directly, using language that cannot be interpreted by some to be condemning them, but rather expressing the Church’s deep interest and care for them.
As the Conclusion of the Relatio Post Disceptationem states the Synodal dialogue took place in freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening. It has certainly raised questions that will have to be seriously considered and clarified by reflection in the Particular Churches of the world over the next year. Our prayer too is that all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will find roads of truth and mercy for all. We thank Pope Francis for the invitation to us to live the courage of faith and the humble and honest welcome of the truth in charity.
[03042-02.01] [Original text: English]
Moderator: Em.mo Card. Wilfrid Fox NAPIER, O.F.M.
Relator: S.E. Mons. Diarmuid MARTIN
Of the Synodal Fathers members of the group: five were from Africa, seven from Asia, one each from Oceania, the United States of America and Europe. The uditores and a fraternal delegate contributed significantly to the reflection of the group.
In the first place, the group strongly felt that the Relatio ended up placing too much emphasis on the problems facing the family and did not stress sufficiently the need to provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope for those Christian families who despite many challenges and even failures – strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation within the Church and society.
The group proposed to add at the beginning of the Report — as was done in the Instrumentum Laboris – some paragraphs clearly stressing how the Word of God, and the beauty of the Gospel of Marriage, must be central to the entire focus of the Final Report of the Synod.
The group asked me to record explicitly its concern about some of the conclusions drawn in the Relatio, about its methodology, its complicated language (compounded by poor translation) and of the effects of its publication before it had been reviewed by the Synodal Fathers. Despite these difficulties the Group enthusiastically and profitably took up the discussion of the Relatio.
The task of the extraordinary Synod was to draw up a picture of the family and of the challenges facing the pastoral activity of the Church in today’s complex and diverse world. Inevitably this meant that it would focus on problems and on some of the principal challenges which are of particular concern in the Church today.
However, the Report of the Synod should go beyond a mere focus on the problems and the pathology of marriage and the family. The group felt that it could well draw on the testimonies – and the language – of the lay men and women who addressed the Synod.
Many in the group felt that a young person reading the Relatio would if anything become even less enthusiastic about undertaking the challenging vocation of Christian matrimony. The Synod Report – and the Message – should direct itself towards young people, to help them understand and be attracted by the Christian vision of marriage and the family, in a world in which they are exposed to many contradictory visions.
It was felt that in the current situation of widespread cultural confusion about marriage and the family and the human suffering that this can bring, there is an urgent need for leadership in today’s world and that such clear leadership can only come from the Church. Such leadership is an urgent part of the Church’s service to contemporary society and a failure to give such witness would be to fail humanity.
Some members of the group stressed the need of pastors to recognize their own failures and their inadequacies in fostering support for families. The Church needs a radical renewal of its style of ministry to families. Marriage accompaniment is a lifelong task not limited to preparation for the wedding. It is a task which belongs within a broad faith itinerary and must encourage and foster family prayer.
The main thrust should be to encourage those who are committed and witness to the Christian ideal and who struggle day by day, with the help of God’s grace to realize that ideal. This is important to stress as we move towards the Ordinary Session of the Synod of 2015 which is about “the vocation and mission of the family”.
The Church must of course also reach out to the realities of those whose lives do not yet fully realize that ideal. The problems should not be allowed to steal the principal narrative, but neither should the narrative end up marginalizing or discouraging those are still struggling.
It is not primarily a question of producing new documents or of simply repeating the Church’s teaching, but of reaching out and finding a language which can help the men and women and especially the young people of our time to open their hearts and minds to the Gospel of the Family, to understand it and to be attracted by it. This new language must dig deeper into the treasury of the faith and tradition of the Church and find ways of listening to the lived experience of faithful couples of their Sacrament of Matrimony.
The Church must teach with clarity, but must also, as one member of the group stressed, “have the courage to knock on forbidden doors”. Very often when we find the courage to knock on forbidden doors what we discover surprises us: what we encounter inside is the loving presence of God which helps us to address the challenges of today, no longer on our terms, but in new ways which might otherwise have been unimaginable. Knocking on forbidden or unaccustomed doors involves risk and courage. Fear and anxiety of what we think are forbidden doors may mean excluding opening ourselves to the God who always surprises.
