Monthly Archives: October 2014

Pope Francis stresses unity at the end of the synod and some passages were never meant to survive

After weeks of pressing for reform, Pope Francis focuses on unity
The Pope who brought two camps in the Church together by canonizing Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on the same day closed two weeks of tough talks at the synod by making unity a top priority.
Leading up to and during the synod, the Pope consistently warned clerics to resist dogmatically enforcing the letter of the law over mercy exhorting them to be open to God’s surprises,” one of his favorite catch-phrases for reform.
But as the synod came to an end, Francis focused on unity.  He congratulated participants for their efforts during the arduous two weeks and also warned both sides against “hostile inflexibility” or “deceptive mercy.”
Some passages were never meant to survive; post-synod comments
The official English language translation of Relatio Synodi has not been released, but the question of three failed paragraphs remains front and center as an indicator of which side held sway on the Church’s relationship to divorced and remarried and homosexual couples.
Many claimed the final document a win for hard-liners, but Cardinal Raymond Burke’s crowd failed in their attempt to nix discussion and re-assert the status quo in key areas. And as the post-synod season begins, many leaders who sought change are speaking up.
Divorce and remarriage
In stark contrast to Burke on sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics, Cardinal LuisTagle firmly stated, “”The question of remarried divorcees remains open,” while Belgium veteran, Cardinal Godfried Danneels spoke more forcefully. He criticized the defenders of doctrine who, “seem to have lost sight of how important it is for a person to entrust themselves to the power of the sacraments…” Danneels framed the issue in dire terms saying, “Given the situation we currently live in, if we do not do our utmost to ensure people approach the sacraments, we face the risk of dechristianization.”
The paragraph on homosexuality that failed to muster enough votes was reduced from a mid-term blockbuster to a repeat of the Catechism and a CDF text.  Its failure was understood by some as an indicator that a simple re-assertion of what has been was not good enough.
Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,voiced that position commenting, “Why did some Bishops choose not to approve a text which only repeated the Church’s received teaching? I have the impression many would have preferred a more open, positive language. Not finding it in this paragraph, they might have chosen to indicate their disapproval of it.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster agreed that the paragraph didn’t go far enough saying, “There were three key words as far as I was concerned … ‘respect’, ‘welcome’ and ‘value.  I was looking for those words and they weren’t there and so I didn’t think that was a good paragraph.”
Archbishop Bruno Forte concurred and even challenged Francis’ characterization of the progressive position saying, “Some may have expressed disagreement because they wanted more to be said. Or they wanted the issue to be dropped. I would like to remind you, however, that the main message to gay people is one that is central to Francis’ pontificate: communicating the faith and mercy. These are not acts of do-goodery or weakness.”
Like Nichols, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, head of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences and a member of Francis’ advisory group, reasserted some of the lost mid-term language stating, “There are the Catholic principles, Scripture, Magisterium, but also an openness, a pastoral approach for everyone……you ask if gays are welcome? The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.”
The pain and promise
While the finalized version of the synod document was a source of pain for many Catholics who read the unexpected shifts in tone in the mid-term report with renewed joy and hope, Fr. Thomas ReeseFr. James Martin and Martin Pendergast show how this extraordinary synod broke new ground with evolved decision-making structures and resurrected pastoral concepts that changed the landscape of the synodal process and, by extension, the Church going forward.
Pope Francis, returning to his push for reform at the closing synod Mass beatifying Pope Paul VI reminded even the most entrenched defenders of orthodoxy, “God is not afraid of new things!  That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”
7 lessons from the Vatican’s wild and crazy Synod on the Family by David Gibson

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Week 2: Small group reports are in


Saturday is voting day at the Synod.  Each paragraph of the mid-term working document, Relatio post disceptationem, will receive a vote and the final document will go to Pope Francis on Sunday. This document will, in turn, become the foundational working document for the Ordinary Synod taking place next year from Oct 4 – 29, 2015.
But before any vote can be taken, those who are drafting the final document will have to take into account thesuggestions made by 10 “circoli minor” or small language groups.  Of note, Pope Francis added two more people tothe drafting team including a critic of Relatio, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa and Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia.
The names of the individuals in each small group were not revealed but each consisted of clerics, experts and auditors. There were two French, three English, three Italian, and two Spanish groups. Each one was headed by a moderator and relator.
Two French speaking groups were headed by:

Group A: Cardinal Crhrisoph Schonborn (moderator)
Mons. Andre Leonard (relator)

Group B: Cardinal Robert Sarah (moderator)
Mons. Francois-Xavier Dumortier (relator)

Three English speaking groups were headed by:
Group A: Cardinal Raymond Burke (moderator)
Mons. John Atcherley Dew (relator)
Group B:  Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier (moderator)
Mons. Diarmuid Martin (relator)
Group C: Mons. Joseph Kurtz (moderator)
Mos. Stephen Brislin (relator)
Three Italian speaking groups were headed by:
Group A: Mons. Angelo Massafra (moderator)
Rev. P. Manuel Jesus Arroba Conde (relator)
Group B: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (moderator)
Mons. Salvatore Fisichella (relator)
Group C: Cardinal Fernando Filoni (moderator)
Mons. Edoardo Menichelli (relator)
Two Spanish speaking groups were headed by:
Group A: Cardinal Rancisco Robles Ortega (moderator)
Mons. Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga (relator)
Group B:  Cardinal Luis Martinez Sistach (moderator)

Mons. Rodolfo Valenzuela Nunez (relator)

What did the groups say?

