Go in Peace: After 2014 Synod, the time for the real work has come.

Bishops arrive for the beatification Mass of Blessed Paul VI celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 19. The Mass also concluded the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Over a remarkable two-week period in Rome this October, church leaders from around the world met to talk about issues that confront and even diminish modern family life. And as in many modern families, the discussion at the Synod of Bishops on the Family at times became heated, disagreements became apparent and much was left unsaid at the table to be taken up at the next family gathering, a year from now in Rome.

At the conclusion of this planning assembly, Pope Francis addressed the synod fathers, encouraging them as they continue this exploration of family. It is critical to the future of the church that we all do so with open minds and merciful hearts. Over the next 12 months, the whole church will reflect on what happened at the synod. Challenging issues remain to be deliberated over together in love and hope, sensitive to the Spirit and the abiding wisdom of mercy.


As startling as some comments and statements were that emerged from these first conferences, nothing in church doctrine has changed. The midterm and final statements from the synod have no doctrinal force. After this October opening, the time for the real work has come.

How shall that work be conducted?

The world was astonished by the assembly’s open discussions, encouraged by Pope Francis, and by the unprecedented transparency of these initial Vatican proceedings. The synod fathers are to be commended for that refreshing honesty and fearlessness. That frankness and transparency should continue throughout the coming year of dialogue.

Charity and courtesy should also be hallmarks of this continuing “family” discussion, whether conducted online or face-to-face in parish or diocesan meeting halls. The Catholic press worldwide should use this year as an opportunity to reinvigorate the contribution it alone can make in reaching Catholic families.

For Catholic bishops, listening makes a good beginning. One model worth emulating is a diocesan synod, like the one convened by Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport to discuss the questionnaire distributed last year by the Roman Curia as a global conversation starter for the synod. Devising new surveys or fashioning other methods of direct consultation with the faithful should be a component of the coming year of dialogue.

But church leaders, like all of us, need to speak with marginalized families themselves where they live and struggle. Overwhelmed by poverty or barely juggling work and family commitments, not all members of the church family can come to parish meeting halls. But they need to be heard from too. Church shepherds should seek them out at food pantries, homeless shelters and perhaps a neighborhood restaurant or two, where they might also meet family members who have drifted away and may be looking for a reason to come home.

This is a dialogue that must include other voices that have been subdued in the past. The more confident presence of African bishops should be welcomed. In fact, the vibrant participation of representatives from all the fast-growing parts of the Catholic world needs to be encouraged.

Similarly, a place must be found to hear the experience and wisdom of the family members who are the subjects of so many ongoing dialogues. Surely if someone is going to be talked about, it is unjust to leave that person out of the conversation. The church cannot discuss outreach to gay and lesbian people, to divorced or remarried couples without first hearing from these beloved brothers and sisters.

But neither should the Synod on the Family be reduced to the “headline” issues that so preoccupied the global media. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has rightly urged both the media and the church to resist focusing all synodal energy on “irregular” relationships and sacramental mitigation. The church is global, and so are its concerns. Families are being wearied and warped by economic inequities in the West, torn apart by conflict and crime in the Middle East and Central America and assailed by disease and poverty in Africa. Surely these matters should be at least as pressing a concern for a merciful church.

Closing out the synod on Oct. 18, Pope Francis wisely warned of a number of temptations that can sidetrack healthy dialogue: hostile inflexibility, do-goodism that can be destructive, the transformation of spiritual sustenance into unbearable burdens, abandoning the will of the Father for the sake of the expedient and exploiting the deposit of faith or ignoring complicated realities for self-serving ends.

There are other temptations to keep in mind: the temptation to fear and timidity, the temptation to trade hope for despair. Pope Francis reminds us to remain attentive to a God who is not afraid of new things. Over the next 12 months, the church should follow his advice and remain attuned to the Father, who is “continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

