Cardinal: Synod Preparation Characterized by Frankness; Same Expected in Discussions

Synod’s Secretary-General Gives Preview; Pope to Inaugurate Event With Solemn Mass on Sunday

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The secretary-general of the global bishops’ meeting that starts Monday says the worldwide response to the questionnaire that prepared the synod was both widespread and far-reaching. He expects discussions during the synod will be equally frank.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri made this observation today at a press conference in which he explained the structure of the upcoming Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family.

The much-discussed synod will be inaugurated by Pope Francis with a solemn Mass on Sunday.

It will bring together 191 Synod Fathers, among whom will be 61 cardinals, one cardinal patriarch, seven patriarchs, one major archbishop, 67 metropolitan archbishops, 47 bishops, one auxiliary bishop, one priest and six religious. Moreover, there will be 16 experts, 38 auditors and eight fraternal delegates.

Following the news

Cardinal Baldisseri and Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, explained that those who wish to follow the news of the synod’s goings-on will have a daily briefing at the press office, with the participation of various synod fathers. News of the most key developments will also be transmitted via Twitter, Fr. Lombardi said.

Full texts of the discourses will not be published. It was underscored that this is to promote a more open dialogue, such that speakers do not need to hold to prepared texts and can feel free to say what they want.

Constructive approach

Cardinal Baldisseri said the synod exemplifies the Holy Father’s desire to “undertake an innovative and original Synodal path, structured in two phases: the current Extraordinary Assembly, on the theme ‘Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization,’ and next year’s Ordinary Assembly, which will take as its theme ‘The vocation and the mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.’”

During the time of synodal preparation, “the voice of all of the People of God resounded,” the cardinal said.

He noted that everyone from bishops to lay faithful was able to express opinions through the questionnaire linked to the preparatory document, which was distributed by the Episcopal Conferences.

The prelate attributed the large number of responses to that questionnaire to two factors: on the one hand, to the theme of the Synod, “which regards the life of the community, families and people and reflects the pastoral care that the bishops have always had in relation to the family.” 

On the other hand, he added, “the breadth of the material that was submitted is without doubt an indication of the frankness and freeness with which the consultation was carried out.”

“This broad-ranging freedom of expression,” he continued, “will also characterize the Synod Assembly, which will certainly take place in an atmosphere of respect for every position, with mutual charity and with a genuinely constructive approach.”

Organizational changes

The secretary-general also discussed some novelties in the way the work of the synod will progress. 

First, he said, the Relatio ante disceptationem will include various novelties. The Secretariat General, he noted, asked the Synod fathers to transmit their contributions in advance, indicating the issue on which they intended to speak during the Assembly, respecting the order of themes.

«In this way, he said, «the so-called Relatio becomes a point of reference, which may be worked upon during the interventions in the assembly.»

Second, the thematic order established following the Instrumentum Laboris will be followed during the debate in the Synod Hall, which will take place during the first week, beginning with the Second General Congregation.

He explained that a president delegate will open each general congregation with the announcement of a theme. Next, there will be an intervention by a married couple of Auditors, who will offer the Synod Fathers their testimony of family life, contributing to the enrichment of the debate on pastoral action.

More than one issue

Much of the media attention leading up to the synod has focused on the issue of those who are divorced and civilly remarried, and their inability to receive the Eucharist.

Fr. Lombardi and Cardinal Baldisseri observed that only a page and a half of the Instrumentum Laboris focuses on this.

It would be «good of you» to focus on all the other themes of the family found in the working document, as there are so many others included, the press were told.

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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