While there were great differences in the tone and content of the reports, the language groups made several similar points.
1.  They wanted to expose the positive aspects of marriage.
2.  They wanted to highlight Catholics who are loyal.
3.  They wanted to make sure there was no confusion regarding Church teaching.
While staunch defenders of orthodoxy like Cardinal George Pell and Cardinal Raymond Burke remain consistently at the top of the headlines here in the U.S., there are stillplenty of leaders who want to see Relatio retain its pastoral direction.

The English groups voiced a range of interventions with Burke’s group “A” being the most oppositional.

Burke’s group wanted to see an overall re-configuration ensuring unambiguous Church teaching. This group did not want the Church to be perceived as somehow condoning sex outside marriage.  They also took a firm stand against the question of the admission of divorced and remarried persons to the sacraments. What is surprising about the tone of this intervention is the fact that the “Francis leaning” perspective of the relator, Archbishop John Dew, seems to have been entirely drowned out.

While Napier had critiqued Relatio, his group B still largely imitated its tone in key areas stating, “The Church must teach with clarity, but must also, as one member of the group stressed, ‘have the courage to knock on forbidden doors.'”  The statement goes on, “Very often when we find the courage to knock on forbidden doors what we discover surprises us; what we encounter inside is the loving presence of God which helps us to address the challenges of today, no longer on our terms, but in new ways which might otherwise have been unimaginable. Knocking on forbidden or unaccustomed doors involves risk and courage.  Fear and anxiety of what we think are forbidden doors may mean excluding opening ourselves to the God who always surprises.”   On polygamy, they recommended further study.

Kurtz’s group started with a short treatment of complementarity and the statement, “marriage is God’s gift to man.”  And while that John Paul II-inspired re-assertion of traditional values and roles is anathema to many married Catholics, the thrust of this group’s interventions was mild, the tone still largely aligned to Relatio.

While Sarah’s French grouexpressed dismay over the early release of Relatio, Schonborn’s group expressed their gratitude.  Both intoned the welcoming aspects of Relatio while also reflecting the cautions expressed therein.  Unlike the other groups, both French-speaking groups argued forlocal and regional autonomy when dealing with particular issues facing families implying Rome must yield to the wisdom of those closest to their people. Sarah’s group wants clear language addressing poverty as the number one issue causing turmoil and breakdowns in the family. Both groups reiterated Relatio’s welcoming tone for homosexuals.

The Spanish groups clearly wanted to see some additions to Relatio. Along with the usual cautions regarding the perceived slippery slope in the language of mercy used in Relatio, Ortega’s group denounced female genital mutilation, prostitution, and the abuse of children. Sistach’s group wanted to include language defending life, opposing abortion while calling for further study on the possibility of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist along with greater clarity on homosexuality.

Filoni’s Italian group expressed appreciation for Erdo’s Relatio and wanted to see the report highlight the pressures put on families by migration, bio-technology and other modern phenomenon. They wanted the concept of “gradualness” clarified and a greater emphasis on “the truth of marriage.” Specifically, Filoni’s group wants to see a substitution in the subtitles for Relatio’s 36 – 52 inserting the phrase “pastoral care” for each group mentioned instead of “positive aspects”  at the beginning of 36 and “welcoming” at the beginning 50.

Bagnasco’s group B called for more study on some issues and stressed the development of doctrine that will accompany pastoral changes.  When it comes to the African context for polygamy and “marriage in stages”, this group wanted a tougher stance.

Finally, Massafra’s group wanted to see the language of sin  and conversion reasserted and the concept of gradualness removed because of the confusion it would cause.

The struggle toward reform
Clearly there are many who fear the demise of the Church’s authority as it heads toward mercy.  But, as Relatio shows, there is clearly a force for reform inside the halls of power.
Further, Pope Francis is getting clearer and clearer about where he stands.  He thinks there is a lot of dead wood in current laws. And he wants the Synod leaders to get on with the business of changing things saying on Monday, “If the law does not lead to Jesus Christ, if it does not bring us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead. And Jesus rebuked them [Doctors of the Law] for this closure, for not being able to read the signs of the times, for not being open to the God of surprises.”
Will this Synod continue to struggle to follow Francis’ invitation to be courageous, loving and pastoral in new ways?  As Cardinal Tagle said, “The drama continues.”
See some of the press conferences for yourself.

