Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The last reports of the Synod’s 13 circuli minores (work groups) focused on a number of issues. A final report will be presented and voted on next Saturday. The Holy Father himself will decide whether to release it to the public or not.
The issues covered included families’ missionary vocation, marriage preparation, priestly training, marriage indissolubility, openness and support for families in need and gay people, as well as positive views about mixed marriages.
"Starting from the fact that evangelisation is a duty for the entire Christian people,” wrote the Italian synod group C, “during their discussions, synod fathers agreed on the need that families, by virtue of the grace of the nuptial sacrament, benefit more and more from the pastoral ministry, which expresses a mission that manifests itself in real life; not as something solely theoretical but also as an experience of faith rooted in people’s real problems.”
For the French synod group B, "the family, as a constituent element of the ecclesial body, has its own responsibility vis-à-vis other families, the Christian community and the Church’s mission. The family, which comes under the purview of the pastoral ministry, is a full agent of evangelisation and must be recognised as such. "
Practically, every report focused on the need for marriage preparation. For the English synod group A, “Truly important is the preparation of couples for marriage as well as its ongoing formation and support. This formation needs to be grounded in biblical theology, Christian anthropology and Church teachings. Of special note was our discussion on proper sex education based on an authentically Christian understanding of sexuality. Programs of sex education should emphasize conscience formation, the sense of responsibility, the value of self-control, modesty and the virtue of chastity. In addition, it was agreed that the role of parents in the sex education of their children must be emphasized. They are the first and primary teachers of their children and they should be supported in their efforts by sound programs of sex education in schools and parishes.”
Education also concerns priests. “Future priests and religious must be educated about actual family life,” wrote the French synod group B, and “gain real knowledge about the complementarity of the various Christian vocations."
The indissolubility of marriage touches the issue of marriages in difficulty. "First of all,” wrote the French synod group A, “we want to reiterate that we are all attached to the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. We also welcome as good news God’s mercy as revealed through Jesus Christ and the importance given to preparing one’s personal conscience. In addition, faced with irregular situations, we would like to see a proposal enunciating ways for those in such circumstances in which they can be certain to find a path, openness and support.” We hope lastly that “the bishops, in their respective dioceses and in the communion of the whole Church, would be called to a responsible discernment."
The issue of remarried divorced people elicited very different opinions. Although everyone agreed to principles of openness and support, views differed.
"With respect to the situation of those who see their marriage fail,” wrote the Italian synod group A, “work group members agreed on the need to deal with them by differentiating the various situations, and promoting various paths of faith, reconciliation and integration in the ecclesial community.”
A consensus emerged on “the importance that these paths include an accurate and prudent pastoral discernment under the ultimate authority of bishops.” At the same time, “Bishops’ conferences are called to develop shared criteria adapted to the situations of their respective Churches."
In the English synod group A, “A majority without full consensus also affirmed that pastoral practice concerning reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist by those divorced and civilly remarried ought not to be left to individual episcopal conferences. To do so would risk harm to the unity of the Catholic Church, the understanding of her sacramental order, and the visible witness of the life of the faithful.”
One bishop in the English synod group D “said that the issue of admitting divorced and remarried persons without an annulment to Communion was such a vital matter of doctrinal substance that it could only be handled at an ecumenical council and not at a synod.”
Without going that far, many groups suggested leaving the issue with the pope. "The issue of access to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist,” wrote the Spanish synod group B, “cannot and should not be the centre or focal point of these situations. We believe that the best we can do is to entrust it to the Holy Father; we have no doubt that he can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, show the way for the Church and the world."
Some suggested setting up specific study commission. For instance, “On the subject of the admission of divorced and remarried to the sacraments,” the English synod group B wrote, “the group would request that the Holy Father, taking into account the rich material which has emerged during this synodal process, consider establishing during the Jubilee Year of Mercy a Special Commission to study in depth the ways in which the disciplines of the Church which flow from the indissolubility of marriage apply to the situation of people in irregular unions, including situations arising from the practice of polygamy.”
Most reports addressed another major issue, that of language. The Church must renew its own language, from static to dynamic, in order to make all its teachings more accessible to everyone, without altering them, so as to open a new dialogue with families. For example, the word “abstention” has replaced “exclusion” from the sacrament of the Eucharist with respect to remarried divorced people.
"Some fathers,” the Italian synod group A wrote, “have called attention to the deconstructive power some concepts related to marriage and the family have today some. For other fathers, it is incumbent in a secularised context to avoid terminology that suggests a siege mentality.” Instead, we should “communicate the Gospel [message] in a language permeated by hope that draws on the work that the Lord is surely performing on people, even those living in family situations that are far from the Christian proposal."
Finally, the Italian synod group C spoke about "undue economic and legislative pressure to introduce laws that equate civil unions to marriage". Likewise, various views were expressed about people with homosexual tendencies.”
Notwithstanding the need to open up to gay people without discrimination whilst reiterating the incomparability of marriage and homosexual unions, the English synod group A wrote, “We spoke of the importance of pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies, with special attention to families in which a person with same sex attraction is a member.”
“The Church as the spouse of Christ patterns her behavior after the Lord Jesus whose all-embracing love is offered to every person without exception. Parents and siblings of family members with homosexual tendencies are called to love and accept these members of their family with an undivided and understanding heart. We call on the synod to affirm and propose anew the entirety of Church teaching on love and chastity. We encourage parents and family members to have confidence in it as they love and accompany one another in responding to the Gospel’s call to chaste living.”
Some in English synod group C "thought that this issue should be removed from discussion in the Synod on the Family. They felt that it’s important enough to have a specific synodal meeting on the topic itself.” However, for the French synod group B, "There was not enough time to reflect upon the situation of homosexuals in our different societies and the different dimensions of Church pastoral ministry towards them."
Mixed marriages was another major topic. In particular, the English synod group C noted, “while they present challenges, [they] also present great opportunities”. [. . .] Disparity of cult can present great challenges in some situations – more so with some religions than others – but such marriages can also be a prime locus of an interreligious dialogue which has its feet on the ground. That is a value in itself.” (FP)