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William Atkinson
4 years 2 months ago
Listening to all the different rhetoric coming from the magisterium after the synod people begin to see how difficult and struggling it's going to be to arrive at some concrete principles that the Church can then give as guidelines. It reminds us and brings us to recall the great complex that presented itself to Jesus during his rhetoric concerning the Law (Mosaic Law) and how Jesus saw life in His kingdom. It sort of makes us realize how Pope Francis, in a very heartfelt mind bending nuance spiritual way is saying to everyone to think, deal, be realistic and live outside the box, the box being the law (canon law). Not to draw a line in the sand, but be aware of a huge grey area that we all live in, an area that is not sinful, but is life, being lived out with its sometimes good, bad, and ugly between what is perfection and is not perfection where Jesus came to be, to teach and give of Himself (especially in the Eucharist and Sacraments) and to accompany all mankind on this journey of life and spirit in the His kingdom. During his days teaching and being with mankind He never withheld His being from anyone, He never turned away from mankind, He was always present to everyone, all peoples. And Pope Francis sees this as the living Christ that we see in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist as His presence to all, all mankind, and the Church and Magisterium, it's pastoral shepherd should never deny the presence, the true presence of Jesus Christ to anyone. All mankind is to be shepherded into the true presence and gift that He himself brought to mankind.
Luis Gutierrez
4 years 2 months ago
Indeed, the time for the real work has come. After the wide consultation preceding the 2014 meeting, I wonder if there is a way for lay people to participate in this work between now and the 2015 meeting. May issues are pending, but the most crucial one has yet to be mentioned: the patriarchal structure of the church as a family, and the role of women in sacramental ministry.I hope the church will eventually see that we are a family, and recognize that our patriarchal family structure is becoming an obstacle to evangelization as patriarchy ceases to be the prevailing culture worldwide. We need both fathers and mothers ordained to act in the Person of Christ. The church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The church must remain apostolic, but hierarchy is not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem, and the exclusively male hierarchy is becoming stale as a symbol of the Christ-Church mystery.Nothing essential (dogmatic) of the Catholic faith would have to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. There is one (embodied) human nature that men and women equally share in human personhood, and the redeemed and baptized human body, male and female, is what makes our Lord Jesus Christ visible as an incarnate divine Person. However, we do need to clarify our sacramental theology to separate patriarchal ideology from revealed truth. This is a clarification that is possible and urgently needed in the church of the 21st century. John Paul II's Theology of the Body provides a refreshing synthesis of egalitarian and complementarian ideologies. It shows that the original unity of man and woman was not completely destroyed by original sin and is fully restored by the redemption of the body.Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal, and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a human male. To act in persona Christi capitis means to act in place of a divine Person. Neither men nor women are divine persons. Any baptized human person, male or female, can be ordained to act in persona Christi capitis. All ministries, including ordained ministries, should be gift-based, not gender-based.The exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma (CIC 1024, CCC 1598). The church does have the authority (the power of the keys) to ordain women as soon as the Pope, as the successor of Peter, decides that doing so would be for the glory of God and the good of souls. With so many nuns who have the "signs of the priesthood," it is lamentable that they cannot be ordained for reasons that have nothing to do with divine revelation. That would be the most sensible way to solve the shortage of priests throughout the church! The patriarchal age is passing, but the deposit of faith is inexhaustible. Let us pray that all the Christian churches can discern the difference between patriarchal ideology and revealed truth, and act accordingly."Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us." Luis
Jack Bray
4 years 2 months ago
Forgive me, but what's lost in all the breathless promotion for female priests especially nuns, is the simple ---yet hard to accept fact--that Christ called only men to His priesthood. That, by no means, implies women were not worthy. Christ called women to the religious life and that is precisely what the good nuns seem to forget in their cause to become priests. That implies they are either unhappy with being 'brides of Christ' or have a neurotic fantasy about being priests. As for laywomen, they have been chosenn by their creator to be carriers of created children. No man could ever even hope to do that. So, please, enough.
Robert Lewis
4 years 2 months ago

” There is one (embodied) human nature that men and women equally share in human personhood, and the redeemed and baptized human body, male and female, is what makes our Lord Jesus Christ visible as an incarnate divine Person.”
* * * * *
”John Paul II's Theology of the Body provides a refreshing synthesis of egalitarian and complementarian ideologies. It shows that the original unity of man and woman was not completely destroyed by original sin and is fully restored by the redemption of the body.”

Sorry, but there’s a contradiction between these two statements. John Paul II’s overly romantic “Theology of the Body” is based on a theory of “natural law” that is unscientific and informed only by Scriptural literalism; the “complementariness” is purely anatomical and not particularly psychological or emotional, and, in its primitive fundamentalism, it very much resembles the posture of your other commentator here who believes that there were no women called by Christ to be purveyors of His Gospel—notwithstanding all the scholarship of modern Scriptural Exegesis, which has pretty much demolished that patriarchal postulate of a politicized early Church hierarchy.

