Pope Francis makes an important move at the synod

Pope Francis makes an important move at the synod

UPDATE: This post is amended to reflect the fact that the six papal nominees will be helping write the synod's final relatio, which will be handed to the pope at the end of the assembly.

The Vatican just announced that Pope Francis has named six additional prelates to help write the final relatio for the Synod of Bishops. At the risk of oversimplifying, they all seem to be on the pope’s wavelength when it comes to promoting pastoral mercy.

They will assist Cardinal Peter Erdo, the primary drafter of the relatio, and two other synod officials, in the task of summing up the spirited synod debate in a document that will form the basis for future discussion.

Sources in Rome view the relatio as the key document going forward, and there is particular interest in how it treats some of the more controversial issues at the synod, including proposals to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments.

The papal appointees to the drafting group are:

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C.
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and one of the pope’s top theological advisors.
Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico, president of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council.
Archbishop Peter Kang U-Il of South Korea.
Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón of Spain, superior general of the Jesuit order.

19 comments (Add your own)

1. stephen healy wrote:
Thank you Pope Francis

Fri, October 10, 2014 @ 2:29 PM

2. Jim McCrea wrote:
And the reactions of the laity will be represented by whom?

Fri, October 10, 2014 @ 8:26 PM

3. P Sarsfield wrote:
Talk about stacking the deck! So much for openness and transparency.

Fri, October 10, 2014 @ 8:45 PM

4. Tom McGuire wrote:
no one from Africa???

Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 6:34 AM

5. Fr. Frank wrote:
It's not a drafting group. It's a junta.

Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 8:25 AM

6. William LeMaire wrote:
I am weighing in here as a catholic obstetrician and gynecologist on the issue of family planning.

On an almost daily basis I deal with the dilemma of "following the teachings of the church" thereby denying patients safe and effective methods of family planning, versus following my conscience by prescribing, inserting, operating , and advising so that my patients can benefit from these reliable and safe methods of family planning, including sterilization ( I am purposely omitting abortion from this discussion)

The Catholic Church allows so called natural methods of family planning, While under ideal circumstances and practiced to the letter, these methods may be effective and certainly safe, research has clearly shown that in practice these methods are not very reliable and associated with an unacceptable rate of failure.

It is also clear from numerous surveys that a large number of catholics around the world are ignoring the teachings of the church in this regard and are resorting to effective methods for planning their families. And quite obviously, also many catholic health providers, not only doctors but also nurses, health aides, and physician assistants are providing their clients with these effective methods.

By calling this synod Pope Francis has clearly indicated that he is willing to listen. It is hoped by me and undoubtedly millions of other catholics that the synod will result in clearing up the ambiguity and take away the dilemma that many of us, both at the giving and at the receiving end face in our daily lives, and allow us to follow our conscience and do whatever we feel is right for a particular situation.

I wonder if, at the synod, the voice of the care giver is represented on this issue of family planning.

Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 8:43 AM

7. Mary Ann Kreitzer wrote:
My obstetrician, Dr. John Bruchalski took a different route. Recognizing how much damage contraception has done to women both physically and spiritually, he established Divine Mercy Care which offers only natural methods. http://www.divinemercycare.org/mission.htm

They also deliver many babies who were in danger of abortion and work with a number of crisis pregnancy centers. Many women, former contraceptive users, give testimony to the freedom they have experienced in following the teachings of the Church. As a Natural Family Planning teacher, I had the same experience. One early morning a former client called to thank me. I hadn't spoken to her in years but she said, "I was on my way to hell, and NFP saved my life." I was on my way to work and couldn't talk long or explore why she said what she did, but clearly her gratitude for finding the Catholic way was profound.

The Synod cannot change the teaching on artificial birth control. The meaning of marriage is love, but the purpose of marriage is openness to life. Once you cut that off, the marriage is like the dead sea without a life-giving outlet.

Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 12:42 PM

8. Giuseppe DiMontagna wrote:
All that needs to be done is for the Synod to strongly emphasize that the Church has always taught the priority of a well-formed conscience (well formed does not necessarily mean in agreement with the Church) over the teachings of Humanae Vitae, a non-infallible document.

Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 12:50 PM

9. Jerry Slevin wrote:
One wonders, John, how impressed prominent theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, will be with Cardinal Wuerl's addition. She was treated very heavy handedly by Wuerl just a couple of years ago.

Increasingly, the Synod seems to me to be a key element of Pope Francis' overall strategy.

Please see my analysis at:


Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 12:52 PM

10. U.S. Catholic wrote:
I see three out of six are Latino/hispanic and at least two FOF's - Friends of Francis (Argentinian and head of Jesuits). I'm pretty sure he'll say "Half the world's Catholics are hispanic, mainly Latin American, so the composition of the group is justified." I feel justified in not listening to them if I feel like it. Not exactly a worldwide multicultural group is it ? What happened to reaching out to the marginalized, not the majority ? Oh right, it depends who the majority and minority are. Anybody take this Pope seriously ? It's called an attempt to redistribute money and power. Good luck with that. The rest of us aren't nearly as estupido as you think we are. This first Latin American pope better be the LAST Latin American pope, that's all I can say. He seems totally unfit to govern the Church...

Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 4:03 PM

11. Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr. wrote:
The addition of Cardinal Wuerl is a good sign. He is one of the coauthors of "The Teaching of Christ:" the model for the Catechism.

Sat, October 11, 2014 @ 4:15 PM

12. John C. Hathaway, OCDS wrote:
Dr. LeMaire,
1) I don't know what "safe and reliable" methods you're referring to, but estrogen pills are far from safe, barrier methods are unreliable, and many methods operate as abortifacients. Even the WHO accepts that "rhythm method" has an acceptable success rate for most patients. Numerous studies show that, correctly applied, sympto-thermal "CCL" method has a "success rate" (I hate that term) better than or equal to that of "the Pill," which, *if* it is used on-time, in the exact dose, etc., has a 1% "failure" rate (failure being the conception of an eternal soul created by the Hand of God). NFP is "difficult" because it requires a few minutes a day of charting under precise conditions. "The Pill" requires a precise dosage and dedicated schedule of taking it. The main challenge in NFP is doctors like yourself who refuse to learn about it and help your patients. Since our marriage, my wife has never had an OB/Gyn, including several "pro-life Catholics" who has accepted her use of NFP. Most have tried to pressure her into using birth control. Our current family physician is Catholic and open to our practice of NFP though quiet about her own position. BTW we use the Marquette Model, which involves using LH test strips to pinpoint ovulation.
2) You apparently have an improper understanding of conscience. Conscience does not mean deciding for yourself what is right and wrong (except in application of God's positive law to choices like how much of your money to give away). It means learning what is right and doing it, then confessing if you screw up.
3) A change in God's law regarding contraception is not "on the table," only a quesion of how the Church can more effectively express it.

Sun, October 12, 2014 @ 1:20 AM

13. Felix wrote:
I pray and hope that the outcome of this synod will be of great relieve to majority of Catholics who have been held up in the wed of crashed marriages. What God wants is mercy and not sacrifice!

Sun, October 12, 2014 @ 9:52 AM

14. Melissa Claire wrote:
Mercy . Amen. Sacrifice amen .. The road is narrow let us not forget. I am always taken back when the priest says the Eucharistic prayer Number three :

To God the Father : " make of US an eternal offering to you, so that WE may obtain an inheritance with Your elect"

Wow , that's quite a prayer . The world is an altar .. We offering our lives . That's beautiful and makes perfect sense . To serve is to sacrifice . To suffer too is to sacrifice . Especially if we offer it to The eternal Father . To be more like Jesus . This world is an altar . Pray much for our Holy Father and for our dear priests . They need to lead us to heaven . Lets keep focused on attaining heaven . Mercy , love , sacrifice. This life here Is temporary eternity is forever.