10/15/14 Press Conference at Sala Stampa

A tour de force meeting of minds, a nervous pull back, small groups and calls for greater lay involvement

Relatio post disceptationem: where it stands
The important work of the first week of the synod was captured in “Relatio post disceptationem,” a document described as “a mirror…of what we have reached so far,” by Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Philippines.
By every measurement the document indicates a church well on its way to re-imagining its relationship to those who have been previously sidelined; cohabiting, divorced and remarried and same sex couples. There is no turning back despite some strident calls to do so. While the reality of building consensus by the end of the week looms large with a chorus of synodal voices cautioning that modifications are sure to come as a result of small group interventions, there is much reason to expect the core elements of the document will arrive in Pope Francis’ lap intact.
Here’s why.
Today, Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach responded to the criticisms of Cardinal Wilfred Napier and others saying “Relatio” fairly represented the voices of those who spoke at the synod undercutting some of the criticisms being proffered that Pope Francis influenced the mid-term document by handpicking the group who drafted it.
On Monday, Cardinal Luis Tagle also defended the integrity of the document thanking Erdo, Forte and the other drafters for their “heroic act” in capturing the discussions accurately.
And while the voices of discontentment and  even suspicion are grabbing attention, the voices for change being aired at the synod are amazingly strong, unified and confident. What has been penned in this church-bending document is not the result of sudden conversions in the synod hall, but the effect of the open space created by Pope Francis. Those who had doubts about the “smaller, purer” version of church are now speaking openly in growing numbers.
And even though Francis is saying very little at the synod, it is clear he wants to see transformation. Outside the synod hall, he continues his campaign for dialogue and change exhorting synod leaders to ” . . . remember holy law is not an end in itself.”
Language Groups meet
Since Monday, the ongoing work of the synod has been carried out in small language groups where participants offer additions and amendments to the working document. According to some insiders, the work has been intense as prelates struggle to make their position dominant.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz reported today that the English language group wants to introduce three additions to the working document that would
  • Highlight the important witness of sacrificial, loving families today
  • Ensure our words are welcoming and come from the heart
  • Make sure pastoral outreach is rooted in the beauty of Scripture and Church teaching.

Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, said his Italian language group wants to include problematic aspects of the annulment process highlighting the need to do away with exorbinent costs.

Calls for a deeper involvement of the laity and a shift in the starting point for developing pastoral practice

Last week, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, head of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, spoke of a major shift, a new starting place for theological reflection by bishops at the synod saying, “We are finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source…a place for theological reflection.”  Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster agreed that having married couples speaking before the prelates was new and very efficacious for the work of the synod.

On Tuesday, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin echoed Durocher’s theological starting point saying, “We have to develop a different type of theology in which we can learn from the lived experience of families and the difficulties that they have.”

In the same vein, Capetown Archbishop Stephen Brislin, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, gave voice to the desire to engage the laity more thoroughly and effectively.  Speaking about the testimonies of the couples last week, he said, “I think one of the great things of the synod has been to hear these testimonies. And all of them have been very moving and thought provoking. One of the weaknesses, of course, is the time limitation. The couples were limited to four minutes and a four minute input on these issues is really not very much.”

In other words, the relationship between bishops and the laity must be re-ordered, the lives and experiences of the laity must be a central starting place for all theological reflection and teaching on the family, and the laity must have a greater hand in developing the work of the synod..
Coming soon
Tomorrow, modifications of the working document, “Relatio,” will be presented to the whole synod for review with a final draft presented to Pope Francis by Sunday.But as veteran reporter Robert Mickens points out, “The real work must take place in the weeks and months ahead, between the sessions. . . .”
Like FutureChurch and other reform organizations, he calls for a widening of the circle theologians as intercessional seminars, conferences and consultations are carried out in preparation for the ordinary synod in 2015.

Over the next year, Mickens believes the bishops should include, ” . . . Catholic faithful of all walks of life and of varying experiences, not just priest-theologians.”

Going further he advocates for widespread discussions over the next 12 months saying, “Just as Pope Francis opened the current synod assembly by telling participants he wanted them to speak with parrhesia, so bishops throughout the church must allow their priests and people to engage in brutally honest conversation about the realities of family life, marriage and human sexuality in a spirit of respectful and humble dialogue.”

To that we say, “Amen.”


The first week of the synod winds down on a wave of hope

Photo credit: Paul Haring/CNS


The first week of the synod winds down on a wave of hope

Real openness and dialogue are having an impact

The Roman Catholic Church is shifting – moving toward change.  If you listen you can hear the sounds.  It is like watching a beloved (if, at times, stubborn) child grow and learn to form new words in her or his mouth. Parents, with their proclivity for seeing every great possibility in their children know this.  They know how small, sometimes partial words and incomplete gestures cause the heart to leap with joy for what just happened, but also for what is to come.

That is the spirit here at the synod as the first week comes to a close.  As FutureChurch heads back home, we know that the Holy Spirit is alive and well here in the synod hall.  Even the proclamations of things unalterable are slowly being drowned out in this new life-giving wind of change.

While all the bishops and cardinals more or less assent to the daily mantra, “doctrine cannot be changed,” more and more are proposing creative pathways around that obstacle as they feel a new openness to speak freely under Francis.

Archbishop John Dew of Wellington of New Zealand, acathnews_nzveteran who has attended five synods,attests to the difference Pope Francis is making at the synod.  He said Pope Francis, “is just there wondering around and talking to people. He’s very serious about collegiality. People feel freer and you can sense that in the atmosphere.” 

On Thursday, the head of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher spoke of a major shift, a new starting place for theological reflection by bishops at the synod; the same starting place espoused for decades by mujerista, womanist, feminist and liberation theologians around the world.

