Synod on family begins

  • Written by Catholic News Service
  • Published in International
Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, talk as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, talk as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring
Pope says ministry to divorced, remarried is not only topic for synod

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY - As the discussion began at the world Synod of Bishops on the family, Pope Francis urged members not to act as if the only question that mattered was the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, his spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Oct. 6 that the pope took the microphone that morning to affirm again that "Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched or put into question."

Pope Francis told the bishops that the only documents that are "official" for their work are the speeches he gave at the opening and closing of last year's synod and the final report voted on by synod members in October 2014. The report, along with additions made based on responses to a questionnaire, is the working document for this year's synod, Father Lombardi said.

The pope also said, "We should not let ourselves be conditioned by or to reduce the horizons of our work as if the only problem were that of Communion for the divorced and remarried or not," Father Lombardi said. The Vatican did not release the text of the pope's remarks.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, writing on his blog, said that during the hour of open discussion at the synod Oct. 5, some bishops were "uneasy about the impression given by the presentation of Cardinal (Peter) Erdo in the morning that some key questions are already decided and seemingly off the table. They felt that such a stance was premature."

Cardinal Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, chosen by Pope Francis to introduce the synod's work, had made it appear there was little support for or possibility that the church would adopt German Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal to design a "penitential path" that eventually would allow some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion even without an annulment and without a promise to abstain from sexual relations.

Responding to reporters later, Cardinal Erdo said his report's affirmation of the indissolubility of marriage and moving away from seeking a pastoral approach to allowing those couples to receive Communion were the result of the input the synod sought from Catholics around the world after the extraordinary synod on the family last year.

Using his Twitter account to report Pope Francis' comments to the synod Oct. 6, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a synod member, said the pope asked the synod "not to give into a 'hermeneutic of conspiracy,' which is sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful."

Instead, Father Spadaro tweeted, the pope called for a "profound discernment" in order "to understand how the Lord wants his church."

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and member of the synod, told reporters the discussion about the "penitential path" or other forms of outreach to divorced Catholics "is open. I think the intervention of the pope this morning ... was to recall that the documents to which we are to refer are the final report (of the 2014 synod) and his two speeches -- opening and closing the synod -- which leave open the possibility."

At the same time, the archbishop told reporters, "the synod does not have this as its only point of reference" as the pope himself said. "It is just one of the points."

"If everything was concluded with the report yesterday (by Cardinal Erdo), then what are we doing here?" Archbishop Celli asked.

Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, a synod member who also attended last year's extraordinary synod on the family, said participants see a growing distance between modern cultural attitudes toward marriage and family life and what the church teaches and proposes.

Catholic pastors have different attitudes about what the response should be, he said. "One reaction is to emphasize what the teaching is for fear that, as the culture moves away from that vision, our own understanding gets diluted. The other fear is that we lose contact with that culture and that we close in on ourselves and become a kind of a ghetto or a sect that no longer has an impact on culture."

"All the bishops agree," he said, "that the teaching of the church coming from Jesus is a gift for the world -- it's not just for a select few."

The challenge, Archbishop Durocher said, is to not lose the teaching while learning to enter into dialogue with the world as it is "in a way that will speak to the world and provoke its imagination and its interest. So some bishops will emphasize the teaching and some bishops will emphasize the dialogue," which is the importance and beauty of the synod, he said.

“Cardinal Erdo's talk was a beautiful and classical presentation of the church's teaching," he said. "Other bishops are saying, 'This is important. We need to hold on to this. Now how do we enter into dialogue with this world.'"

Cardinal Erdo's presentation, he said, "is an important piece, but it is one piece" of finding a way to bring the good news about the family to the world.

At the official media briefing for the synod, Father Lombardi and the others charged with summarizing the synod's activity each day listed dozens of other topics raised by the first 72 synod members to speak: the challenges to families and the church posed by the "cultural revolution"; the need to be careful in using language that appears immediately judgmental; how to help all Catholics and families grow in the Christian life; war, anti-Christian persecution and migration; violence against women and children; polygamy; and the role of the family in the new evangelization.