Sun, October 12, 2014 @ 9:19 PM

15. Jared Baker wrote:
It may be a wise effort for the christian communities to read the gospels from Oct. 5-19. These seem to shed light on the need for openness to the Holy Spirit. I know that many traditionalists fear change and are grounded in doctrine and canon law. The fundamental question to be asked by each of us and each attendee of the Synod is: What would Jesus do? Remember that Jesus lived and proclaimed and died for the essential personality of His Father: hesed. Rules and conditions that may enslave or burden the believer, christian or not, the disenfranchised etc. were the primary focus of Jesus' mercy. It is enslavement in any form (the Exodus) that God detests for each of us. Peace and love to all!!

Jared Baker

Sun, October 12, 2014 @ 10:56 PM

16. Tom O'Gorman wrote:
I am an 82 year old priest with pastoral experience in the Philippines and Myanmar, and some work in retreats and spiritual guidance. It is so wonderful to see how Pope Francis is trying to show pastoral concern for those who feel heavily burdened. Our first readings at Mass these days and today's (14 October) gospel reading are enlightening.

Tue, October 14, 2014 @ 4:11 AM

17. Christopher -- Engineer and Farmer wrote:
As a Catholic husband of wonderful very patient wife, a father of four great children , and a worker with a practical approach as a part-time farmer and full time engineer, I find the questions that the Synod is attempting to address to be very important for this time and place. It is easy to be frustrated or confused with the process unless one take the time to read the Relatio, document and understands the seamless approach that is being used by our past four popes. Pope Paul IV, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and now Pope Francis are all uniquely aligned. The writings of Vatican II and all the Popes provide a consistent message, but as with all things of eternal significance the application and implementation is very difficult. John Paul II's quote in Familiaris Consortio provides and essential balance to the current discussions, “What is known as ‘the law of gradualness’,” John Paul said, “cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’. Church teaching will not change, but the some changes can be expected in its application to every life and with people who have sinned. Rather that diminishing the value of God's laws merciful application actually upholds the soundness and eternal nature of the teaching. What is not good is to judge those who have not met the standard, or change the standard to met the needs of the weak (which we all are BTW). There, but for the grace of God go I! So its clear, its obvious to most that the homosexual act is wrong. It does not fit God's design for marriage and humanity. At the same time homosexual feelings or same sex love for another can be considered brotherhood or sisterhood if it is not accompanied with the sexual intercourse. The vast majority of "gay" people that I know do push their orientation and views on marriage equality to the rest of the world. Most gays are simply struggling sinners like the rest of us. One thing that Catholic teaching and the Scriptures make clear is that our sexuality is not just an act, that may or may not be accompanied by unholy or immoral feelings at time. Our sexuality is primarily a God given identity as male and female that involves difficult to control passions that can only be managed with grace and mercy from God. Marriage between one man and one woman has to be the standard and goal of humanity for establishing healthy families to raise healthy and faithfilled children. It was the way it was from the beginning, and is a foundation stone of all societies Christian and non-Christian. Because we are human, we have and will continue to be successful and fail miserably with the wonderful institution of marriage. That is why we need the Sacraments, forgiveness, Grace, and MERCY. Marriage also involve sexuality and controlling passions that can only be managed with grace and mercy. Hence the need to give repentant sinners some access to the Sacraments.
Two burning questions that go to the heart of Catholic teaching and our Faith may still need to be answered. Who officially "owns" the Sacraments and specifically the Eucharist? Therefore, who is responsible for determining who receives and does not receive the Eucharist depending on their state in life, and the degree of repentance for past sins? The Church and the Magisterium obviously are stewards of this responsibility, but this responsibility from what I know of Catholic teaching and Canon Law, must be used with tremendous humility, brokeness and mercy. The other question is what is the relevance of Canon Law in matters of the heart (seat of our mind, will and emotions)? What happens when the application of Canon Law potentially conflicts with our primary rule of life for Catholics the Holy Scriptures? These are all challenging questions where the input of laymen and lay women, and even children may help guide the Bishop and the Pope to a simpler version of the truth. In this case I think the Cardinals and Bishops and Canon lawyers who are trying to find a "legal" answer to these may develop better solutions by spending more time around the poor, struggling parents with teenagers, struggling homosexuals who want to feel accepted, and outside of the four or six walls of the Vatican. Like Pope Francis is saying spend more time with sheep - and "smell like the sheep". Peter, Paul and the Church Fathers were not professional theologians, but they were men of deep prayer, high standards, amazing Faith and brokenness. This is probably where we will find the best answers, the middle ground, high standards with compassion, and most loving Christ-like solutions. Wonderful times in our Church, and John thanks for keeping us informed!