“What’s happening within the Synod is we are seeing a more inductive way of reflecting; starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out, ‘what is going on here?'”, said Durocher.  “We are finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source…a place for theological reflection.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said at the Tuesday Press Briefing that the experience of married couples is being heard first, before prelates speak. And this is new according to Nichols. He noted that many “positive suggestions being put forward,” and that “we have to approach the social reality of marriage in a friendly dialogue.”  Nichols asserted that equality, rejection of violence and the dignity of children were strands found in western culture that “we can befriend.”

What couples had to say this week   

If experience is central to this synod of bishops and the experience of people is  a starting place for theological reflection, what are married couples who get the floor at the synod saying?  It’s a mix, but below are some of the salient points they made.

Ron and Mavis Pirola of Australia shared a story offriends who have a gay son who wanted to bring his partner home for Christmas. The couple’s love for their son took paramount importance over Church teaching saying, “he is our son.”  Using this example, the Pirolas explained how the Church might benefit.

“In our experience, families, the domestic churches, are often the natural models of the open doors for churches of which “Evangelii Gaudium” speaks”  While acknowledging families could benefit from better teaching and programs, the stressed that “more than anything, they [those who are seen as outside orthodoxy] need to be accompanied on their journey, welcomed, have their stories listened to, and above all, affirmed.”

Even more pointed, they said that the clergy could become better prepared in presenting Church teachings by “learning from the domestic church.”   The Pirolas believe that this demands a new mindset for lay people.  “They must no longer be viewed as collaborators of the clergy, but truly recognized as co-responsible for the Church’s being and action.”

Vatican Radio photoGeorge and Cynthia Campos of the Philippines told the story of failure in reaching out to Catholics living in “irregular situations.”  Reflecting on why their ministry failed, they suggested that “an enlightened pastoral charity inaugurating innovative forms of ‘accompaniment’ of conjugal spirituality formation and of inclusionary participation in church life leading to full communion needs promotion and enactment by our ordained ministers.”

Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen of the USA framed the crisis in the Church as the result of “the age of the diminished family structure.”  Upholding a more orthodox framework for analyzing the problems facing families, they asked how Catholics can, “effectively share what we know to be true in practical, simple and convincing ways so that all men and women are challenged and supported to live life-long marriages and build homes that reflect the domestic Church?”

ron haring cnsStephen and Sandra Conway of South Africa shared their experience and work in a program for couples whose marriages are in crisis as a way of proposing greater openness by the Church. Citing the story of a couple who had joined the RCIA program but who could not get a first marriage annulled, the Conways called for more openness on the part of the Church.  They said, “If God is the ultimate forgiver and full of compassion then these couples should be forgiven for previous mistakes, how ever, they believe that they are constantly reminded and guilty of these past relationships or mistakes by not being able to partake in communion.”

Arturo and Hermelinda Zamberline of Brazil wereinspired by the leadership of Fr. Henri Caffarel who taught that couples should not deliberately close themselves off from having children. They asked the synod leaders to quickly make clear the teaching of Humanae Vitae so Catholics could more readily comply.

Promoting the natural family planning method they also admitted that “many Catholic couples, even those seriously seeking to live their marriage, do not feel obligated to use only natural methods.”

They go on to say that although natural methods for planning the family are good, they may not be practical for many.  Citing the pace of life for many young Catholics and the learning curve for success using natural family planning, “the majority of Catholic couples” are not using natural methods.

Olivier and Xristilla Roussy of France told the story of wanting a big family, learning the methods of natural family planning, deciding to try birth control pills, and, even though it meant an unplanned pregnancy, their returned to natural family planning as the best path toward holiness.

They also stated that mercy was central, not just to others, but for the life of the Church.  “We are called to love people and walk with them rather than judge their actions; to be witnesses to mercy not ignoring the realities they face.  Only this attitude of the heart can prevent us from becoming small communities; narrow, controlled and ultimately dying.”

Even the most orthodox couples, expressed the need for better pastoral care this week.  Some of them reflected what Fr. Thomas Rosica heard synod leaders say, “The Eucharist is a sacrament that supersedes all sacraments.  Jesus is present in the Eucharist and we must allow Jesus to do his work in the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is left for us sinners and we should not portray a church mentality which places limits on God’s love.”

Archbishop Durocher on Thursday sums up the best how the diverse hopes expressed by the synod couples can come together when he said the Church must strive for “a marriage of justice and mercy.”

To read the couples testimonies go to the Vatican Press office website

Related stories
Sex, Marriage and the Catholic Church by Tina Beattie

Archbishop Hart on Synod: We need a language of love

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Synod day # 3 – Petitioning Archbishop Kurtz and the Heinzens to remember the “Voices of the People”

Day 7 in Rome

Petitioning Archbishop Kurtz and the Heinzens to remember the “Voices of the People”
Representing the 16,582 who completed the survey on the family in November and December 2013 sponsored by 15 reform organizations, Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch and Kate McElwee of Women’s Ordination Conference greeted Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the USCCB near the gate of the Synod Hall as he arrived for the day’s work. Thanking him for his leadership, Rose-Milavec gave him a copy of the “Voices of the People” report reminding him that he had received a copy in February 2014.  She asked him to consider all Catholic voices including the ones represented in the survey as he conducts his work in the synod.  Kurtz acknowledged receiving the report and promised to look it over again. He slipped it into his bag, gave a final “thank you” and continued toward the gate.

