On Monday, October 13th the Vatican released its Relatio post disceptionem, its “report after discussion”; i.e., the final document weaving in all of the themes discussed thus far at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome on the topic of the family. Because there has been much media hype about this document–especially the suggestion that unchangeable teachings regarding the nature of marriage might finally be changed–I thought I should give some balancing perspective.
First, it should be noted that this document is in no way an official Church document ready for use in teaching. Rather, it is a first attempt at putting on paper in an organized fashion the fruit of a weeklong dialogue. The Church is being very transparent by making public a document in such an initial form. At the time of its publication, the Synod fathers still had to discuss its contents for another week. Then, the Ordinary Synod of Bishops which is to occur throughout most of the month of October 2015 will once again take up the themes of this document. After next October’s Ordinary Synod, it would be normal finally for the Church to publish an “apostolic exhortation”, which would be the official document presenting pastoral guidelines and inspiration from both synods. This final apostolic exhortation could be drastically different from the working document released this past week.
Second, in both the discussions of the Synod fathers and the resulting working document, there were passages which were contentious. From the outset, the pope exhorted the Synod fathers to speak very openly, not worrying about others condemning their thoughts. And the Synod fathers did just that. As in the Church at large, one finds Catholics holding a great range of theological opinions, such is the case also with the Synod fathers. As you can imagine, there were ideas expressed by some members which received instant opposition from others. There were actually (rarely) ideas expressed that seemed not to coincide with Church teaching.
The most contentious ideas centered around the indissolubility of marriage (specifically discussing the possibility of revamping the annulment process, and the possibility of allowing divorced-and-remarried Catholics-without-an-annulment to receive Communion); and a more welcoming environment for persons having a homosexual orientation.
As of my submitting this bulletin letter, some days after that first draft, there have been no fewer than 41 interventions from the floor of the Synod contesting various weaknesses in the document. The responses of the language-grouped-fathers of the Synod were factored into a totally re-worked document. Last Sunday night I read the four most contentious paragraphs again, after they had been re-worked, and they were nothing like the original paragraphs. The initial draft document was published even before any of the Synod fathers themselves saw it! Of course there had to be changes, especially because the original was significantly flawed. The popular media will no doubt ignore the changes that corrected the document so that it speaks more fully from the heart of the Church.
We should not allow the popular media’s interpretations of the Synod’s very initial working document to determine our doctrine and morals, or to give way to false expectations of change regarding things unchangeable. God’s fundamental design for the human person has not changed; thus the moral teachings tied closely to that design cannot be altered. Let us pray for the Church’s ongoing deliberations about the challenges families face today, asking that these pastoral discussions lead to God’s greater glory. Let us trust the Holy Spirit who really does guide the Church. It is clear to me – even from watching phenomena such as this Synod – that the Church would long ago have perished, had not the Holy Spirit been guiding Her. I am sure that in the next couple of years, as the resulting, new apostolic exhortation is published, you will hear from the podium inspiration from it from your life. Thank the Lord for His Goodness!
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,