10/09/2015, 00.00
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Synod: today’s families are subject to many negative forces, but they also offer many shining examples

No one should expect the Synod on the Family to say anything on “how to change the doctrine,” said Card Tagle; however, everyone can expect to know how the latter “can heal and support families”. The reports of the 13 work groups present their concerns and hopes, calling for a less negative vision and more theological references. The “equal dignity of man and woman has evangelical roots,” one report says. For many, gender theory is ideological in nature. Everyone expresses solidarity for persecuted Christian families.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – At today’s briefing, Card Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, said that no one should expect the Synod on the Family to say anything on “how to change the doctrine;” however, everyone can expect to know how the latter “can heal and support families, especially if they are torn apart by suffering, migrations, and wars. Indeed, the issue is how the doctrine can be alive today and apply to the pastoral situation of the family” in today’s world.

The archbishop’s statement found an echo in the reports issued by the 13 Circuli Minores (work groups) on the first section of the Synod’s working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, in view of the contributions made during the debates in the first three general congregations.

For many, the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) gives an overly negative vison of today's family. "Problems and difficulties exist everywhere,” wrote the French group A, “but throughout the world there are also families that happily live rooted in Christ and the faith".

For the English group C, "Part of the newness, we felt, needs to be a less negative reading of history, culture and the situation of the family at this time. True, there are negative forces at work at this time in history and in the various cultures of the world; but that is far from the full story. If it were the full story, all the Church could do would be to condemn. There are also forces which are positive, even luminous, and these need to be identified, since there may well be the signs of God in history. "

For the Italian group C, the "diagnosis offered in the document focuses on the dark side and is hard pressed to find the positive strengths that emerge from the picture drawn. The broad phenomenology of this first part becomes really useful if it can indicate new directions for the family." In view of this, the Spanish group B “took note of positive experiences", like "movements, family groups, support for family-oriented programmes and bioethics in universities and colleges."

The English group D “felt the IL should begin with hope rather than failures because a great many people already do successfully live the Gospel’s good news about marriage. Our group expressed concern that readers will simply ignore the document if it begins with a litany of negatives and social problems rather than a biblical vision of joy and confidence in the Word of God regarding the family. The huge cloud of challenges pervading the first section of the text unintentionally creates a sense of pastoral despair.”

Solidarity with persecuted Christian families

This comes with a concern about grounding the reflection in theology. For the English group C, “More attention needs to be given to theological reflection on the faithful, loving married couple and family, who, so often heroically, live an authentic witness to the grace of the family.”

For the English group B, "An analysis based on the light of faith can lead to a deeper discernment of how families suffer marginalization and forms of poverty, which go beyond economic poverty to include the social, cultural, and spiritual.”

The French group B calls for "a magisterial intervention to give more coherence to a series of theological and canonical texts.”

“Another concern was an overly Euro-centric or Western mind-set in the current wording,” wrote the English Group B. Instead, “we are called to a cultural tone that is global and that is open to the richness and real experiences of families today, in various nations and continents.” Hence, we "need to take into account the diversity of socio-cultural and pastoral situations," the French group B noted.

Similarly, the Italian group C noted the "Western (European and North American) perspective, especially in describing the aspects and challenges posed by secularisation and individualism that characterise consumer society".

By contrast, for the French group C "there is a danger of speaking of the 'family' in the abstract, as a reality that is external to us. Efforts must be made to speak about 'our family' in its concrete and individual reality. In particular, we need to promote international solidarity between all Christian families and those that are now experiencing persecution, war and insecurity." Other reports also called for solidarity with Middle East Christians.

More generally, the English group B noted, “the socio-cultural challenges that families face”. Hence, “we should also openly recognise the inadequacy of the pastoral support that families receive from the Church on their itinerary of faith.”

The equal dignity of man and woman has evangelical roots

Some of the reports focused on specific issues, such as the role of women. "It should be noted,” the Italian group B wrote, “that equal dignity of man and woman has evangelical roots. We note and highlight women’s reality and role, based on the principle of reciprocity, stressing the [notions of] equality and difference, without excesses and one-sidedness. At the same time, we underscore the limits of feminism that, in the name of equality, only underpins the role of women on that of men. Likewise, we note the limits of trying to pull apart the identities of men and women in the name of difference."

"We very much appreciated the way in which the IL focuses on women’s dignity,” said the French group B report. “We believe that this fair request also called upon us to consider men’s vocation and mission in the family, as husband and father, which sometimes are belittled or forgotten."

Gender theory was described in only negative terms. The French group B stressed its "ideological character, especially when it is spread or imposed by some international organisations."

According to the Italian group A, "it seemed necessary to refer more generously to the risks of the ideology of gender on the anthropological and cultural context as well as its negative impact on the educational programmes of many countries."

The English group D “thought there were a number of elements missing from the text: a serious reflection on gender ideology, more reflection on pastoral care for the differently-abled, the role of fathers and men as well as the role of women, and a deeper treatment of the destructive nature of pornography and other misuses of electronic technology.”

For its part, the French group C said, "Our analysis must be clear because we want our ministry to be rooted in reality. In particular, we must recognise that the implicit anthropology of our modern culture is far from the Christian view. Its emphasis on the individual, as the beneficiary of boundless freedom, which is often linked to moral relativism, is contrary to our belief that the human person is made to be in relation with the image of the Triune God. The family is more than a social basic unit; it is the basis of the forming human being. Everything must be done to foster human relationships and communities."

Finally, Card Tagle said, "In this Synod, the Catholic Church is reasserting its pastoral concern for the family. Therefore, the expectation should not be much of a pronouncement on doctrine, but on the support the Church can give today to the family as an institution in society." (FP)

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