A few minutes later, Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen, the American couple from Wisconsin invited as auditors came through. Rose-Milavec and McElwee greeted them both. Thanking them for their work at the synod, Rose-Milavec handed Alice Heinzen the “Voices of the People” report, asked her to read it and consider how the voices of the 16,500+ who responded to the survey would be represented during the work of the synod.  Alice took the folder, said she would look it over, thanked us and headed into the synod with her husband.

The Heinzens spoke to the synod assembly and in important ways it was disappointing. Unlike couples such as Stephen and Sandra Conway from South Africa who shared their difficulties and failings and the subsequent inspiration for their work, the Heinzens presented their particular upbringing and faith formation as the ideal.  Recalling their parents faith, the faith they received, they contrasted it sharply with the many who fail to live out their faith according to that standard.

“Our parents bore faith witness to the joy and beauty of God’s plan for love and life. Unfortunately, not only in our evaluation of current culture, but also due to our pastoral experience, we know that many young people do not see the witness of married love that we experienced.  They grow up in homes broken by divorce or with no experience of married parents due to out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

More than a crisis, the Heinzens go on to wonder how children who are raised without the blessing of married parents could create life-long marriages?”

Reflecting a Mueller-like framework that is light on mercy and big on blame, they suggest that what is needed are new methods for evangelization because the truth is already set.

Fernandez and Kaigama – a contrast 
Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama and ArgentinianArchbishop Victor Fernandez took center stage at the press briefing today sounding in unison the mantra that “doctrine cannot be changed.”

But there were big differences between them.

Fernandez, clearly the star in the room as an adviser to Francis who purportedly helped write “Evangelii Gaudium,” was surrounded by a crowd of journalists after the briefing. With ease, he cited Pope Francis’ exhortation to talk openly and freely joking that the bishops would not have to worry about “Cardinal Mueller coming after them.”

And while he defended the “no change of doctrine” mantra, he also suggested that it could be deepened and developed.

Kaigama, on the other hand, sounded a defensive tone blaming outside influences for changes and problems in Nigeria.  He also defended the bishops against accusations that they stood with the government in criminalizing homosexual behavior.

“The catholic church respects all human beings.  All are created in likeness and image of God,” said Kaigama.

On the defensive, he stated the bishops of Nigeria did not support the entirety of the controversial law.  While they supported marriage as being between a man and woman, they did not support the criminalization of homosexuals.

“They [those who criticize the bishops] forgot we are defenders of human rights,” said Kaigama.  “We go to prisons and defend women and men.  We would defend any person who is of homosexual orientation and who has been harassed.  We respect human beings, but where there is a defect, or they are not in conformity with our traditions, we don’t punish them. The government may punish them, but we walk with them.”

Toward the end of the press briefing, Kaigama softened slightly. When asked if he was fearful of any change of practice, he stated, “The holy father told us to dialogue and talk. We start and end with prayers.  And it is the Holy Spirit that dictates what we will do.  For now we remain in what is doctrinal, but we are trying to change pastoral practices.”

2nd day of Synod – Experience comes first according to Nichols and a Filipino couple tell a story of failure


Day 6 in Rome

Experience comes first according to Nichols and a Filipino couple tell an important story of failure in their attempt to offer ministry to couples in “irregular situations” 
At the midday press conference Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said that, daily, the experience of married couples is being heard first 20141007_070602[1]before prelates speak.

“Their testimony is very important. I think there is some foundation being laid for the discussion,” said Nichols.

Referring to Chapter 1 of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” the theme of today’s conference was “The Gospel of the Family and Natural Law” and “The Family in the Vocation of the Person of Christ.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines introduced the first speakers this morning.  George and Cynthia Campos told the story of their marriage in 1987, the birth of their four children, their discernment regarding their vocations (Cynthia felt called to be a nun at one point).a high risk pregnancy and Cynthia’s diagnosis with breast cancer.

Obviously a faith filled couple, they also shared their participation and work for Couples for Christ which they described as a “private lay association of the faithful of the pontifical right.
Speaking to one of the important issues at this synod, they told a story of failure. Couples for Christ had developed a special ministry called “Jacob’s Well” for couples in “irregular situations.”  A biblically-inspired outreach rooted in John’s Gospel account of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, they reached out to those who were considered outsiders in the parish because of their unorthodox living arrangements. But, things did not go well.
“It didn’t fare well due to mutually felt uneasiness and lack of interactive preparedness with regularly married couples and a Church advisory that our organization is meant only for couples married in the Church.”
If Nichols can be taken seriously and experience is the foundation for all the work that will be conducted at this synod, the story this couple told is critical – a lesson, a bit of real life wisdom, and a story of ministry foiled for those who will have a hand in shaping new pastoral practices.  According to the Campos couple,  “An enlightened pastoral charity inaugurating innovative forms of ‘accompaniment’, of conjugal spirituality formation and of inclusionary participation in church life leading to full communion needs promotion and enactment by our ordained ministers.”
In short, we need a better way.
Rosica sums up the work thus far

Rosica sums up the work thus far

Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB, English language assistant to the Holy See summed up the synod work thus far. He said right now there are a number of categories that capture the English interventions being discussed including

