Synod on the Family Faces Contentious Issues in Week Two

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
16 Oct 2015

Cardinal George Pell at the Synod on the Family

Week two of the three-week Synod on the Family at the Vatican saw predicted contentious issues discussed primarily around how the Church should treat people who divorce and remarry without first obtaining an annulment.

The 270 prelates attending the Synod on the Family comprise the Synod's 13 working groups, formed according to language.

One of the five Vatican spokespersons commenting on the Synod, Romilda Ferrauto, said the prelate's discussions widely boiled down to two separate views: either wanting to "accompany people in spite of their failures without watering down church teaching" or "warning against quick fixes or quick solutions" to pastoral problems.

Another spokesperson who is assisting the English=speaking media is Fr Tom Rosica. He said one  bishop had spoken of a need to "profess the faith with clarity, to know what the creed means and also to know not only such expressions as doors wide open but the importance of the narrow path sometimes, which is difficult to follow".

Although the Synod's deliberations are taking place behind closed doors prelates are free to make comments publicly and a number have certainly done this.

The German prelates, Polish, African, US, Honduran and others   have all put their views forward in interviews or media conferences.

And there was much excitement when a letter, said to have been signed by 13 Cardinals and hand-delivered to Pope Francis by Cardinal George Pell, Secretary for the Economy, told the Pope that changes in the Synod process "seem designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions".

This was reported as conservative bishops trying desperately to hold the line.

Story of the letter was published by a journalist whose press credentials were stripped by the Holy See last June after he leaked a copy of the Pope's encyclical on the environment.

Four named Cardinals later denied having signed the letter.

In a statement ¬released after the leaking of the letter, a spokesman for Cardinal Pell said: "There is strong agreement in the synod on most points but obviously there is some disagreement because minority elements want to change the church's teachings on the proper dispositions necessary for the ¬reception of communion. Obviously there is no possibility of change on this doctrine." The spokesman also said ¬private letters should remain ¬private.

However  New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan was happy to provide some background on the letter. He told an American interviewer when he arrived in Rome Cardinal Pell and some other bishops had a conversation in which they "shared some concerns". He said there were three key areas: the Synod's working document (Instrumentum Laboris); the process; and composition of the 10-person special commission set up by the Pope to draft the Synod's final document.

Cardinal Dolan told the interviewer that Cardinal Pell said; "We love the Holy Father, we trust him, he's urged us to be honest with him as possible - why don't we write to him we're worried."

Cardinal Dolan said the letter was written before the Synod began and was in Italian. He said the next day the Holy Father, while not referring to the letter directly, said he understood some of the prelates had concerns and listed those and said "let me try to respond to that".

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York revealed some of the background to "the letter"

In the meantime in addressing the Synod or in his intervention, Cardinal Pell said  synod fathers had no power to relativise the objective truths of the Catholic faith no power to change essential Church teachings.

He said;" Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, has told the synod on the family that it has no power to change "essential Church teachings".

He said; "Our first episcopal task as teaching bishops is not to be theologians, but to teach, explain, and defend the apostolic tradition of faith and morals."

He said that, while the synod fathers could "contribute to the genuine development of doctrine", they had no power to "change or diminish the Word of God, much less to refashion it according to prevailing insights, or relativise the objective truths of Catholic faith and morals as passing expressions in some Hegelian flux".

Jesus was "not afraid to confront society", the cardinal said, adding: "He did not tell the adulterous woman to continue in her good work, but to repent and sin no more."

The Cardinal said: "Not even a council with and under a pope can change essential Catholic moral teachings sanctioned by Scripture and the Magisterium. It is for reasons such as these that the Holy Father has said that 'doctrine cannot be touched'".

IN another interview Australian delegate attending the Synod, the Archbishop of Brisbane, Most Rev Mark Coleridge said ongoing worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops should adopt a "less negative" reading of reality that recognizes and encourages the good aspects of modern societies, an Australian archbishop participating in the gathering has said.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge said "crude and bleak readings" of modern society "are not what the doctor ordered."

"It's always the language of crisis," said Coleridge, speaking of how the church talks about marriage and family life.

"I understand what crisis is, but sometimes I think that when we talk about that marriage and family are in crisis that in part what we mean is that our understanding of marriage and the family are in crisis," said the archbishop, who heads eastern Australia's Brisbane archdiocese.

"You can't all the time be saying, 'It's out there; there's the problem,'" he said. "The problem is often within us and within the church. And we have to have the honesty and the clarity of vision to say that."

The Synod will conclude on 25 October.

To read Archbishop Mark Coleridge's Blogs from the Synod

To read Cardinal Pell's intervention in full click here