We recognize the great challenge to remain faithful in conjugal love. Enfeebled faith and indifference to true values, individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and stress that excludes reflection leave their mark on family life. There are often crises in marriage, often confronted in haste and without the courage to have patience and reflect, to make sacrifices and to forgive one another. Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious.
Message of the Synod on Pastoral Challenges on the Family, October 19, 2014’
The above portion of the Message from the Synod of Bishops on Pastoral Challenges on the Family resonated a bit more intensely among many Filipinos this past week. Making headlines in local papers was the sorry story of Camarines Norte Governor Edgardo Tallado and his estranged wife Josefina.
After the governor tearfully told media that he feared for his supposedly missing spouse, she turned up in Manila, fleeing her husband, who she said was angry over a naked picture of his mistress posted online.
There certainly were “individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and stress that excludes reflection” in that sensational episode. The Talladas do seem to face a marriage crisis perhaps “confronted in haste and without the courage to have patience and reflect.”
Hard to do that when the governor was packing a gun when he confronted his better half about the uploaded nude. Nor did they seem to be in a mood “to make sacrifices and to forgive one another.”
On the other side of the world, meanwhile, the 200-odd prelates gathered with Pope Francis for the Vatican Synod were also doing some jousting — over the 62-paragraph final report setting out the Church position on family issues. Starting with this column, there will be occasional commentary on key parts of the final Synod report.
This initial article looks at three provisions of substantial disagreement in the Synod, based on the paragraph-by-paragraph voting tallies at the end of the report. They cover homosexuality, communion and Penance for divorced Catholics who remarry, and the pastoral approach toward those in proscribed relationships.
(When this column was written, no official English version of the Italian-language final report was available online, so quoted portions are edited from a Google translation.)
Where bishops disagree
With a requirement of two-thirds approval or 123 votes from the Synod Fathers for draft portions to be included in the document, a number of paragraphs in the earlier Oct. 13 midterm summary are dropped from the final declaration.
One much publicized but excised paragraph stated in part: “Homosexuals have gifts to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities?”
Even the watered-down paragraph on homosexuals did not get the required 2/3 approval, with just 118 votes approving it, and 62 opposing. Some bishops said the high disapproval rate may include many liberal-minded prelates unwilling to support the more traditional language on homosexuals.
The rejected text, which is still in the published Italian draft along with other thumbed-down paragraphs, quoted the Church teaching that “there is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or establish … same-sex unions”, while urging that “men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity.”
The most No votes — 74 — went against another rejected segment: Paragraph 52 on the question of Holy Communion and Penance for divorced Catholics who remarry. It noted that “A number of Synod Fathers have insisted in favor of the current discipline” barring those who divorce and remarry from receiving the Eucharist and going to confession, since they willfully continue their relationships without the contrition required for forgiveness and grace.
The rejected text acknowledged that some unions involving divorced Catholics are “irreversible” and must take account of “moral obligations to their children, who would suffer unjust difficulties.” That seems to absolve such couples of fault in continuing their relationships.
Even more objectionable to those favoring the present communion ban is a sentence implicitly lifting it after some requisite rite: “Any access to the sacraments should be preceded by a penitential act under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop.”
The three rejected paragraphs will still be in the official Synod Report to be disseminated worldwide. The texts would then be included in the year-long deliberations, dialogue and discernment before the much larger 2015 Synod expected to finalize the Church positions.
The publication of rejected paragraphs may lead many Catholics to think they obtained Synod approval like the rest of the report. Hence, bishops, priests, and laity must take care to note that these texts did not meet the 2/3 voting requirement.
The crux of the Synod
Perhaps the most crucial issue is the one covered by Paragraph 41, which was barely approved with 125 votes, just two more than the minimum. In sum, the segment argued for a pastoral approach to Catholics in proscribed situations which acknowledged positive aspects of those relationships, which could then be used or built upon in moving these believers toward the Christian family ideal.
As loosely translated, Paragraph 41 reads: “Whilst continuing to announce and promote the Christian marriage, the Synod also encourages the pastoral discernment of the situations of many who no longer live this reality. It is important to enter into dialogue with these pastoral people, in order to highlight the elements of their lives which can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness. Pastors need to identify elements that can promote evangelization and human and spiritual growth.”
Then comes what is probably the most sensitive part: the reference in the last couple of senteces to “the positive elements present in civil marriages” and to “constructive elements in those situations that do not match” the Christian message. Conservative prelates may be wary of any language that confers any kind of ecclesiastical approval or moral legitimacy to proscribed relationships.
Still, the two-thirds approval for Paragraph 41 points to a greater openness among the Catholic hierarchy to pastoral approaches that at least accept the reality of relationships different from the Christian ideal, and may even acknowledge and make use of aspects that could be stepping stones toward the norm.
In sum, the Synod Fathers have opened their eyes to the real world, and now seek to embrace and help Catholics in every situation to journey toward the Lord. And if that pastoral path does lead to Him, it would probably get His vote.