  • The process within the synod itself including both the day to day workings and the weight given to the questionnaires that were completed
  • The application of the “law of graduality” as developed in “Familiaris Consortio”
  • The use of language describing marriage saying “marriage is already seen as being filtered by harsh language in the Church”
  • The virtue of hope in marriage preparation and life
  • Creative pastoral practices and programs to help develop strong marriages and families
  • The unique place of family as a cell in society and the Church.
  • The unchangeability of doctrine and yet the desire for a change in pastoral practice
  • The multifaceted nature of marriage
  •  The evolving nature of biblical interpretation of Jesus’ words regarding marriage and divorce
  • Marriage as a mystery of Trinitarian relational life

Explaining some of the categories further, on point 1 Rosica said the synod participants were aware of both the blessings and the dangers in consulting Catholics on the issues addressed in the preparatory survey.  They warned that the consultation was not a popular opinion poll where the media might report, “everyone is against the teaching of the church,” but a methodology for listening to Catholic experience.Referring to point 2, a component that would have implications for softening pastoral practices, Rosica said, “the law of graduality refers to the stepping stones in the journey of faith and holiness.”

Nichols clarified further saying, “The mention of the law of graduality is part of moral theology.  In 1982  there was much discussion of this law which meant, ‘take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives,’ yet at the end of the synod on 1982, John Paul II make the distinction, ‘There is a law of graduality, but it should not be confused with graduality of the law.'”  Lombardi continue, “It is not as if there is one law at this time and another law at another time, but there is a pathway.”

Taking up the importance of language in point 3, Rosica noted there was much discussion about the necessity of rethinking some of the language of the Church.  He said, “phrases like, ‘living in sin,’ ‘contraception mentality’ and ‘intrinsically disordered’ do not bring people to Christ. The language has to change.”

Day 5 in Rome: Pope Francis says, “Let’s talk!”

The synod opens with Pope Francis saying “Let’s talk!” and an Australian couple takes him up on it saying gay partners should be welcomed in families and parishes
Vatican Radio live streamed the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the Family this morning and the big message from Francis was,”let’s talk.”

In his opening statement he said, “Speak out. Let no one say: ‘This can not be said’…After the last consistory (February 2014)…aCardinal wrote to me saying: pity that some Cardinals have not had the courage to say some things out of respect for the Pope, believing perhaps that the Pope thought something different. This is not good, this is not collegiality, because you have to say everything that you feel you have to say…without timidity. And, at the same time, you should listen with humility and accept with an open heart what your brother says.”

He ended exhorting all, “…please..speak with frankness and listen with humility.”

FutureChurch at the press briefing

At the 1pm press conference Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, French Cardinal André Vingt-Troi, Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte and Mexican Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes reported on the guidelines set out for the synod process.  All four reinforced the message of Pope Francis saying the Church needs leaders who will listen openly and speak honestly and respectfully as they interact, but Archbishop Forte voiced it most compellingly.

Wanting a more robust synodal process in line with Francis’ call for a climate of freedom and authentic dialogue, Archbishop Forte pointed out that although Paul VI had instituted synods so that all bishops could participate in decision making, “after decades we are still learning something about them.”  When asked by reporters what would be different at this synod, he commented that past synods were too inflexible and that this synod would offer more opportunities for intercessions – the most important element for change.
Several spoke about new processes related to the Synod. Cardinal Vingt-Troi said he has been asked by Catholics to create synod teams at each parish where they would take up the topics being discussed at the synod and offer him their insights. Vingt-Troi said he would in turn share their wisdom and experience with the Cardinal who promises to take this back to the Ordinary Synod in 2015.   He said he would then come back next year “with food for thought.”
While Vingt-Troi said he wasn’t sure he agreed with Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposition for divorced and remarried Catholics returning to the sacraments, he said his position should be respected and considered suggesting to the journalists, “probably some colleagues of yours will talk about the conflict at the synod.”

Mexican Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes was the only speaker to talk about violence against women as a root cause of marital and family destruction. Problems such as immigration, abduction and poor education certainly contributed to breakdowns in families, but he emphasized that violence against women, rape and violence in the family are some of the most destructive aspects of family life and topics that need to be addressed at the synod.

Australian couple ask that gays are accepted in parishes as in families      

Ron and Mavis Pirola told Pope Francis and the synod participants that gay couples should be as accepted in parishes as they are in families. Telling the story of friends who showed their love for their son by accepting him and his partner during a visit to their home, the Pirola’s suggested that parishes would do well to demonstrate the same welcoming spirit.(Francis X. Rocca,

Day 4 in Rome – Reformers ask for a vote and run into the police and Pope Francis gives a stern warning to Synod fathers

Day 4 in Rome
As Catholics stream to the opening mass for the Synod, reformers ask for a vote and run into the police

As the crowds streamed into the Vatican Basilica for the opening mass for the Synod on the Family, members of Catholic Church Reform International policewere joined by International Movement of We Are Church, Women’s Ordination Worldwide and other international reform groups to protest the lack of real decision making power for families at the Synod.  They unfurled a sign that read, “Families must have vote in family synods.”

