On Monday and Tuesday this week the Synod Fathers examined the third part of the Instrumentum Laboris, which deals with, among other themes, irregular family situations, admission of divorced and remarried faithful to communion, the pastoral care of homosexuals, and responsible parenthood.
The working groups analyzed the special needs of families in irregular or difficult situations, acknowledging, as affirmed by the English-speaking group C whose rapporteur is Archbishop Mark Benedict Coleridge, that “those cohabiting are in a quite different situation from those who are divorced and civilly remarried. We also agreed that cohabitation, though very widespread in many cultures now, could not be considered a good in itself. We were prepared to recognise that there may be good in the relationship of those cohabiting rather than in cohabitation in some quasi-institutional sense.”
“We know that that are many other families who feel they are far from the ideal model, and others who to a greater or lesser extent do not even think it is for them,” comments the French group represented by Bishop Laurent Ulrich. “Divided families, mixed families, single parent families, families without marriage, even civil only; we cannot reject them, and we do not wish to think that their path does not lead them to God, Who loves and draws all people towards Him. We believe that in them we see the Spirit of the Lord Who inspires much of their behaviour in their lives, and this detracts nothing from Christian families whom we support and encourage.”
With regard to the divorced and civilly remarried, there is general agreement about the need to provide more effective pastoral accompaniment for these couples, and especially for their children who also have rights. Some groups express perplexity, however, in relation to what the Instrumentum Laboris refers to as a “a penitential path”. “It is not clear to name the journey taken by the divorced and remarried as a ‘penitential path’”, remarks the Spanish-speaking group represented by Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo. “Perhaps it would be better to speak about itineraries of reconciliation, as there are some irreversible situations that cannot be subject to a penitential path without the possibility of overcoming this”.
“It would appear that, with regard to the issue of closeness, we are all in agreement, but what happens when we consider access to the sacraments?” asked the Spanish-speaking group whose rapporteur is Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, O.A.R. “Without doubt, we need to set in motion a generous movement removing many of the obstacles from the way so that divorced and remarried faithful can participate more widely in the life of the Church: at the moment they cannot be godparents, they cannot be catechists, and they are not able to teach religion. … We must show that we are listening to the cry of many people who suffer and who call to participate as fully as possible in the life of the Church”.
“With regard to the discipline of remarried divorcees, at present it is not possible to establish general criteria covering all cases, which are very diverse”, observes the Italian group represented by Cardinal Maurizio Piacenza. “There are divorced and remarried faithful who apply themselves to following the path of the Gospel, offering significant witness of charity. At the same time, it is undeniable that in some circumstances, factors are present that limit the possibilities of acting differently. As a consequence, the judgement on an objective situation cannot be assumed in the judgement on subjective ‘impunity’. The limits and conditions thus become an appeal to discernment – primarily on the part of the bishop – which must be accurate and respect the complexity of such situations”.
The English group A, whose rapporteur is Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz, expresses the view that “pastoral practice concerning admission to the Sacrament of the Eucharist by the divorced and civilly remarried ought not to be left to individual episcopal conferences. To do so would risk harm to the unity of the Catholic Church, the understanding of her sacramental order, and the visible witness of the life of the faithful”.
The English group represented by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin requests that “the Holy Father, taking into account the rich material which has emerged during this synodal process, consider establishing during the Jubilee Year of Mercy a Special Commission to study in depth the ways in which the disciplines of the Church which flow from the indissolubility of marriage apply to the situation of people in irregular unions, including situations arising from the practice of polygamy”.
There are many references to this issue in St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Familiaris consortio”. The condition of homosexual persons is considered primarily from the perspective of the family context. The English group C insists that “we address this issue as pastors, seeking to understand the reality of people’s lives rather than issues in some more abstract sense”. The group also asks that “the final document include at an appropriate point a clear statement of Church teaching that same-sex unions are in no way equivalent to marriage”.
On the same issue, the English group A reiterates that “the Church as the spouse of Christ patterns her behaviour after the Lord Jesus, Whose all-embracing love is offered to every person without exception. Parents and siblings of family members with homosexual tendencies are called to love and accept these members of their family with an undivided and understanding heart”.
Some Fathers suggest that the issue be eliminated from the discussions in this Synod as its importance would call for a specific Synod on the matter.
The theme of responsible parenthood has given rise to lively exchange, and is of great current importance in relation to the dignity of the person and of life. The working groups also considered mixed marriage, and called for greater pastoral focus on the defence of women and children in precarious situations.
With regard to the Synod methodology, the French group represented by Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher writes, “like agronomists who talk about different methods of irrigation, we have talked about the method of our Synod. Is it well-suited to its purpose? We expend an enormous amount of energy, from all points of view. People are exhausted from the work they are doing. Will the result be worth the effort? Perhaps we could have identified some specific themes to examine between the two Synods, so as to have more time to study. Will Pontifical Commissions be appointed to carry out the work we hope will be done? … We have enjoyed the greater amount of time given to us in small groups. From our exchanges, there strongly emerges the ministry of communion that is ours as bishops”.
“The theme of mercy has run throughout the Synod, challenging our pastoral ministry”, concludes the Italian group B. “We are aware that the mystery of the Incarnation fully expresses the salvific will of God. This divine determination has also been entrusted to our mission and to the sacramental means that find their true hermeneutic in the sense of being an appeal to conversion, support, a medicine and an aid for our salvation”.