Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The Synod was a "coming together" with "moments of consolation," but also "moments of desolation, of tension and temptations" like that "to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprise", or that "of a destructive tendency towards do-goodism, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots", or "to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God" or finally of "neglecting" the deposit of faith ", not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing!"
This is Pope Francis' description of the Extraordinary Synod on the family in a speech to 183 "Fathers" present for the vote on the Relatio Synodi, a "faithful and clear summary of all that has been said and discussed in this Synod Hall and in the small groups" and which the Pope said, "will be presented to the Episcopal Conferences as Lineamenta", guidelines for the General Assembly of the Synod next year.
Francis' words speak of this Synod as a "step", a certainly important and meaningful one in a process of reflection on the family and evangelization for the Church, toward next year's assembly, and the decisions that the Pope will - eventually - have to make. In this regard his statements are significant. Such as, "Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church".
"Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard - with joy and appreciation - speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the "supreme law," the "good of souls" (cf. Can. 1752). And this always - we have said it here, in the Hall - without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48)".
"This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God's mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans (Luke, 15). The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem".
Turning to the Relatio, it must be noted that 59 of its 62 points were approved by a two-third majority. The three that were not approved dealt with the admission of remarried divorced people to the Holy Communion, pastoral openness to homosexuals and spiritual communion. All three paragraphs were, however, adopted by a simple majority of votes.
The long document opens with some thoughts about the families "with their joys, hardships, and hopes." The Synod "feels the need to thank the Lord for the generous fidelity with which so many Christian families respond to their vocation and mission. They do so with joy and faith even when the familiar path places obstacles, misunderstandings and suffering in front of them. The appreciation, gratitude and encouragement of the whole Church and of this Synod go to these families."
Nowadays, the family, the document says, is undergoing "Anthropological and cultural change," which "influences all aspects of life and requires an analytic and diversified approach. This, it must be noted, has positive aspects like greater freedom of expression and better recognition of the rights of women and children, at least in some regions. Yet, we must also consider the growing danger posed by an "exasperated individualism that distorts family bonds and ends up considering each component of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the prevalence of an idea of the subject formed according to his or her own wishes, which are taken as an absolute. This is compounded by a crisis of faith that has affected many Catholics and is often at the root of the crisis of marriage and the family."
"In many contexts, and not only in the West, the practice of living together before marriage, or establishing a common law relationship without an institutional bond, is becoming increasingly widespread. At the same time, state laws often undermine marriage and family. As secularisation takes hold in many parts of the world, the reference to God has greatly diminished and faith is no longer socially shared. "
"There is no shortage of cultural trends that seem to impose limitless emotional ties whose various sides people want to explore, even the more complex ones. In fact, the issue of emotional fragility is very timely. Narcissistic, unstable and changing emotions do not always help people reach greater maturity. Concerns are growing over the spread of pornography and the commodification of the human body, favoured by a distorted use of the Internet. "
"Consequently, this calls for missionary conversion. This means not stopping at proclaiming a message which is merely theoretical with no connection to people's real problems. We must continually bear in mind that the crisis of faith has led to a crisis in marriage and the family and, consequently, the transmission of faith from parents to children has often been interrupted. [. . .] For the pastoral ministry, this is a challenge."
"It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, including those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. In it, the Christian message always has the reality and dynamics of mercy and truth, which converge in Christ."
"The words of eternal life that Jesus gave to his disciples included the teaching on marriage and the family. Such teaching by Jesus allows us to distinguish three basic stages to God's plan for marriage and the family. Initially, we have the original family, when God instituted the primordial marriage between Adam and Eve, as the solid foundation of the family. This union was damaged by sin and took on the historical form of marriage in the People of God, for whom Moses gave the opportunity to issue a divorce certificate. [. . .] This type was prevalent at the time of Jesus. His advent and the reconciling of the fallen world through the redemption He carried out ended the era inaugurated by Moses."
"Jesus, who has reconciled all things in himself, brought the marriage and the family back to their original form." The Church, "whilst recognising that for the baptised only the sacramental tie can serve as wedding bond and that any breach of it is against God's will, is also aware of the fragility of many of its children who struggle in the path of faith".
Therefore, "with regards to a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or who simply live together, it is incumbent upon the Church to reveal to them the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and help them reach the fullness of God's plan in them". The Church also has to "turn with love towards those who participate in its life in an incomplete manner, recognising that God's grace is also active in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to take care with love each other and be at the service of the community in which they live and work."