Preparing priests to minister with and to families was another topic, said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the English-language briefer. He also listed the topics of the role of the extended family; multiple calls for better and longer marriage preparation programs; and the need to love and respect homosexual Catholics, who are "our children, our family, not outsiders, but our flesh and blood."


Synod should reflect on possibly allowing female deacons, says archbishop

Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher
Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, arrives for the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the family celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 4. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY - Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, said the synod should reflect on the possibility of allowing for female deacons as it seeks ways to open up more opportunities for women in church life.

Where possible, qualified women should be given higher positions and decision-making authority within church structures and new opportunities in ministry, he told Catholic News Service Oct. 6.

Discussing a number of proposals he offered the synod fathers to think about, he said, "I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the church's tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."

Currently, the Catholic Church permits only men to be ordained as deacons. Deacons can preach and preside at baptisms, funerals and weddings, but may not celebrate Mass or hear confessions.

Speaking to participants at the Synod of Bishops on the family Oct. 6, Archbishop Durocher said he dedicated his three-minute intervention to the role of women in the church -- one of the many themes highlighted in the synod's working document.

The working document, which is guiding the first three weeks of the synod's discussions, proposed giving women greater responsibility in the church, particularly through involving them in "the decision-making process, their participation -- not simply in a formal way -- in the governing of some institutions; and their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers."

Archbishop Durocher, who recently ended his term as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that much of his brief talk was focused on the lingering problem of violence against women, including domestic violence. He said the World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide experience violence by their partner.   

He reminded the synod fathers that in the apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" in 1981, St. John Paul II basically told the church that "we have to make a concerted and clear effort to make sure that there is no more degradation of women in our world, particularly in marriage. And I said, 'Well, here we are 30 years later and we're still facing these kinds of numbers.'"

He said he recommended one thing they could do to address this problem was, "as a synod, clearly state that you cannot justify the domination of men over women -- certainly not violence -- through biblical interpretation," particularly incorrect interpretations of St. Paul's call for women to be submissive to their husbands.

In his presentation the archbishop also noted that Pope Benedict XVI had talked about the question of new ministries for women in the church. "It's a just question to ask. Shouldn't we be opening up new venues for ministry of women in the church?" he said.

In addition to the possibility of allowing for women deacons, he said he also proposed that women be hired for "decision-making jobs" that could be opened to women in the Roman Curia, diocesan chanceries and large-scale church initiatives and events.

Another thing, he said, "would be to look at the possibility of allowing married couples -- men and women, who have been properly trained and accompanied -- to speak during Sunday homilies so that they can testify, give witness to the relationship between God's word and their own marriage life and their own life as families."


Pope says synod is not parliament, but place to listen to Holy Spirit

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY - The world Synod of Bishops on the family is not a parliament where participants will negotiate or lobby, Pope Francis said, but it must be a place of prayer where bishops speak with courage and open themselves to "God who always surprises us."

Opening the first working session of the synod Oct. 5, the pope said the synod's 270 voting members need courage, "pastoral and doctrinal zeal, wisdom, frankness and to keep always before our eyes the good of the church and of families and the supreme law -- the salvation of souls."

Arriving about 15 minutes before the session began, Pope Francis welcomed to the synod hall the members, delegates from other Christian communities and the men and women who will serve as experts and observers.

The synod is not a convention or a parliament, Pope Francis said, "but an expression of the church; it is the church that walks together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God."

Synod members must be faithful to church teaching, "the deposit of faith, which is not a museum to be visited or even simply preserved, but is a living spring from which the church drinks to quench the thirst and enlighten" people, he said.

The synod hall and its small working groups, he said, should be "a protected space where the church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit."

In a spirit of prayer, the pope said, the Spirit will speak through "everyone who allows themselves to be guided by God, who always surprises us, by God who reveals to the little ones that which he has hidden from the wise and intelligent, by God who created the Sabbath for men and women and not vice versa, by God who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one missing sheep, by God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations."

