by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
-- The Meat and Potatoes of the Ordinary Synod
Due to the large number of the interventions of small language groups (in Latin: "circuli minores") at the Synod on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, it is necessary here to summarize their content (essentially without comment) before we can later discuss appropriately any particular points raised in the reports given by those various groups. Herewith is a summary of just 20 salient points based on what was said in Italian, English, French and Spanish during the "Press Briefing" of the Sala Stampa held on Thursday afternoon.
(1) Fr. Bernard Hagenkord, S. J., responsible for the German Section of Vatican Radio, kicked off the presentations by stating that the German-speaking groups are in agreement that the Church must present her doctrine on marriage and the family with clarity, that is, without any equivocations.
(2) The Church does not have the authority to change or diminish God's Word and its special demands in terms of marriage and the family.
(3) Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal, made over a year and a half ago, of a "Via Penitentialis," ("Pentitential Way") for the divorced/remarried is still very much alive -- on the table for further discussion.
(4) The divorced/remarried need to be accompanied along different types of journeys within the bosom of Holy Mother Church. There is the "Penitential Journey," as Cardinal Kasper has proposed, but also the "Catechetical Journey" and the "Journey of Discernment." The pastors of the Church need to respect the autonomy of "individual consciences" when it comes to receving Holy Communion.
(5) The centrality of God's Word should receive greater emphasis in marriage preparation.
(6) Priests are "wounded healers" who must therefore be particularly sensitive when ministering ("pastoring" was the word Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., used) to couples in irregular situations.
(7) As dioceses look to offer better priestly formation in their seminaries, they must bear in mind that many of their future priests will themselves be products of "broken families."
(8) The Church has a definite "mission to the family," but the family likewise has a definite "mission to the Church."
(9) Serious social problems weigh heavily on the traditional family nowadays from immigration and refugee crises to human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and children.
(7) While the doors of the Church remain "wide open" (a nice allusion to the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy!), the way to salvation remains "narrow," that is to say, "difficult," as Jesus Himself taught in the Gospel.
(8) Madame Romilda Ferrauto, responsible for the French Section of Vatican Radio, related the concern of the French-speaking groups that the Church needs to avoid seeking "rapid solutions" to complex problems because it would run the risk of falling into error, both doctrinally and pastorally.
(9) Certain French-speaking Synod participants feel that because the divorced/remarried are not (technically speaking) "excommunicated," they should be allowed to receive Holy Communion.
(10) The local churches (dioceses) must deal with concrete situations of "mixed marriages" and "disparity of cult" (here I would refer you to my article on this topic, posted here. ). In France, for example, a frequent pastoral problem that arises concerns Catholic women who want to marry Muslim men.
(11) How can the Church minister more effectively to couples who experience great suffering because they are infertile?
(12) There is an attempt on the part of many "developed" countries to influence the natural family planning (NFP) programs of under-developed countries, so that the latter will open themselves up to the use of condoms and artificial contraception. How can the Church respond to these challenges on the part of secular societies and governments?
(13) With regard to Canon 874 (which deals with baptismal sponsors), can the Church rightfully welcome divorced/remarried persons to be godparents, so long as they demonstrate acceptance of the Church's teaching on Baptism and Marriage -- although they remain in an irregular marital situation at the time the Baptism is taking place?
(14) We should not rush to give Holy Communion to the divorced/remarried because we feel the pressure of secular society to do so.
(15) If the Church were to open up a "Via Penitentialis," would this not create hard feelings between those who will prepare to be reconciled and those Catholics in the same parish who have sacrificed much by respecting the Church's discipline all along in refraining from the reception of Holy Communion for prolonged periods or in refraining from conjugal relations (so as to receive Holy Communion)?
(16) Fr. Manuel Dorantes of the Archdiocese of Chicago reported that some Spanish and Portuguese Synod participants suggested that it is offensive to the divorced/remarried or other people in irregular situations to come up for a priestly "blessing" at Holy Communion when they cannot in fact receive the Eucharist. In certain circles this practice is regarded as a demeaning and humiliating "mea maxima culpa!" that unnecessarily alienates the divorced/remarried, making them stand out like sore thumbs in the Eucharistic Assembly.
(17) What are to make, pastorally speaking, of the "touching" action of certain young Hispanic children who, having received the Sacred Host, break it into pieces in order to communicate Our Lord to their parents who are divorced and remarried?
(18) Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See's Press Office, commented on the rich content of the interventions in the various small groups thus far. He also said that certain participants found it strange that the word "pardon" or "forgiveness" ("perdono" in Italian) is found only one time in the "Instrumentum Laboris."
Fr. Lombardi also brought up the idea discussed in small groups that the Church must find a way to help those who are illegal and poor migrants or immigrants. Further, can the Church perhaps recognize a so-called "marriage of conscience" for those individuals who, because they are illegal migrants or immigrants, cannot be married legally?
(19) The Archbishop of Poznan and President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Stanislaw Gadecki, reflected on the small group discussions that took place in Polish. Speaking in Italian, he stressed the importance of following Pope John Paul II's guidelines in "Familiaris Consortio" in terms of pastoral care for divorced/remarried persons. The Archbishop noted that the Church does not judge and condemn such persons because judgment and condemnation are ultimately reserved to God alone. On the contrary, the Church is called to "accompany" such persons along paths to achieve eternal salvation even if that means that they would have to refrain from sacramental communion while attending Sunday Mass regularly and cultivating a life of prayer and devotion in their relationships and in their families.
The Archbishop of Poznan added that if a "Via Penitentialis" were to be implemented by the various episcopal conferences, the bishops would have to take care to ascertain that divorced/remarried couples were truly repentant and not just emotionally excited about the possibility of being reconciled with the Church in order to receive Holy Communion. For their part, the bishops of Poland have decided to follow the guidelines of "Familiaris Consortio" and have instructed their priests who offer pastoral accompaniment to the divorced/remarried not to give them false, "delusionary" hope that their indissoluble bonds of matrimony can be broken when in fact the Church has no authority from the Lord Jesus Christ to make a declaration outside the annulment process envisioned by the Code of Canon Law, which was recently modified by Pope Francis' Motu Proprio.
(20) Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Tlalnepanthla (Mexico) began his presentation by mentioning that he has served not only as the Secretary General but also as the Vice-President and President of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America (known by the Spanish acronym CELAM), which is composed of an impressive 22 different episcopal conferences.
Archbishop Retes proceeded to emphasize that the Synod Fathers are working hard to come up with a balanced approach that never separates pastoral solutions to marriage and family problems from their profound doctrinal underpinnings. In other words, doctrine and pastoral praxis must go hand-in-hand, never creating any false dichotomy or tension between the two realities. The "Plan of God" for traditional marriage is abundantly clear, involving the complementary relationship of one man and one woman who are open to procreating new life as God wills it. The irregularities that exist (like divorce and remarriage) cannot be allowed to obfuscate that orginal divine plan. At the same time, the bishops of Latin America, like all bishops in the universal Church, will have to address irregular situations with pastoral sensitivity and compassion without compromising the teachings of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium.
As can be readily seen, observations and proposals thus far span the theological and pastoral spectrum and will be considered in future installments.