The Vatican today published the second set of reports completed by the small circles in the Synod of Bishops. The circles are divided by language groups, and there are four English-speaking circles. The circles are working their way through the Instrumentum Laboris.
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Relatio – Circulus Anglicus “D”
Moderator: Card. COLLINS Thomas Christopher
Relator: S.E. Mons. CHAPUT, O.F.M. Cap. Charles Joseph
Members of English circle D reviewed Section II far more quickly than Section I. The material was simpler. So was working together and offering commentary and modi .
On the family and divine pedagogy, members thought the text’s reflections on the reading of Scripture should be strengthened. They stressed that as we listen to God’s word, we need to encounter it in the context of the Church, sacred tradition and the teaching authority of bishops. Many customs of reading Scripture already exist in the various cultures of our English-speaking group. Some should be incorporated into the text. Several group members promoted Lectio Divina , even when read within an inter-faith context. Others thought the Lectio Divina process too complex for people of today. Some bishops felt that we need to better understand the relationship between the newness of the Christian sacrament of matrimony and the natural structure of marriage built into God’s plan from the start. The natural marriage of our original parents had its own order of grace.
The Instrumentum Laboris nowhere defines marriage. This is a serious defect. It causes ambiguity throughout the text. Most bishops agreed that the document should add the definition of marriage from Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 48, as a correction.(The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.[GS 48])
Taken as a whole, the text has many good insights on marriage. But the Catholic doctrine on marriage stretches over too many paragraphs. It needs to be brought together in a more concise, compelling way. One person felt the text’s grasp of Scripture could be improved by embracing newer scholarship. The person worried that many of us were reading Scripture in too fundamentalist a manner, and other ways of interpreting Scripture might be more fruitful. Others disagreed and thought that the understanding of Scripture in the text was adequate.
Some said the text needs to frame the notion of “indissolubility” more positively, rather than treating it as a burden. Others saw a danger in referring to Catholic teaching as simply an “ideal” to be pursued and honored but not practical for the living of daily life. They described this as an approach that implies that only the “pure” can live the Gospel, but not ordinary people. Some stressed that we should always speak of virtues, not just values. They are not the same thing.
In the material on family and God’s salvific plan, the text lacks grounding in the Book of Tobit and the Song of Songs, which is vital to the Scriptural presentation of marriage. Bishops voiced concern that the document seems to present Mosaic divorce as one of the stages of God’s plan, yet we know that divorce is never part of God’s will for humanity, but was a consequence of original sin.
In several of the document’s confusing passages, a better translation of the Italian text led to clarity. Several bishops focused on the notion of “seeds of the Word” or “seeds of the Logos” in the world around us. In the tradition of the Church, this reflection – which dates back to Justin Martyr — has always focused on cultural issues rather than on people’s personal lives. The text tends to treat irregular relationships as somehow also containing “seeds of the Word.” Some bishops felt this was inappropriate and misleading.
Some discussion ensued about the meaning of arranged marriages, where this practice still commonly occurs. Such marriages are sometimes seen as lacking the agreement of the persons being married. But what the practice more typically means is that whole families get involved in the entire process of marriage and family life. Various cultures believe that “ families marry one another,” not just the individuals making marital promises. Some bishops saw this as a rich concept. It should be better appreciated.
Various bishops questioned the use of the expression “The Gospel of Family.” What does it actually mean? The text offers no answers. The expression comes from St. Pope John Paul’s Letter to Families 1994, number 23.
Regarding No. 48 of the text, much discussion took place on the various forms of witness that families might give in living out their communion as a domestic church. Along with the ones listed in the document, the following were suggested:
The witness of holiness in prayer.
The witness of not being self-referential.
The witness of being sensitive to environmental issues.
The witness of simply living together in charity, in shared, everyday life.
Bishops felt that these actions should be seen as the fruit of baptism and confirmation.
Some in our group spoke about the need for the text to list devotions that both enhance and express family life and spirituality. The rosary was central to the discussion; so was the importance of parents reading Scripture to children, and siblings reading Scripture together. Bishops stressed the value of families attending Sunday Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations together, and were surprised the text didn’t focus on this in greater detail. Some suggested that various practices of popular piety be listed as concrete expressions of family devotions.
Various bishops noted the importance of women in the life of the Church and the need to focus more attention on giving them appropriate leadership roles. Some felt the document should be more sensitive to women abused by their husbands or within their families, and who therefore carry extra burdens. One person felt that exemplary families are sometimes difficult for people in painful circumstances to see as positive. Exemplary families may intimidate them rather than helping them to see the possibility of living that way themselves.
Bishops said the text should present the canonical reasons for separation of spouses and reasons for seeking an annulment. We need to be realistic about marital problems rather than simply encouraging people to stay together. Again, violence against women was a key part of the discussion.
One of the bishops emphasized that priests are not trained to be marriage counselors. If they present themselves as such, they risk legal problems for their local Churches. Priests should move away from marriage counseling and do clearly defined spiritual guidance instead.
On the question of why young people fear to marry, many bishops observed that young people are afraid to fail in any area of life. Youth ministry in parishes and dioceses should help young couples understand the value of marriage. We need to focus on Pope John Paul’s exhortation not to be afraid and also to be aware that in the Gospel, Jesus took care of a young married couple whose marriage celebration was about to run out of wine. The Lord will always take care of young couples who trust in him in the way.
Circle D accepted this report unanimously. Our group is marked by great diversity and many different perspectives – 29 persons, 21 of them bishops, coming from 20 countries. Bishops made many suggestions for changes in the text. They will bring these forward in the various modi .
[Original text: English]