Synod members need "an apostolic courage that does not allow itself to be afraid in the face of the seductions of the world" that are attempting "to extinguish in human hearts the light of truth" and replace it with "little and temporary lights," he said.

However, at the same time, Pope Francis said, apostolic courage does not tremble in fear "before the hardening of certain hearts that despite good intentions drive people further from God."

Evangelical humility is "emptying oneself of one's own convictions and prejudices in order to listen to our brother bishops and fill ourselves with God," he said. It is a humility, "which leads us not to point a finger in judgment of others, but to extend a hand to help them up again without ever feeling superior to them."

Trust-filled prayer is an attitude of openness to God and silencing one's own preferences "to listen to the soft voice of God who speaks in silence," Pope Francis told the synod members. "Without listening to God, all of our words will be just words that don't quench or satisfy." Without prayer, "all our decisions will be just decorations that instead of exalting the Gospel cover and hide it."

The gathering began with mid-morning prayer, which included the reading of a passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "Brothers, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you."

Throughout the synod, members will offer a brief meditation during the morning prayer. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucipalpa began Oct. 5, telling the bishops: "We are not a church in danger of extinction, far from it. Neither is the family, although it is threatened and struggling."

The synod, he said, is not a place "to mourn or lament" the challenges families face, but to rejoice and seek perfection and to help families do the same.

The discussions aim at "the unanimity that comes from dialogue," he said, but can be disturbed by "ideas defended to the extreme."

Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, chosen by the pope to introduce the discussion, spoke for close to an hour, outlining the questions the synod will be called to discuss over the course of three weeks. The gathering is set to conclude with a Mass Oct. 25.

Looking at the situation of families around the world, he said, one of the primary challenges is economic. Too many families do not have food, shelter or employment. Young people delay marriage and parenthood because they do not have or think they do not have the means to support a family. Millions of families are torn apart by war and migration.

In addition, the cardinal said, with an exultation of individualism there is a widespread distrust of institutions -- including of the church, the state and the institution of marriage.

The Catholic Church at every level, he said, must affirm the missionary role of families, ensuring married couples are part of marriage preparation programs, family support groups and outreach to families in crisis emotionally or economically.

"The life of the human being and of humanity is part of a great project, that of God the creator," he said. "As in all aspects of life, we find our fullness and our happiness if we are able to freely and wisely put ourselves into this great project that is full of wisdom and love."

Turning to the widely debated topic of the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, Cardinal Erdo said pastors must be ready to help couples verify whether or not their church marriage was valid.

If it was a valid marriage, he said, it is indissoluble, as Jesus himself taught.

"The mercy of God offers pardon to the sinner, but requires conversion," Cardinal Erdo said. If it is impossible for a person to return to his or her spouse, then the church requires that in the new union the partners refrain from sexual relations.

"It is not the failure of the first marriage, but living together in a second relationship that impedes access to the Eucharist," he said.

Cardinal Erdo said the synod would be called to examine more carefully the idea of offering a "penitential path" to such couples, a path that would lead to their receiving absolution and having access to the Eucharist, perhaps gradually. But, he said, his opinion was that such a path necessarily would require a promise of sexual abstinence.

"Between the true and false, between good and evil, there is no graduality," he said. "Even if some forms of cohabitation have some positive aspects," for example in the joint care of children, "that does not imply the unions can be presented as good."

Responding to reporters later, Cardinal Erdo said his report's affirmation of the indissolubility of marriage and moving away from seeking a pastoral approach to allowing those couples to receive Communion were the result of the input the synod sought from Catholics around the world after the extraordinary synod on the family last year.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, one of the synod presidents, told reporters, "If you are looking for a spectacular change in church doctrine you will be disappointed."

At the same time, said Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, special secretary of the synod, "the synod is not gathering to say nothing." The goal is to find new pastoral methods to bring the church "closer to the men and women of its time."