The group was quickly surrounded by the police who challenged their right to be in the square.  Leader Rene Reid, showed the officers the permit she had obtained for the event, but that was not sufficient.  With more than a dozen officers surrounding the group, the police snapped photos of the group’s signs, song sheets, and confiscated Reid’s passport.  Given the circumstances, the group rolled up the signs and waited.  The police later returned with Reid’s passport and agreed they could conduct their peaceful protest.

At Opening Mass Pope Francis sounds a warning

During the mass with cardinals, patriarchs, major archbishops, archbishops, bishops and priests, and members of the Synod, Pope Francis had some powerful words of warning for the Synod fathers.  Here are important excerpts:
“God’s “dream” is his people…But in both ancient prophecy and in Jesus’ parable, God’s dream is thwarted.”

“In Jesus’ parable, he is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the “experts”, the managers. To them in a particular way God entrusted his “dream”, his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field…Out of greed and pride they want to do with it as they will, and so they prevent God from realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.”

Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent… They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people…We [the bishops] too can be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants.”

Francis’ words leave little doubt about his hopes for this Synod.  His words this morning set the stage for tomorrow’s first day of work.

The Angelus provides another moment to raise awareness

At the noon Angelus, reformers stood again holding their signs asking that families would get a vote in the Synod on the Family. This time they were able to do so without any interference from the police.

A little later, FutureChurch friend Miriam Duignan from the Winjgaards Institute in the U.K. took a moment to greet Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Nigeria who was in the crowd listening to Pope Francis’ blessing.  Onaiyekan represents a region with explosive Catholic growth and some predict a future Pope will come from that region.  Although he is not a participant in the Synod, he has been talking about the needs of families in Nigeria.  Onaiyekan said, “the major problem of the family is how do families maintain themselves if there is massive poverty around, when young people cannot marry not because they do not want to marry, but because they have not got any job and they are waiting for when they can get a good job so they can marry.”

Getting ready for the real work bright and early Monday morning

It is late in Rome as this blog is being written.  Friends of FutureChurch, Paul Collins and his wife Marilyn Hatton from Australia reported passing by Cardinal Sean O’Malley on the street as he took a late evening stroll.  He was praying the rosary.  O’Malley’s prayers are joined by the multitude of prayers by ordinary Catholics who pray for a new day in this Church as the Synod begins.  May the work of the Synod be blessed by the God who has big dreams for all of us!


Pope Francis Family Synod Forgoes Flash for Spiritual Depth  

Day 3 – FutureChurch part of international press conference speaking for the “Voices of the People” and the Synod kicks off with prayer in St. Peter’s Square

deb-voices of the peopleFutureChurch’s Deb Rose-Milavec participated in an international press conference today entitled, “Synod on the Family; Expectations of the people of God.”  Seven speakers from three continents talked about the issues that will be addressed at the Synod.
With seven speakers talking about different issues that will be addressed at the Synod, Rose-Milavec cited the “Voices of the People” survey and the overwhelming support by Catholics for alternatives to Humanae Vitae and the Church’s current teaching regarding Natural Family Planning.  “When it comes to the acceptance of Humanae Vitae, Catholics have spoken, ” said Rose-Milavec.
In the “Voices of the People” survey only 7 percent of respondents said they strictly abide by current Church teaching.  And respondents in this survey believed only 1 percent of Catholics followed Church teaching on the issue.
These responses are anything but unique.

Univision conducted a survey of 12,000 Catholics across 5 continents in February 2014.   While there were marked differences across regions on issues like same sex relationships and optional celibacy, on the issue of contraception, there was a remarkable consensus. Overall, 78% of Catholics in Europe, Africa, Latin America, the U.S. and the Philippines opposed the teachings of the Catholic Church on this issue.

And while a number of bishops’ conferences reported overwhelming evidence indicating a rejection of the teaching, many prelates easily discount those voices, making sense of the numbers by characterizing those Catholics as secularized, morally deficient and therefore, easily dismissed.

“What is important in terms of this synod is that the “sense of the faithful ” is fairly represented on this and other issues at the Synod and in the working group discussions. ” said Rose-Milavec.  According to Rose-Milavec, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida said it best when he quipped, “On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by saying, ‘That train left the station long ago. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fideliumsuggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject.'”

Christian Weisner and Dr. Martha Heizer of InternationalMovement of We are Church who organized the press conference asked, “What is a family?” and “What images of the family will be used?”

Paul Collins, a journalist from Church historian from Australia commented on the problems with mandatory celibacy while  Marylin Hatton, representative of Women’s Ordination Worldwide (Australia) spoke about women’s rights in the Church.  Miriam Duignan, representing the London-based Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research summarized the flaws in natural law theorgy and Dr. Michael Brinkschroeder, Co-President of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups spoke about human dignity in the tradition of the Church.  Oliviero Arzuffi of Noi Siamo Cheisa Italia spoke on the topic of divorce, remarriage and the sacraments.

The conference was picked up by the Washington Post and a number of news agencies with FutureChurch’s Deb Rose-Milavec being interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Network.

