Fr. Thomas Rosica with Pope Francis during the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican in October Photo courtesy of Salt + Light Television

Church cares for her 'wounded children'

By  Fr. Thomas Rosica
  • December 4, 2014

Below is an edited version of Assumption University’s Christian Culture Lecture delivered by Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., Nov. 23 in La Salle, Ont. Rosica, who attended the Synod of Bishops in October as English language spokesperson, gave a personal account that addressed some misconceptions about what actually happened at the Synod.

The recent extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization will be remembered as a milestone in the history of the Church.

You may have heard or read that this Synod was about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care, the motherly love the Church strives to provide for people, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a “defeat for Pope Francis” or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is totally false.

At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together as we reflected on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today. It is a very complex journey that involves everyone in the Church, and that requires a profound, systematic reflection on the pastoral and dogmatic issues.

The first thing Francis requested of the Synod participants was the freedom of speech and expression. This was necessary so that the Synod could be effective, and allow it have real value. The Synod functioned well because Francis gave it the freedom to do so. At the opening session, he encouraged participants to speak from the heart, candidly, without fear. His words ended not only the discreet Vatican censorship of past years but also the far more damaging “self-censorship” of the bishops themselves in past synods.

The Synod should not be evaluated in terms of winners and losers, different sides competing or as a question of human strategies in governing the Church. Rather, it should be understood that the Pope wanted the Church to effectively set out on a journey to seek the will of God in the light of the Gospel and the light of faith, in order to find answers to the most vital questions of the family and, in a certain sense, of anthropology, of the condition of men and women in the world of today.

During the Synod, we looked at the great joy of family life and the importance of marriage at its heart. We listened to husbands and wives speaking of the difficulties they had overcome, the struggles they face and the deep joy they experience in their mature marriages and family lives. They were moving moments. A lovely description of the family was offered: the family as “a sanctuary of holiness” with emphasis always on the sharing of prayer at the heart of family life.

Contrary to what you may have read in newspapers and blogs and TV newscasts, there was no anger or fighting. There were disagreements, naturally. But the Pope told us to live through the experience with tranquility and trust. It was a profound experience of the Church as a family doing her best to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and express them in carefully chosen words.

The Synod’s mid-term report after the first round of discussions was seen by many as being less balanced than it could have been. The document contained new language that is respectful of people and avoids expressions or terminology that are offensive or that ordinary people cannot grasp. For example, the text does not speak of homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” nor does it use the term “natural law.” It doesn’t categorize those who cohabit before marriage as “living in sin.”

This provisional text looked for the positive elements in the various and diversified situations in which couples live: from cohabitation, to marriage and irregular unions, to homosexual unions (which it states clearly are not to be equated with matrimony). Rather than engaging in finger pointing at the limitations, failures or defects (from the Church’s point of view) in these situations, it looked at them with tenderness and mercy, while maintaining the clarity of a teacher and insisting on the importance of accompanying people in their different and often complex situations. This is not soft mercy or cheap grace, but blatant honesty that comes from the heart.

Some would argue that the mid-term document wasn’t reflective of the balance in the discussions. There is some truth to this criticism. No one can deny that the publication of the mid-term Relatio contributed to the very intense dynamic of reflection and communication.  

There has been much talk outside the Synod about how the Synod itself reflected on the situation of people of same-sex attraction. There was no suggestion that the teaching of the Church might somehow give approval to the notion of “same-sex marriage” or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change. However, two things were very clear. The first is that we should never identify people by their sexual orientation. Every person is endowed with unique dignity, both as an individual and as a Christian. Secondly, it is the teaching of the Church that all people are not only to be respected but also always accepted, with compassion and with sensitivity (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358). This teaching has to be translated into loving care, in our daily life in the Church, in our parishes and in society.

It was essential and necessary that the final report, Relatio Sinodi, be a consensus document. Synod fathers voted on each of the final report’s 62 paragraphs. All received a simple majority. Three — on the especially controversial questions of homosexuality and Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried — failed to gain the two-thirds supermajority required for approval of synodal documents. The final report will serve as the working paper (lineamenta) for next October’s world Synod on the “vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”

The final report of the Synod on the Family revealed that the Synod has closed no doors, all the main questions are still on the table and an absolutemajority of the Synod fathers are with Pope Francis, in favour of a Church that, like the Good Samaritan, reaches out to care for all her “wounded children.”

At the same time it indicated clearly that a significant minority totally oppose the admission of the divorced and remarried to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and wants the Church to move with great caution in its pastoral approach to homosexual persons less Church teaching be compromised. These two important questions got an absolute majority but not the two-thirds required to have the Synod’s approval. Pope Francis decided to make the entire report public and to send it to the bishops’ conferences of the world for further study and discussion at the local Church level. It is clear therefore that these two issues are still on the table.

Pope Francis made clear that there should be no reason for fear or confusion in the Church after such an Extraordinary Synod. More than anything else, the report from the Synod indicated that the barque of Church is indeed guided by the Lord and entrusted to a most able helmsman in Pope Francis.

(Fr. Rosica, C.S.B., is English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office and the CEO of the Salt + Light Catholic Television Network.)

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