All of us need the help of the mercy of God. The mercy of God is not just a medicine, much less a consolation prize, for those who fail. None of us can be faithful without experiencing God’s mercy. No one should devalue the place of mercy in the economy of salvation.
Let me briefly present some of the more significant conclusions of the group.
On the subject of the admission of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist the group stressed two principles flowing directly from God’s Word:
- the clear affirmation of the indissolubility of a valid sacramental union, while humbly admitting that we need a more credible way of presenting and witnessing to that teaching;
- the strong desire to invite and embrace sincere Catholics who feel alienated from the family of the Church because of irregular situations.
The group recalled the necessity of finding a new vocabulary to preserve the timeless teaching of the Church in a fresh and appealing manner. It recommended the examination of possible paths of repentance and discernment by which, in particular circumstances, a divorced and remarried person might participate in the sacraments; and about providing alternatives, such as a deeper appreciation of the classical wisdom and value of spiritual communion.
It was strongly emphasized that such brothers and sisters remain part of the Church and must be encouraged to remain part of the Church through prayer, attendance at Mass, the practice of virtue, participation in small Christian communities and apostolic service. They must always encounter in the Church the welcoming gaze and embrace of Jesus.
The group expressed concern about an over emphasis on the term “positive elements” when speaking of civil marriage and cohabitation. It preferred language which would address the law of gradualness as a way to enter into a pastoral dialogue with such people and seek to identify elements of their life which might lead them towards a greater openness to the Gospel of Marriage in its fullness. We must identify elements which could become bridges in our efforts of evangelization of the many who do not yet or no longer correspond to the ideal. It was stressed that the law of gradualness always involves a progression and a conversion towards the full ideal.
On the subject of the pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies, the group noted that the Church must continue to promote the revealed nature of marriage as always between one man and one woman united in lifelong, life-giving, and faithful communion.
The group encouraged pastors and parishes to care for individuals with same sex attraction, providing for them in the family of the Church, always protecting their dignity as children of God, created in his image. Within the Church, they should find a home where, with everyone else, they hear the call of Jesus to follow Him in fidelity to the truth, to receive His grace to do so, and. His mercy when they fail.
On the question of openness to life, it was noted that in many areas of the world children are seen as a burden rather than a gift of God. The group stressed that children are really the supreme gift of marriage. Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love will help couples to be ready with generous hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.In this light, the group felt that the Church should revisit and give a positive reevaluation of the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae for the formation of conscience regarding family planning.
On the subject of polygamy the group tried to define more clearly the specific pastoral challenges in different parts of the world. The primary pastoral challenge concerns new converts who are in a polygamous marriage who were not yet Christians when they entered into a polygamous union. A comprehensive pastoral study is recommended to be undertaken by the Episcopal Conferences of Africa.
The group recommended a new conclusion to the Relatio focusing on our Blessed Mother, who with her spouse St. Joseph, because of her unique role in the Holy Family of Nazareth and at the wedding feast of Cana and continues to play an important role in the Church. Married couples should have recourse to her especially when they face difficult challenges in their lives so that Mary our Mother may be an anchor of hope for all Christian families.
[03042-02.02] [Original text: English]
Moderator: S.E. Mons. Joseph Edward KURTZ
Relator: S.E. Mons. Stephen BRISLIN
Anglicus Group C was surprised by the release of the Relatio to the media but nonetheless we were able to complete our work with openness and frankness.
1. Marriage is a gift of God to man, a blessing given by him for the well-being of his creatures, made in his image. From the beginning God ordained that it is not good for man to live alone and so he created for him a helpmate, one equal to him, that they may live in relational complementarity. This gift, this mystery of attraction and love between man and woman, was recognized from earliest times as coming from God. In the New Testament, the relationship between man and woman is deepened and explained even more fully and as mirroring the relationship between Christ and his Body, the Church. Through the centuries, the Church has built on this Biblical teaching in order to teach and assist Christians to live and appreciate marital life as God intended it to be lived and appreciated; she has also strived to protect the meaning and mystery of marriage, safeguarding the treasure of which we are stewards, so that it will not be trivialized or seen as a mere human institution separated from God’s will and his love. The gift of self in marriage, which in some way manifests the self-giving of Jesus Christ to his people, reaches its fullest expression in sexual intercourse, where the couple express their total giving of self to other, emotionally, physically and spiritually, and not as a selfish self-gratification. It is in such self-giving that we become more human and more Christ-like. It is important that the Scriptural foundation for marriage, as well as the teaching found in Tradition, be made clear in the document from its beginning in order to build the framework for the issues to be discussed.