Sabrina Vourvoulias
4 years 2 months ago
The first challenge is for voices from within the Church to truly welcome dialogue — the pope cannot be the solitary outlier — nor can every moment of seeming open arms be quickly turned back to a turning away. I wrote about just this (based in great part on reaction and counter-reaction to the synod) here: http://aldianews.com/articles/opinion/pope-francis-dummies/36261
Tom Poelker
4 years 2 months ago
The entire discussion of marriage seems to fail to make any distinction between civil marriage and the sacramental covenant. Given the late date at which Rome applied the definition of sacrament to all marriages between baptized men and women, perhaps the entire theological history of marriage needs to be re-visited. We may need to face the reality that, despite any brief instructions after the engagement is definite, many young couples understand their marriage in terms of contemporary culture and civil law, not in terms of theology. Perhaps the RCC needs to return to the practice of blessing couple entering civil marriages. If the Church wants to maintain its present treatment of sacramental marriage and not increase its flexibility about either anullments or communion for the divorced, then maybe the Church needs to be more accepting of what couples actually intend rather than defining them as having comitted themselves to the more demanding sacramental union rather than the simpler, less demanding, civil marriage which they better understand from their cultural experience. In other words, current Roman Catholic theology, by definition of theologians, says that the baptized cannot contract a merely civil marriage, but this is a very late decision by the magisterium and not one based on the universal sense of the faithful. We can assume instead, that people ordinarily seek civil marriage and that the Church can recognize and accept that. If couples, while still singles or after long years of marriage, explicitly seek to join in a sacramental union, then a thorough and possibly lengthy period of preparation analogous to the preparations for vowed religious would be appropriate. In these circustances, great rigidity from the Roman Curia would be much more appropriate.
Ray Temmerman
4 years 2 months ago
Jack, if one uses your argument that because Jesus chose only males, therefore women can't be priests, how do you respond to the fact he chose only Jews? Should we then choose only Jews to be ordained? If not, why not?
Ray Temmerman
4 years 2 months ago
John Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio, states that "The Christian family is a specific revelation and realisation of ecclesial communion, and can therefore rightly be called a domestic church". Given that statement, what, then, does the Christian family reveal and realise about ecclesial communion that the Church needs to hear and take on board? I hope that in the time to the next Synod, more couples and families may speak out on their authentic experience, may reveal to our Church leaders what they know about ecclesial communion, and may demonstrate what the ecclesial communion they realise in their homes and families. For too long, we have tried to define the reality of Church and apply that to families. It's time the revelation and realisation of Christian families is looked at, what their experience teaches taken seriously by the Church. There needs to be a two-way listening to and sharing of what God is revealing, not just trying to make families fit a clerical model of Church.
Michael Barberi
4 years 2 months ago
As for the work ahead in preparation of the 2015 Synod on the Family, I echo the thoughts of Bishop Bonny of Belgium. 1. Collegiality: Since Humanae Vitae was published most priests, bishops, theologians and the laity have become more and more aware that important questions surrounding relationship, sexuality, marriage and family constitute a very discordant domain within the Church community. Many of the faithful were no longer able to agree with dogmatic texts and moral statements coming from Rome. The gulf did not shrink with time, but grew broader and deeper. The faithful became less and less inclined to address their personal questions to the Church's bishops, theologians and pastoral workers. During the Vatican II there was a good sense of collegiality. A high level of consensus was built so that the many documents of the Second Vatican Council could be issued and endorsed. However, after the encyclical Humanae Vitae this collegiality almost vanished. The bond between the collegiality of the bishops and the primacy of the bishop of Rome significantly waned. During the papacy of JP II, the authority of the conferences of bishops were seriously curtained. Any decree, document or communique from a conference of bishops had to have the express approval from Rome. All authority was not only centered in Rome but dramatically expanded. The voices of bishops, reflecting their flocks and priests, must come forth in the upcoming Synod on the Family, without any threat or reprisal, implicit or explicit from Rome. We have already seen some bishops criticizing Pope Francis' leadership where the Church is like a ship without a rudder. Let's hope the bishops have the courage to listen to the Holy Spirit and not to a rigid ideology or an exaggerated fear of change. 2. Conscience: This Synod on the Family should restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes. This will not solve every problem, but many questions should be addressed. How one's conscience arrives at a reasonable decision is from from simple. What is a well-informed conscience? How can it know the law that God has placed in our heart? How does conscience relate to the teaching authority of the Church, and vice-versa; how does the teaching authority of the Church relate to conscience? How can conscience account for the 'law of gradualness' and the pedagogy of gradual growth progress none of us can escape? How can conscience practice the virtue of "epikeia" when the letter and spirit of the law find themselves at odds with one another? The Synod will not answer all of these questions, but I hope they will devote appropriate attention to them. 3. Natural Law: Natural law cannot be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves 'a priori' on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making a decision. It does not consist of a list of definitive and immutable precepts. It is a spring of inspiration always flowing for the search for an objective foundation for a universal ethic. In short, the Christian ethic needs more space to judge and decide compared to a static or apodictic engagement that one interpretation of the concept of natural law permits. 