The bishops bend, Pope Francis proclaims the Good News and “Why you and not them?”

October 24, 2015
by Deb Rose-Milavec

(Note: This was written late last night, but before I could send it, my WiFi in Rome gave out, so here it is now that I’ve landed at JFK)

I am getting ready to board the plane for Cleveland again, glad to be heading home (my arms are aching for my grandbabies) — knowing that although it wasn’t enough, the bishops did bend in the final relatio.

Moreover, I am profoundly grateful for Pope Francis’s strong final message signalling who “better watch out” and also the ways he will continue to bring reform into reality.  As I read his message in the Holy See press hall, tears streamed down my cheeks. I tend to weep when I hear the Good News.  Blame it on my Grandma who raised a whole brood of children (9), my father and uncles included, who could cry openly at the sound of joy.

The bishops bend
and the Germans helped

 A very high-ranking person in your Church said to me once, “My church develops in this way.  First, something is prohibited.  Then it becomes allowed but only as an exception.  Then the bishops see that this works very well and then it becomes admitted.  And then it becomes compulsory.

~Ulla Gudmondson, Former Swedish Amabassador to the Holy See at Voices of Faith 2015 panel discussion 


They didn’t get the whole shebang, but the German contingent accomplished a lot in the final relatio in terms of sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.  And they did it with Cardinal Mueller in tow.  I still can’t get over it.

Good for them.  Good for the Church.

In an October 14th statement, Cardinal Marx made their intentions crystal clear, “we should seriously consider the possibility – based on each individual case and not in a generalizing way – to admit civilly divorced and remarried believers to the sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion.”

There were doubts they could accomplish it but some spotted it coming.

Paragraphs 84, 85 and 86, by far the most controversial, reflect the extent of their success.

Grant Gallico at Commonweal summarizes it best.

In conversation with a priest, according to the synod’s final summary text, a person can become “conscious of [his or her] situation before God”- through the “internal forum.” This process, according to the text, may help a person discern what “prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the church,” and to figure out what can be done to “make it [the participation] grow.” (In 1991, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ruled out the internal forum as a pathway for the divorced and civilly remarried to return to Communion.)

The text does not specify whether this could result in a return to the Communion line. But, importantly, neither does it foreclose the possibility-something many synod fathers wanted to rule out. For weeks, those synod fathers had been arguing for a final relatio that closed the door on Communion for the divorced and remarried. They didn’t win the day. The synod-which is a consultative body, not a deliberative one-could have sent Pope Francis a document that simply reaffirmed the current practice of barring the civilly remarried from the Eucharist. It didn’t. That’s important.

On Humanae Vitae, Gaudium et Spes is cited in paragraph 63.

The choice of responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience, which is “the most secret core and his sanctuary, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS, 16).

It also recounts that many considerations go into family planning.

It talks about spouses forming “a right judgment” saying the correct way to plan a family is through “consensual dialogue between the spouses.”
It rejects state interference and cheers natural family planning as the very best way, but it is clear that there is room for Catholics to make other choices based on conscience.

LGBT Catholics didn’t get much in this document, accept maybe a willingness to do a little less harm by just not talking.  Still, there is some pretty profound language about accompaniment.

As I reported yesterday, Bishop Bonny suggested that the synod wasn’t ready to talk much about homosexuality.  The final relatio reflects that.

One prelate suggested this topic deserved a separate synod. Given the Church’s out dated framework for sexuality, that is probably a useful idea.

Paragraphs 76 and 77 focus on the topic. The main points follow:
1. The Church is to model the attitude of Jesus and reaffirms the dignity of every person regardless of their sexual orientation.

2. The church rejects marriage equality and any international pressure to conform the laws of other countries to the standard of marriage equality.

But it also
3.  Calls the Church to stay close and listen in silence at times when it comes to the needs of families.
4.  Encourages all members, ordained and lay, to learn “the art of accompaniment so that “all may learn to take off his sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (cf. Ex. 3,5).
That is powerful stuff.
Still, there are plenty of gaping holes.
While most African prelates got their way in terms of warding off international pressure for marriage equality, they should have taken a collective stand against criminalizing of homosexuals. That would have been just. That would have been courageous. That would have been a natural outcome of the CDF paragraph they cited.
Cardinal Palmer-Buckle of Ghana stated that Africa needs to grow when it comes to its understanding and acceptance of LGBT people. He asked for patience. Let’s just hope those who are being victimized and thrown in prison understand their bishops’ need for a little more time.
Pope Francis proclaims Good News and gets us ready for stage three of his reform agenda
My U.K. friend, Miriam, would roll her eyes and call me a “bloody mess” for being so soft on Francis, but I am a sucker for anyone who stands in the way of the powerful in order to protect, defend and raise up the marginalized. Reign in prelates who like building walls around the altar and you’ve got my loyalty.
While qualifying the end goals of the synod saying it was not intended to settle all the issues, in his final remarks he made it clear where he stands in relation to those who draw hard lines.