2. We strongly felt that the tone of the entire document should express our confidence in marriage. Reflecting on the pastoral challenges of marriage and family life in itself necessitates considering brokenness, pain and loneliness and a caring response to those in need. The challenges also cause us to reflect on questions being asked about the usefulness of marriage, as well as to consider the attempts to propose different forms of marriage. We should not fall into the trap of thinking, or in some way conveying, that marriage and family are a failure, no longer appropriate to our times. We must not lose sight of the fact that there are many marriages that – despite the ups and downs of life – do radiate harmony and love, where children are raised in a safe environment, are nurtured and educated in virtue and the values taught to us by Christ, and where the family is truly a domestic Church. We must acknowledge that the faithful are committed to marriage and that many families give hope, are an inspiration and example to others, especially younger couples.
3. For this reason, the document should also give encouragement to those committed to their marriages and families. They must not lose hope. The Church needs them, indeed the world needs them. Their efforts are appreciated and the Church is committed to giving them support and pastoral care. They are witnesses to married life as a vocation to holiness; of themselves, they proclaim that fruitful, life-long commitment in marriage is attainable, and this must be stated clearly. They are witnesses to the love of Christ for his people – they give concrete expression to his self-giving love. They have an essential role to play in evangelization, the spread of the Gospel, especially at a time when the Church wishes to make new efforts, using new methods and with renewed energy, to evangelize the world and to enter into dialogue with the world. Their families are truly missionary, faithful to the command given to us by Christ, to go to the world.
4. Thus, it is important that the document does not, in any way, weaken the hope that such marriages express, or weaken the commitment that the members have for each other. We rightly wish to welcome, without judgement or condemnation, those who, for some reason, are not yet able to express life-long commitment in a marriage between a man and a woman. We wish also to give them encouragement, to help them recognize their own goodness, and to care for them as Christ cares for his sheep. We wish them to know that they are loved by God and rejected neither by him nor the Church. In expressing such sentiments we may inadvertently convey the impression that marriage is not important, or that it is an ideal that only a few select people can achieve. It is possible that some may even have the impression that all unions are equal. For this reason, we felt it necessary to carefully define the meaning of the law of gradualness, which should not be understood as gradualness of the law. Gradualness should not make insipid the challenge of the Gospel to conversion, to “go and sin no more”, as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. The aim of recognizing gradualness should be to draw people closer to Christ. Truth and mercy are not mutually exclusive terms, and in proclaiming truth we also proclaim the most profound mercy – that of reconciliation and unity with God; on the other hand, it is in mercy that we find truth.
5. Bearing this in mind, the document must be a positive expression of the Church’s love for all people, the love which knows no bounds and which welcomes sinners and those who are made to be on the fringes of society. We understand that for many their situation in life may not be a free choice, that economic circumstances limit many people in that which can be achieved, that the prevailing culture itself can limit free choice. In dealing with the detail of each section of the document, and closely examining the wording, we were conscious that we may well be losing sight of the necessity for the document to express the welcome, acceptance and the love for those in difficult and painful circumstances, those who are searching for truth and for those longing for the comfort of Christ’s healing.
6. The task presented to us during the synod has made it clear that proper pastoral care of the married and for those in other relationships, demands well-formed priests, who are properly trained in issues of marriage and family life, and who have the pastoral heart to care and welcome those who seek Christ. Acknowledgement should be given to those lay organizations and associations that are committed to strengthening marriage and who make themselves available to couples who are experiencing pain and difficulty, giving them support and encouragement. They have an increasingly important role to play. Furthermore, acknowledgement and encouragement must also be given to those movements which specifically give witness to marriage and family as part of their charism.
7. We are grateful for the openness that has prevailed throughout this Extraordinary Synod. This has enabled us to listen to the insights and experiences of many people which has helped present a balanced and comprehensive appreciation of the vibrancy of family life and also of various concerns. Especially beneficial were the insights from different cultures which has enriched and deepened our knowledge – this has only been possible as a result, not only of the freedom to express ourselves, but also the willingness to listen by all participants.
[03042-02.03] [Original text: English]