"It is with apprehension that the Church looks at the distrust many young people have towards marital commitment, and suffers from the haste with which many faithful decide to end one such commitment in order to undertake another. Such faithful, who belong to the Church, need encouragement and compassionate pastoral care, with an eye to distinguishing the various situations."
A "new dimension of today's family pastoral ministry consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and cohabitation, whilst duly taking into account their differences. Indeed, when a union has reached a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterised by deep affection, a sense of responsibility towards offspring, and a capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, people start cohabiting without a possible future marriage in view or any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognised relationship."
The Relatio reiterates what was already noted in the Relatio post disceptationem, namely that marriage need not only be prepared, but requires "pastoral accompaniment to continue after the celebration of the sacrament."
Turning to the "situation of the many who no longer live this reality," the document states that "it is important to engage in a pastoral dialogue with them in order to highlight the elements of their lives that can lead the marriage in its fullness to a greater openness towards the Gospel."
This also applies to cohabitation, which is becoming more widespread. "Simply to live together is often a choice based on an overall attitude against all that is institutional and definitive, but it can also stem from a desire to wait for a more secure situation (a steady job and income)". Hence, they are not necessarily "a rejection of Christian values vis-à-vis the family and marriage but are primarily the result of the high cost of getting married. As a result, material poverty lands people in de facto unions."
"All these situations require a constructive response in order to turn them into opportunities that can lead to an actual marriage and family in accordance with the Gospel. Such couples need to be provided for and guided with patience and sensitivity. With this in mind, true Christian families bearing witness is particularly appealing and important as agents in the evangelisation of the family."
"A need for courageous pastoral choices was particularly evident at the Synod. As they strongly reiterated their faithfulness to the Gospel of the Family and recognised that separation and divorce are always harmful because they causes deep suffering to spouses who go through it and to their children, the Synod Fathers felt the urgent need to embark on a new pastoral course based on the present reality of weaknesses within the family, fully cognizant that the latter are more often than not painfully endured rather than freely chosen. Such situations may vary because of personal, cultural and socio-economic factors, but they require particular discernment "to accompany pastorally people who are separated, divorced, or abandoned him."
"At the same time, the Synod Fathers emphasised the need to address, in a faithful and constructive way, the consequences of separation or divorce on children, who must not become an 'object' of contention. Instead, every suitable means should be sought to ensure that they overcome the trauma of a family break-up and grow as peacefully as possible."
As to the question of Communion for divorced people who remarry, "several Synod Fathers defended the existing rules based on the fundamental relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church and its teaching on the indissoluble marriage. Others expressed support for non-generalised openness to the Eucharistic table, in some special situations and under strict conditions, especially when it comes to irreversible cases related to moral obligations towards children who suffer unjustly. Any access to the sacraments should be preceded by a penitential journey under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop. Still, the issue should be subject to further in-depth analysis, bearing in mind the distinction between the objective situation of sin, and extenuating circumstances, given that 'Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by [. . .] various psychological or social factors'(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735)."
"Alcuni Padri hanno sostenuto che le persone divorziate e risposate o conviventi possono ricorrere fruttuosamente alla comunione spirituale. Altri Padri si sono domandati perché allora non possano accedere a quella sacramentale. Viene quindi sollecitato un approfondimento della tematica in grado di far emergere la peculiarità delle due forme e la loro connessione con la teologia del matrimonio".
"Some Fathers put forward the argument that people who have divorced and remarried and those who live in common law relationships could fruitfully turn to spiritual communion. Other Fathers raised the question that, if this so, why then the former cannot have access to the sacramental communion." In view of the situation, "This led to calls for in-depth analysis of the issue in order bring out the distinct traits of the two types [of communion] as well as their link to the theology of marriage."
By contrast, the Fathers agreed that "there is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or establish remotely any similarity between homosexual unions and God's plan for marriage and the family." At the same time, they understand that "men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity," and that "They should not be subject to any unjust discrimination." By the same token, "it is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church be pressured on this issue and that international organisations subordinate financial aid to poor countries to the introduction of laws that recognise same-sex 'marriages'."
Finally, given that "Openness to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love," the report highlights that "one of the fundamental challenges facing families today is undoubtedly that of raising children, something made that more difficult and complex by today's cultural reality and the influence of mass media. Therefore, consideration must be given to the needs and expectations of families who in their daily life can be essential places of growth where the virtues that shape our existence can be actually passed. This means that parents can freely choose the kind of education they want to give their children in accordance with their beliefs."