Closing synod, pope says church must practice mercy not condemnation
Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Pope Francis closed the Synod on the Family with a ringing call for the church to practice mercy toward struggling and broken families, and to avoid using church doctrine as “stones to be hurled at others.”
In a final address to the more than 300 synod participants, the pope also noted that the discussion during the three-week-long assembly was open but not always charitable. At times, he said, the synod had to rise above “conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints.”
The pope’s address came shortly after a vote on a final document that backed away from some controversial pastoral proposals, but left the door open for further development of certain questions, including that of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
It was a remarkable speech, one that left no doubt about Francis’ priorities. Rather than touch on specific proposals, the pope gave a broader vision of what, in his view, the synod had highlighted.
“The church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord,” he said.
The synod, he said, was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the problems and uncertainties facing families today, but studying them carefully and fearlessly “without burying our heads in the sand.” He reaffirmed the church’s teaching of marriage as a permanent union between a man and a woman, calling the family the “fundamental basis of society and human life.”
The pope then said what the synod was about, emphasizing the listening and dialogue of bishops form diverse social and religious situations:
“It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.”
“It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would ‘indoctrinate’ it in dead stones to be hurled at others.”
“It was also about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”
The pope said the true defenders of doctrine “are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy.”
The pope emphasized that, apart from defined dogmas, it is difficult to make uniform policies for every church community on every continent, because of the diversity of pastoral situations. What is normal for a bishop on one continent can be “considered strange and almost scandalous” for a bishop from another, he said.
At that point in his speech, the pope clearly pointed the way to greater appreciation and freedom for local innovation and adaptations, sometimes called inculturation of the faith, which he said “does not weaken true values” and their ability to transform cultures.
The pope also spoke about the need to update the church’s language when it evangelizes, saying the beauty of Christianity is “at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.” That was a key theme of the synod deliberations.
He said the church is committed to defending the family against “all ideological and individualistic assaults.” But he said that should be done without “demonizing others.”