Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 25. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Synod success

  • October 29, 2015

In his closing address at the Synod of Bishops on the Family, Pope Francis said the meeting of Church leaders was never intended to solve all the problems that afflict modern families. The Synod, he said, was a forum to study the family and assess its many challenges “fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.”

On that score, mission accomplished. Church leaders disagreed often and publicly during three spirited weeks but few would dispute their success in meeting the Pope’s challenge to be bold and visible. If anything, some took his advice too much to heart in making statements that caused misleading headlines in the secular press about a divided Church.

The Church, though, is not divided. It came through a difficult Synod with some bruises, but nothing that won’t heal. Despite a lot of talk about discord and strife, the Synod fathers sent a report to the Pope which demonstrated reasonableness and compromise. All 94 paragraphs were approved by at least two-thirds of the prelates.

That’s not to suggest high-fives all round the Synod hall. Three paragraphs on divorced and civilly remarried Catholics barely met the necessary two-thirds majority to be included in the report. But even that contentious topic was softened by enough ambiguity to keep it faithful to doctrine yet acceptable to those promoting change.

Of greater significance was general agreement on many issues that received far less public attention even though they are far more critical to the life of average Catholic families. Despite some well-publicized distractions along the way, it appears the Synod fathers got it right. This was the success of the Synod.

Church leaders endorsed an expanded role for women in the Church. They urged dads to be more involved in child rearing, and applauded the valuable contribution of grandparents. They suggested that seminarians spend instructional time in family settings. They encouraged respect and inclusion for those who are elderly, poor, disabled or migrants. They want improved marriage preparation for couples, a more welcoming atmosphere for singles and those in interfaith marriages, pastoral outreach to common-law couples and better support for unwed mothers.

These and several other family concerns are the reason Pope Francis convened this assembly. Families, the lifeblood of the Church, have been under stress for decades. The Church can’t reverse cultural trends but it can improve its pastoral support of families in a changing society. The Synod’s detailed, candid and sometimes acrimonious discussions were steps in that process.

Now it’s up to the Pope. With these recommendations in hand, he is expected to propose a path forward in an apostolic exhortation. Should he do so, probably next year, expect him to proceed fearlessly. He is not one to bury his head in the sand.

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