Tue, October 14, 2014 @ 10:36 AM

18. John Fitzgerald wrote:
What I find difficult to understand, is how the bishops can discuss in such detail; all the key elements and implications of family life; with such rigour. Their only experience of it was up to an average 18 years of age; when most entered seminaries, with very strict formation programmes. From that point on they were institutionalised; theoretically lived celibate lives and were very much isolated from the lived experience of family life. Following their ordination, they all went on to study theology or Canon Law etc to degree level and were promoted up the institutional ranks. Most have little or no pastoral experience and are remote from the day to day experience of life for ordinary people.

They also feel qualified to address the gap between between doctrinal expectations and reality for married/unmarried couples. They address the importance of children for couples and all its "catholic" implications. While some are more open to deviations from standard; the doctrinal laws remain etched in stone.

These are also the same people that are responsible for the cover-up of the clerical child sex abuse scandal and placed the protection of the institutional church above the protection of children. All are involved by their actions ; inactions; or silence in this matter. This of course is rooted in their oath as bishops, not to bring scandal on "Our Holy Mother the Church". They select legal action as the option of choice, to frustrate and intimidate their accusers.

How do the expect to be taken seriously and why do they think it will matter to people. Perhaps it is embedded to their narcistic nature. Having said that; I still hope that Pope Francis will will achieve his goals and not run out of time. He is the only light in a very dark tunnel.

Mon, October 20, 2014 @ 7:31 AM

19. William LeMaire wrote:
To John Hattaway, OCDS

I appreciate your response to my comments. In reply:

About the effectiveness of the so called natural methods of contraception, I must strongly disagree with you. The only absolute method of family planning without failure is abstinence and that is obviously not a practical solution. All other methods have a failure rate. That failure rate differs markedly between two situations. One is the situation where the method is applied perfectly and there the failure rate for the natural methods is between 0.4 and 5% and for, let us say birth control pills it is .03. The second and probably the most common situation in “real life” the failure rate for typical use is ~ 24% for the natural methods and 9% for the birth control pills. You can read the details of an extensive study by the Gutmacher Institute at this web site from 2014 http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html
and also at a website from the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/unintendedpregnancy/contraception.htm

I like to point out to you that I do not "refuse" to learn about natural methods of family planning. In fact I do know all about it and if a particular couple wishes to use these methods, I will advise and help them with it. I never pressure my patients into anything but make sure that they know the facts. I do not disagree at all that for families like you, who are very motivated and educated, natural methods may very well work and be satisfying. However realistically, the majority of couples are not like you and in real life, here in the USA and other developed countries and especially third world countries many couples will have difficulty with the natural methods and thus be faced with a high failure rate.

About the conscience problem, all depend of course on what one’s conscience tells him/her. Your presumption is that catholics should have a conscience that it dictated by the fact that they are catholic and I just disagree with that.

Many catholics who oppose the use of artificial means of family planning use the argument that some contraceptive methods “may occasionally be an abortifacient". If you are interested, I might recommend the article from the National Catholic Reporter in 2012 about that issue at: http://ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/what-abortifacient-and-what-it-isnt.

In any case I do appreciate your reply and hope to stay in touch. If for some reason you can not open one or more of the websites I quote (as often happens), please let me know and I will see to it that you get the references.

Thanks and cheers. William LeMaire

Mon, October 20, 2014 @ 8:49 AM

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