A synod text that explains why the church as 'field hospital' is more than a poetic image
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
As the Synod of Bishops winds down, several participants are choosing to publish the texts of their speeches to the assembly. Among them are Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, the director of the journal La Civiltà Cattolica, who is considered a close collaborator of Pope Francis.
Spadaro’s talk not only strongly defended the pope’s new pastoral directions, but did so in language aimed at convincing the more traditional-minded critics in the synod hall – who have certainly let their voices be heard.
Pope Francis has listened to the proceedings in silence, but Spadaro’s text certainly reflect the pope’s thinking on some key issues. Among other things, Spadaro called for a reconsideration of the church’s pastoral response on homosexuality.
Spadaro makes six points, and I’ll summarize them here:
1. The church must never use the family as an ideological weapon, but respond to the needs of real people who are living in complex, fragile situations. The church’s traditional ways of talking about the family are no longer understood by many people today, and that poses a challenge for pastors.
2. Pope Francis’ vision of the church as a “field hospital” is more than a poetic image – it is an ecclesial model, the opposite of a “besieged fortress.” The main battlefield today is people’ inability to truly love, and to move beyond their own individualistic interests. The church’s first concern must be to avoid closing its doors to these people.
3. Some see the church and its truths as a permanent lighthouse shining on people’s lives. But a lighthouse stays in one place, and is incapable of reaching people who have moved away from church teaching. The better image is a torch or lamp capable of accompanying and consoling families in all their forms, “no matter how ambiguous, difficult and many-sided.”
4. The church’s pastoral response on homosexuality need careful reconsideration, especially because it impacts the church’s mission with young people. “We always need to be aware that the attitude we express toward situations that we define as ‘disordered’ and ‘irregular’ among couples will determine how younger generations of children approach the church,” he said. The very question of homosexuality, he added, may deserve better attention from the church, with greater focus on listening and discernment, rather than considering it solely in terms of “disorder.”
5. The sacraments are meant for healing, and when it comes to situations like divorced and remarried Catholics, the church needs to ask itself whether it can simply exclude such couples from the sacrament of reconciliation. In other words, he said, in light of God’s mercy can there really be any “radically irretrievable” situations? The answer is no.
6. In general, the church’s doctrinal patrimony needs to be seen in the light of the modern human condition. That means aiming above all at the salvation of each person, helping him or her grow as much as possible in faith.
One note: Father Spadaro spoke about readmission of divorced and remarried to the sacrament of reconciliation, not Communion. The one implies the other, but supporters of the idea are now underlining the confession aspect. Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has argued in favor of such an opening, put it this way in an interview today with Corriere della Sera: “Under the current discipline, these people (divorced and remarried without an annulment) can confess but cannot receive absolution. A person who has an abortion yes, those who divorced and remarried no.”