Opening prayer service filled with hopeful words
Along with Synod participants, thousands filled St. Peter’s Square this evening for a prayer service to open the Synod. Several couples gave testimonies about their lives. One couple told the story of their separation and reunion during a difficult period of their marriage.
Prelates lined up in chairs and appearing later in the service Pope Francis offered hopeful words prioritizing mercy over rigid adherence to unbending rules.
He asked for three things.
1.  The gift of listening for the synod fathers: to listen in the manner of God, so that they may hear, with him, the cry of the people; to listen to the people, until they breathe the will to which God calls us.
2.  Openness toward a sincere discussion and a spirit of fraternity
3.  A willingness to be able to overcome situations of difficulty with persistence, patience and creativity
As he ended he prayed, “the wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church and on all of humanity….Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope.”
Let’s hope that Pope Francis gets at least a little of what he wants. We know Catholics stand with him in hoping for the same.

Day 2 in Rome: The Controversy continues and Pre-Synod Conferences

Note:  The posts have been very difficult to post because the internet service where I am staying is, as my U.K. friend Miriam says, “dodgy.”

Day 2 in Rome
The Controversy continues and Pre-Synod conferencesThe beat goes on as cardinals here clash over the issues that will be discussed at the Synod.  Although it is rumored that Cardinal Raymond L. Burke is soon to be removed from his position as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, he is blasting away at the likes of Cardinal Kasper, and by extension, Pope Francis.  Burke, painted as a hero of orthodoxy in the chaotic world created by the Francis revolution, is calling for an end of the discussion on remarriage and divorce before it begins.  “The matter really has to be clarified at this point so that this doesn’t continue,” Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told Catholic News Service Oct. 1. “For this to go on for another year, it can only do harm.”Other efforts to profile opposition to Kasper’s position are ongoing.  Fr. Robert Dodaro, editor of “Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church,” said at a press conference that adhering to Christ’s Gospel teachings on divorce is not harsh and mean-spirited, but rather a form of tough love aimed at the salvation of souls.

Pre-Synod Conferences

20141003_051418Today, more than 15 participants representing reform organizations from Australia, Ireland, the Philippines, and the United States participated in a colloquium organized by Catholic Church Reform International, part of a two-day forum on the family.   The participants like Sr. Mary John Manazan, a life long advocate for women’s rights, shared their work for reform and their hopes for the Synod followed by 20141003_060805a Q & A session involving audience members. Several members of Catholic Organizations for Renewal were present. Janet Hauter of American Catholic Council helped organize the forum and also helped moderate today’s event. Kate McElwee of Women’s Ordination Conference shared information about the “Voices of the People” survey conducted by 15 U.S. reform organizations in November and December 2013 in preparation for this Synod.

A member of the audience Suzanne Andrea Birke, a lay leader in the Swiss Catholic Church and part of the lay Pfarrei Initiative Schweiz that FutureChurch met in Bregenz a year ago during the meeting of priests’ association leaders and lay reform leaders called by Fr. Helmut Schueller spoke about their ongoing work to make visible their ministry in the Church.  According to Suzanne, the Swiss Church has been innovative in light of the priest shortage.  Layy leadership carries out many duties that have normally been assigned to those who are ordained. They preach and baptize and carry out a great number of ministries. They are currently negotiating with their bishops asking that 10 practices be recognized officially since they are normative in churches there.  As such they align with Fr. Helmet Schueller’s Austrian Priest Initiative in their acts of disobedience;

The following are current practices by which we stand:

  1. God, through the church and the sacraments, performs healing works. We must not decide who is deserving or not deserving. We already share with all baptized people who feel invited by the resurrected Christ to partake in the communion meal, the “bread of life” (John 6:48)
  2. We already share the communion meal that Jesus gave us, with our sisters and brothers from other Christian Churches. We celebrate our tradition of communion with our fellow Christians and partake in their traditions of communion celebration.
  3. We already invite remarried couples to bless their relationship and prudently address questions of guilt, reconciliation and new beginnings. We share also with these Christians, the bread of life.
  4. We already accept those with different sexual orientation as our sisters and brothers. We stand by them and insist that they belong to our church with all the rights and obligations of such membership.
  5. In the celebration of Eucharist and Liturgy of the word, women and men, of course educated theologians, baptized and confirmed Catholics, already interpret the words of God in their sermons (homilies).
  6. We already give encouragement to the ill and when asked anoint them and their relatives to offer spiritual and physical strength.
  7. In a variety of ways we already offer people steps along the path of forgiveness. We are convinced that when a person is ready, the important elements of forgiveness of sins are possible to provide within a personal exchange with us as ministers.
  8. With the mutual understanding of the Priests, the ministers and Deacons, bring the intercessional dimension of the Eucharistic prayer to the people. Through this we bring a network of service to the people, built upon a responsibility for the church already shared by both ministers/Deacons and Priests.
  9. Because solidarity in the witness of Christ normally needs human encounter and exchange, we already stand in support of an easily comprehensible parish. A pastoral region of more parishes is therefore only a subsidiary structure.
  10. Every Sunday each parish already celebrates the Day of the Lord with the people and the local minister. Every Parish furthermore has a contact person in the form of a community leader.

Another pre-Synod conference called “The Ways of Love” was organized by the European Forum of Frank and JeannineLGBT Christian Groups including Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Frank DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia was invited to speak about human sexuality and the need to update current Church teaching. Next week the group will conduct another exciting event featuring leaders such as Frank Mugisha, a prominent young advocate for the rights of sexual minorities in Uganda.