About the synod work he said

1. It is about listening.

2. It is about getting dirty — having lively and frank discussions.

3. It is about trying to interpret new realities.

4. It is about laying bare closed hearts which frequently hide behind the Church’s teachings…who sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, the difficult cases and wounded families.

5. It is about rising above conspiracy theories or wearing blinders.

He also directed some specific correctives to his brother bishops.

1. The true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit.

2. The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy.
Pope Francis stakes out space for local decision making.  He says the Church needs to wrestle with cultural differences across regions — even when those norms are in conflict.
He said, “We have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another: what is considered a violation of a right in one society sis an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for other simply confusion.”
Going further he states, “Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.
Finally, he states, “… we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that “all be saved.”
Getting us ready for phase three of his strategy for reform he states, ” In this way we wished to experience this Synod in the context of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.”
The Trajectory of Change

I don’t know about you, but I think we are finally getting a few prayers answered.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has been chipping away at stodgy structures, corrupt edifices and teachings that had begun to dry rot.  With the initiation of the 2-year synod, he set in motion a force for new life.

We are at the end of the 2nd phase and he has broken significant new ground. He has reinvigorated the synod, stoked the sleeping giants of reform within his own ranks, and brought the bishops together to loosen some of the knots they’ve been tying around the hearts of the faithful for years.
The future looks hopeful. In the next few months, he will likely release a magisterial document setting out further reforms for the Church and begin to set in motion what he knows the People of God need in the Year of Mercy.
For the first time for many years, the Church is beginning to respond in new, more respectful ways to Catholics — to see them as, not only followers, but also teachers.  The Church will be enriched if it comes to deeply appreciate the faith of their people.  That faith is what will strengthen us for the journey and for the work of the Gospel.
Why you and not them?

I still have all my hair, but there were times during these press briefings that I wanted to pull it out.  I am sure I am too American with my cut-to-the-chase, say-something-real impatience, but today I thought, “If I hear one more prelate say how wonderfully well everyone was getting along at the synod I’ll run from the room screaming.”

Yup.  Its time to go home, lay on the floor and color with the grandkids and catch a few toddlers in my arms.

Still, I sat up straight when Fr. Tom Reese asked a question of Brother Herve Janson, P.F.J. the prior general of the Little Brothers of Jesus (Foucauld).

Reese:  Brother Janson, first of all, congratulations on being selected to be a member on the synod with full voting rights instead of just an auditor, but I’m trying to understand the rationale behind your selection.  You are not a bishop, you are not a priest, you are not a deacon, you are not ordained, you are not a cleric.  So theologically and canonically you are no different from the superior of a women’s religious order, except for your gender.  So how exactly did you get in?  What is the rationale for you being admitted to the synod and women religious not being admitted to the synod?


Of course, this uneasy question was raised ten days ago by Mary Hunt.

Still, Brother Janson responded with refreshing honesty.  His French was simultaneously translated so the choppy English is due to the translation.  James Martin, SJ probably has a better translation in his article.

 This is a huge question. I did not feel at ease when I learned that the
Pope was admitting me.  It showed the distinction between men and
women.  There were only three women religious and they did not have
voting rights.

 I wondered whether to accept or not.

 We try to be their brothers.  Friars try to live with the people.  This is a bishops’
synod.  The question you [Tom Reese] asked, I asked myself and a cardinal.
I said, ‘we are brothers, we are religious people.’ 

 I am not ordained.  Having a voting right is too much — in regard to
our sisters.  I think they should have a voting right.

 Maybe it is also better to ask the superior generals. synod.

Now the truth will set this Church free.

It was actually beautiful to see this fellow sitting on the panel without clerical garb and feeling no compulsion to engage in clerical-speak.

Maybe this is a tiny opening.

This Church needs women religious voting and shaping practice and teaching. This Church needs other women and men who are not ordained voting and shaping our collective guidance.

As a matter of fact, at a German Press Conference I attended on the final night,  Abbot Jeremias Schröder said the ten male religious superiors have decided to write to the Vatican suggesting that female religious also will be included with a right to vote at the synods to come.

Let’s hope they have success.

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