“The Church must be an accompanying mother who does not reject anyone, but reaches out to all. And the key is to remain firm in theological principles, but to make ecclesiastical discipline flexible and not impossible for pastorally difficult, or near impossible, situations.”
These were words of Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the assistant to the Vatican press office for the English language, this afternoon, as he was speaking at today’s synod briefing in the Vatican press office, with the director of the press office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, and two married couples who are contributing to the synod as auditors (non-voting observers).
The Oct. 4-25 synod is being held on the topic, “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World,” and the bishops continue to be divided into small groups for discussions on the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document.
Fr. Lombardi began the briefing by clarifying that at the end of the synod there will be a final document which Pope Francis could choose to publish or he could decide to offer something else. The press office director would not speculate on what the Holy Father will ultimately choose.
“The Relatio Finalis will be given to the Holy Father, who will be responsible for every decision,” he said.
The Vatican spokesman also made another clarification regarding a letter published today in the Italian publication L’Espresso — this is the same publication that leaked Pope Francis’ encyclical. The letter was said to have been sent to the Pope by 13 cardinals who expressed their concerns regarding proposed changes in the Church. The spokesman stressed that the letter was not public and that he didn’t have much to say. However, he did caution the press against taking what they see as truth, pointing out that already two of the 13 alleged signers, namely French Cardinal André Vingt-Trois and Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, deny signing it.
When giving English speaking journalists an overview of what’s taken place today, Fr. Rosica noted how at the heart of discussions was the idea that “No human being is a stranger to God.” He went through some of the key points of the interventions, including how Synod Fathers realize they cannot have an “all or nothing” mentality. He stressed how they need to hold firm to Church doctrine and teaching while still finding pastoral approaches so no one feels alienated or excluded.
The topic of “new family structures” was raised, Fr. Rosica said, noting that there are children raised by only one parent, same-sex couples, interfaith spouses, and sometimes children raised without parents, but by grandparents, relatives, or someone else, and how the Church needs to develop pastoral strategies for those who find themselves in today’s situations.
Also speaking at today’s press conference were two couples serving as auditors. They agreed that they feel they are being heard and are contributing to the discussions. They observed that couples, living through the good days and the bad, are those most able to convey the difficulties facing families and couples.
Penelope Bajaj, a Christian who works for the Archdiocese of Mumbai, whose husband was Hindu before his conversion, stressed, “We all [the married couples] feel very involved and they all [the synod fathers] ask us questions.” As families with good days and bad days, she explained, we are definitely there to help and contribute to the discussions taking place.
“We feel we are wanted and that we are, in our small way, contributing to some change,” she said.
When speaking about the importance of marriage preparation courses, the couples noted how important this is, but went a step further to suggest what may be even more important is continuing education courses.
Mrs. De Rezende made this point, adding ongoing marriage preparation enriches us, for people change and they need help along the way as faithful Catholics. Moreover, she underscored how important it is for parents to recognize the rich role of grandparents in reviving and reconfirming the faith with grandchildren.