By Andreas Tille (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops ended today, with the Synod Fathers approving a 94-paragraph report that told us… well, not all that much.
Communion for the Divorced and Civilly Married?
Whew! The vote to approve the paragraph dealing with this topic was a close one: It passed by just one vote over the two-thirds majority which was required for approval.
One concern which was prominent in American media—full reconciliation and Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried—was not really resolved, but remains a matter for discernment and pastoral counseling. According to Vatican Insider, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn told reporters that the key word in the document’s discussion of ministry to divorced and civilly remarried people is “discernment.” He emphasized that there is no black and white, no simple yes or no.
Cardinal Schönborn cited the call for discernment in St. John Paul II’s 1981 exhortation on the family, adding that the pope had not really delineated all that would follow the discerning process. In their final report issued Saturday, October 24, the Synod Fathers propose that priests should accompany divorced and remarried couples through the process of conversion and repentance, helping them to determine for themselves whether or not they are worthy to receive the Eucharist.
The report does not specifically call for absolution and a return to Communion; but it leaves open the possibility that the Pope may impose such a solution. The report quotes the affirmation found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that under certain conditions, “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified.” The consequences of acts are not necessarily the same in all circumstances.
Pope Francis will now take the Synod report under advisement, and the pontiff will determine how to apply the Synod’s thoughtful discussion in the modern world. Whether the Church will open its arms to permit divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist has not been determined. That same self-examination and discernment is expected of all Catholics who receive Christ in the Eucharist.
No, There Will Be No Approval of Homosexual Marriage
At the beginning of the Synod, Pope-watchers were heartened to hear Pope Francis reiterate that Church doctrine on the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, including the openness to life, will not change.
And despite reports in the mainstream media to the contrary, the final report strongly affirmed traditional marriage as God’s plan for humanity. It is, as the report says, a blessing for the Church and a benefit to society.
The synod report repeats what the Church has always taught with regard to same-sex unions: That while God loves homosexual persons, the union of two members of the same gender cannot be recognized as a marriage. The Synod Fathers denounced governments or international organizations which recognize the “marriage” between persons of the same sex, making their invalid attempted “marriage” a condition for financial assistance. Such a policy, the Fathers wrote, is “totally unacceptable.”
In addition to the two issues above, the bishops in synod also discussed the role of women in families, in the Church, and in society—noting that women have much to contribute, and that their roles have changed and expanded in the modern era;
The challenge facing parents who love and care for children with disabilities was described in the report as a “heroic witness.” The family was lauded as a sanctuary, in which is protected the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death.
And the Synod Fathers were concerned that poverty and migration place a great strain on family life.
But Now What?
The full members of the Synod voted on each of the 94 paragraphs individually; and the Vatican tallied and published the votes.
It remains now for Pope Francis to take the report under advisement. He may or may not issue his own statement. The Synod process is essentially an opportunity for the Pope to listen to bishops from around the world; but the final decision on each issue will rest with him.