A few more thoughts on a synod that hasn't ended

A few more thoughts on a synod that hasn't ended

Looking more broadly on what happened here at the Vatican over the last two weeks, it’s important to keep in mind the short-term vs. long-term results.

The short-term result making headlines is that in the concluding report, the more conservative members of the Synod of Bishops on the family managed to pull back some of the amazingly open language regarding those living in “irregular” unions, including gays.

But I think the long-term results are more significant. Chief among them is that Pope Francis clearly placed the church on a new path, toward an evangelizing style that is less focused on doctrine and more willing to invite people in, no matter what their “status.”

The pope himself reclaimed that ground at the end of the synod, in a talk that described the church as a merciful mother who heals people’s wounds, not an institution that looks down on humanity “from a castle of glass in order to judge or classify people.”

“The church is not ashamed of the fallen brother and does not pretend not to see him, on the contrary it feels involved and almost obligated to help him back on the path,” the pope said. The church of today, like the church of Jesus, welcomes the sinners and eats with them, he said.

This was the approach of the synod’s midterm document, which said the church must begin by finding seeds of truth even in relationships and unions that fall short of sacramental marriage. True, that document was watered down last week. But you can’t really take back those things, once you’ve said them – and said them so clearly. These positions may not have been ready for a two-thirds majority vote in the synod, but I bet they would have received a two-thirds approval from the world’s Catholics.

Reading the final document, I have the impression that the editing and the doctrinal buttressing in this text represents an attempt to salvage a vision of the church that, under this pope, is moving in a different direction. It may be, as German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said, “three steps forward and two steps back,” but that’s not standing in place.

In view of the synod’s second assembly in October 2015, Pope Francis made sure that everything on the synod’s agenda will be open for discussion by the whole church. He did this by deciding to publish the entire relatio synodi, even those paragraphs which did not obtain a two-thirds vote – which included the proposal to study possible readmission to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. That will be the basis for a new questionnaire sent to local church communities, as well.

By changing the synod methodology and making sure the assembly’s candid, sometimes contentious discussion was heard around the world, the pope showed he was not afraid of real debate. That, too, was an important long-term result for the synod, which in the past has generally limited itself to bland reformulations of official church teaching.

The pope sees this as the start of a process. The first phase is over, and some will be disappointed that the synod pulled back on the language of welcome. But this was not the day the music died. The ideas and proposals launched at this synod will be coming back.


7 comments (Add your own)

1. old quaker wrote:
It's all out there now. The trads cannot unring the bell.
The banquet is laid out; all the food groups are on the table, dig in.

Sun, October 19, 2014 @ 6:40 AM

2. cieg wrote:
The Church which is really all of us must continue to move forward...some boldly, some cautiously, some with fear. With prayers, humble listening, merciful attitudes, we will move towards welcoming and providing for the lost and hungry sheep.

Sun, October 19, 2014 @ 3:07 PM

3. KatolikaVoice wrote:
Its the favourable time....for long the Church has awaited this prophetic voice

Mon, October 20, 2014 @ 5:04 PM

4. Edith Pidgeon wrote:
long overdue discussion. Thank you Pope Francis for having the courage to say that we are a mother who heals people wounds and not an institution that looks at humanity from a castle of glass in order to judge or classifiy. We should invite people regardless of status. Who are we to judge....that's God's job. ..not us.

Tue, October 21, 2014 @ 12:24 AM

5. Salvatore Umana wrote:
I am a married Catholic priest (in so/so good standing with the Hierarchy(OK, in bad standing with the Hierarchy.) I want to add my voice to those who are in dismay that the majority of synod members think that gays and lesbians and divorced are still "depraved" or "fallen brothers" (forget about those fallen sisters).
Salvatore Umana (Human Savior for those who don't understand ItaLIAN.)

Wed, October 22, 2014 @ 8:00 AM

6. MJ anderson wrote:
A wee surprised at this characterization of the synod. You say the final document was the work of doctrinal buttressing, but you have not mentioned the release of the summaries from the small circles, not the work of the drafting committee. Those summaries indicate that far fewer synod participants thought that the issues of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics and homosexual relationships were a priority. Far more important to the small circles were the gospel message of marriage and the beautiful imagery of family life with all its bruises. And it is telling that Cdl. Baldiserri did not want to publish those summaries-- his hand was forced by Cdl. Pell.

For anyone interested in what most of the synod fathers thought, you will find the reports of the small circles in the Vatican website:http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/16/0763/03042.html

Wed, October 22, 2014 @ 10:22 PM

7. Chiara Maria Portas wrote:
I am so grateful to Pope Francis for listening to his church, to all of us. I hope that family problems are going to be evaluated keeping the 'human' aspect at the center of the discussion. I believe Christ would do the same. He would teach but listen and understand as well.

Sun, November 2, 2014 @ 11:04 AM

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