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  • John Thavis

Synod of Bishops hears plain talk from Australian couple

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

This morning, Pope Francis called for open and honest discussion at the Synod of Bishops. This evening, the bishops heard it loud and clear from an Australian married couple, who urged the church to learn from the sometimes “messy” lives of modern families.

Ron and Mavis Pirola of Sydney were the first of several couples to address the synod as “auditors.” They don’t have a vote in the proceedings, but they do have a voice – and they delivered a message that contrasted with the ecclesial-speak of the synod’s official documents.

Ron Pirola told the synod that his 55-year happy marriage began when he looked across a room and saw a beautiful young woman. Their attraction, he said, was basically sexual and a longing to be intimate with each other. He went on to call marriage a “sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse.”

The arrival of their four children filled them with joy but also brought nights when, as parents, they would lie awake wondering what went wrong.

Although practicing Catholics, Pirola said, the couple only occasionally looked at church documents for guidance, and “they seemed to be from another planet with difficult language and not terribly relevant to our own experiences.”

He suggested that to have a greater impact, the church should learn from families. For one thing, the church wants to uphold truth while expressing compassion and mercy – something families try to do all the time, he said:

“Take homosexuality as an example. Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too.

They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, ‘He is our son’.

What a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neighborhood!”

Pirola cited other parents they know who face deep challenges – a divorced woman who remains faithful to the church, a widow who cares for a disabled son. Like the families depicted in the Bible, modern families have lives that are “chaotic and full of messy dramas,” but they deserve to be listened to and treated as co-responsible for the church’s action by clergy, he said.

He said the church can also learn a lesson about effective transmission of values from parents who have struggled with their children:

“A high respect for authority, parental, religious or secular, has long gone. So their parents learn to enter into the lives of their children, to share their values and hopes for them and also to learn from them in turn. This process of entering into the lives of our other persons and learning from them as well as sharing with them is at the heart of evangelization.”

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