During the Sixth General Congregation, which took place Wednesday afternoon, the Synod Fathers continued their debate on the theme set forth in the Instrumentum Laboris: “Difficult pastoral situations (Part II, Chapter 3). Situations in Families / Concerning Unions of Persons of the Same Sex”.
Firstly, it was underlined that the Church is not a customs house, but rather the house of the Father, and must therefore offer patient accompaniment to all people, including those who find themselves in difficult pastoral situations. The true Catholic Church encompasses healthy families and families in crisis, and therefore in her daily effort of sanctification must not show indifference in relation to weakness, as patience implies actively helping the weakest.
With regard to processes for the declaration of nullity of marriage, in general the need to streamline the procedures was observed by many (along with the need to integrate more competent laypersons in the ecclesiastical Tribunals), but the Assembly also noted the danger of superficiality and the need always to safeguard respect for the truth and the rights of the parties. It was also remarked that the process is not contrary to pastoral charity, and judicial pastoral ministry must avoid attempts to apportion blame, instead encouraging a calm discussion of cases. Again with regard to marriage nullity, the hypothesis of recourse to administrative channels, not in lieu of the judicial process but rather as a complement to it, was considered. It was suggested that it would be the responsibility of the bishop to decide which requests for nullity could be dealt with through administrative channels.
It was strongly emphasised that an attitude of respect must be adopted in relation to divorced and remarried persons, as they often live in situations of unease or social injustice, suffer in silence and in many cases seek a gradual path to fuller participation in ecclesial life. Pastoral care must not therefore be repressive, but full of mercy.
With regard to polygamy, on the one hand it was underlined that this is a diminishing tendency as it is favoured mostly within rural contexts and therefore undermined by advancing urbanisation; on the other, it was recalled that there are polygamists who have converted to Catholicism and who wish to receive the sacraments of Christian initiation, and it was asked if there are specific pastoral measures to engage with these situations with the appropriate discernment.
Attention returned to the need for greater preparation for marriage, especially among the young, to whom the beauty of sacramental union must be presented, along with an adequate emotional education that is not merely a moralistic exhortation that risks generating a sort of religious and human illiteracy. The path to marriage must involve a true growth of the person.
During the hour of free discussion – between 6 and 7 p.m. – the interventions presented experiences and practical models for the pastoral care of divorced and remarried persons, making extensive use of listening groups. It was remarked that it is important to carefully avoid moral judgement or speaking of a “permanent state of sin”, seeking instead to enable understanding that not being admitted to the sacrament of the Eucharist does not entirely eliminate the possibility of grace in Christ and is due rather to the objective situation of remaining bound by a previous and indissoluble sacramental bond. In this respect, the importance of spiritual communion was emphasised repeatedly. It was also commented that there are evident limits to these proposals and that certainly there are no “easy” solutions to the problem.
Also in relation to the pastoral care of homosexual persons, emphasis was placed on the importance of listening and the use of listening groups.
Further interventions focused on the issue of Catholics who change Christian confession, or vice versa, with the difficult consequences that may arise from inter-confessional marriages and the validation of their validity in the light of the possibilities of divorce in the Orthodox Churches.
Recalling the Ordinary Synod held in 1980 on the theme of “The Christian family”, it was observed that great evolution has occurred since then in international legal culture and it is therefore necessary for the Church to be aware of this, and for cultural institutions such as the Catholic Universities to face this situation in order to retain a role in ongoing debate.