4. The Sensus Fidei: The Spirit guides the people in truth and leads it to salvation. God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith, which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression. We need the Synod to find a way, a formal process, where the voices of the faithful can participate, in some way, in the formulation and revision of doctrine and teachings. 5. Moral Theology Schools of Thought: The Church must not become exclusively associated with a specific moral theological school, built on a particular interpretation of natural law. Representatives of other interpretations of natural law or other moral theological schools of thought such as the personalistic and relationalistic schools, should not be consigned to the corner as suspicious and avoided. These include the works of highly meritorious theologians such as Josef Fuchs, Bernhard Haring and L. Janseens, as well as many contemporary theologians. These schools of moral theological thought are aware of what is humanly possible in fragile and complex circumstances in which the options are not clear cut. The Church must create space for growth and development in the turbulent course of our personal human narratives. It must revisit and rethink moral method especially those impacting sexual ethics. 6. Truth [my add]: Clearly the truth never changes. However, it is our understanding of truth that is constantly evolving especially with respect to moral norms. Theology has a role to play in guarding against the temptation to "absolutize" every moral teaching. They must not become the "only word" or the "last word" especially those teachings that are based on one interpretation of philosophical anthropology, personalism and symbolism as is the case with JP II's Theology of the Body.
Anne Chapman
4 years 2 months ago
The photograph for this article clearly shows why the Catholic church's official understandings of marriage, sexuality, family life are often misguided, and sometimes distorted. In the photo we see a group of men - and only men. As we know, all of them are vowed celibates - perhaps some break their vows now and then, but this is the claim they make for themselves.. They are dressed identically - unconsciously (and ironically) illustrating the sad reality that conformity to "traditional" teachings - whether right or wrong - was the main qualification most of them presented in order to move up in the church when it was headed by JPII and B16. They hew to "traditional teachings", and if that is how the church understood these matters hundreds of years ago, the church will stick to these understandings and interpretations - no matter what. Searching for the Truth seems to be of less importance than insisting that all Catholic teachings are "unchangeable and irreformable", lest they risk losing their "authority" in the minds of the "simple faithful", preferring to pretend, as did the Wizard, that they are collectively "infallible". So, even if it's wrong, or might be wrong, too many refuse to even try to discover this. Thus these men are not only all dressed identically, they are dressed in a manner that reflects the lives and thinking and misunderstandings of those who lived centuries ago. Those who lived in other eras of history can be "excused" for some of the teachings - they did not have much of the knowledge of science, human psychology, understandings of religious freedom etc that inform people of the 21st century. The refusal of the men in the photo to think today is very disturbing, and, of course, part of the reason so many Catholics in countries with excellent educational opportunities for all citizens have left the church and continue to leave the church. They have seen the truth hidden behind the curtain of the Great Oz of the Catholic church - that the church, composed of and led by fallible human beings, is not God - no-one in the church - not a single person like the pope - or a group of bishops can read God's mind, can "infallibly" understand God's will. They, like all of us, must seek. They, like all of us, may err in their understandings. They must develop the humility to understand this, to admit that they are not infallible - teach, yes, but with the proviso that this is the best understanding they can provide for guidance at this time in history, but it may reflect errors not discerned, and that individuals must, while accepting and studying the guidance, form and follow their own consciences.
Helen Cohenour
4 years 2 months ago
Totally agree with your coments. I pray for Pope Francis daily
Bert Monster
4 years 2 months ago
Like a voice in the wilderness Anne Chapman’s summation and reflection on this recent Synod brings the spirit of the little People of God alive. It reminded me of the words echoed by Hans Kűng exactly forty years ago from his challenging book ‘On being a Christian’. Speaking about the hierarchy he said "Church leaders should carry out their tasks as a whole not hierarchically but competently, not bureaucratically but creatively, not with regard to their office but with regard to men; they should summon up the courage to involve themselves more with people than with the institution; they should provide for more democracy, autonomy, humanity among all ranks in the Church and strive for better collaboration between clergy and laity." Based on the number of votes for and against each of the three most contentious issues the overwhelming majority voted in favor of each issue. However, because the system required a 2/3 majority it left a minority to actually hold the balance of power. Vatican II for the first time in its 2000 year history proclaimed that the Church belonged to the People of God and that includes laity and clergy alike. Why were our voices not heard? Again, Hans Kung reminds us: “Laypeople” (parishes and dioceses) should have the right, not merely to offer advice, but also share with their leaders in a well-balanced system with spheres of authority clearly marked out (checks and balances); they should exercise the right to object whenever Jesus himself would raise an objection. The question of birth control, even by artificial methods, should be left to the married parties to decide conscientiously in the light of medical, psychological and social criteria; the leaders in the Catholic Church should revise the present teaching (the encyclical Humanae Vitae on this point. And so on. The fulfilment of these and similar desiderata must be vigorously demanded and fought for until it is achieved; for the sake of the people who suffer from the present unhappy state of affairs in the Church. We must not be silent. The requirements of the Gospel and the need and hopes of our time are in many outstanding questions so unambiguous that silence out of opportunism, lack of courage or superficiality can involve guilt just as much as the silence of many responsible people at the time of Reformation."


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