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 Reese, Fr. 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
Pirolas: Promoting the sacredness of sex in marriage by Philippa Hitchen
- 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.”
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.”
Day 7 in Rome
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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, ncronline.org)
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 were 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!
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.
“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.
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.
Today, 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 a 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:
Another pre-Synod conference called “The Ways of Love” was organized by the European Forum of LGBT 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.