Synod tackles Church policy on divorce

Pope Francis holds the book of the Gospels during a papal Mass at St. Peter’s basilica on October 5 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO

Pope Francis holds the book of the Gospels during a papal Mass at St. Peter’s basilica on October 5 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday launched a major review of Catholic teaching on the family that could lead to change in the Church’s attitude to marriage, cohabitation and divorce.

An extraordinary synod, or meeting, of nearly 200 bishops from around the world and a sprinkling of lay people will, for the next two weeks, address the huge gulf between what the Church currently says on these issues and what tens of millions of believers actually do.

In his trademark style, the 77-year-old Argentinian pontiff took to Twitter to mark the start of a debate, which has pitted conservative clerics against reformists led by German Cardinal Walter Kasper.

“As we begin the Synod on the Family, let us ask the Lord to show us the way forward. #prayforsynod,” he tweeted shortly before presiding over Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

In an address to tens of thousands of believers on the eve of the synod opening, Francis urged participants to “lend an ear to the rhythm of our time” and to soak themselves in the “odor” of modern life.

Since becoming pontiff just over 18 months ago, he has repeatedly highlighted the “wounds” caused by family breakdown in modern society, while suggesting the Church needs to adapt to this new reality.

“The wounds have to be treated with mercy. The Church is a mother, not a Customs office, coldly checking who is within the rules,” he has said, in an allusion to the many divorced people, cohabiting couples and single mothers within the ranks of the Church.

Francis has underlined where he stands by personally marrying couples who had lived together “in sin” prior to their weddings and by baptizing a child born to parents married outside of the church.

Deep divisions
Since taking office, the pontiff has taken steps to overhaul the way the Vatican bank and administration are run and has sent out strong signals about the determination of the Church to deal with the issue of clerical sex abuse.

But a reform agenda on social issues could prove much harder to implement because of deep divisions within the Church, Vatican experts say.

Conservatives in the Church hierarchy have already made it clear they will fight any dilution of traditional doctrine.

The Church’s view of marriage has come to be seen as outdated by many in a world where, in some developed countries, nearly one in two marriages ends in divorce and where the notion of the institution itself has been challenged by the global trend toward the legalization of same-sex weddings.

The bishops gathered in Rome are certainly not about to embrace gay marriage, and few Vatican observers expect much, if any, change on questions such as contraception, another area where Catholic teaching contrasts with the daily practice of millions.

Easier divorce?
But with Francis on the side of reform, the feeling is that the synod process could lead to change when it finally reaches conclusions, which is not expected to happen before 2016 at the earliest.

The most notable of these could be a change in the rules to make it possible for Catholics who divorce and then remarry to receive communion.

That has been banned for centuries but critics say the Church’s stance is hard to defend given that individuals who have declared their repentance from more serious breaches of the Christian code, such as murder, can take communion.

While the Church may not yet be ready to take a step that would amount to a de facto acceptance of divorce in certain circumstances, the discussions could result in steps to make it easier for failed marriages to be annulled.

Another area in which the Church could send out a signal of compassion is by making it clear that priests should be ready to baptize the children of same-sex couples, regardless of the doctrinal disapproval of their parents’ union.

The synod will also discuss how priests and parishioners can practically help to shore up marriages within their community. Among questions to be addressed on that score is whether the easy availability of pornography in modern society is a factor in family breakdown.



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  1. Ok…so let’s say we “lend an ear to the rhythm of our time” and I would think this would include listening to the clamoring of the flock for legalization of divorce among Catholics, or “soak ourselves in the odor of modern life” and I hope this “odor” doesn’t carry a lot of stench, let’s say we do both of the above, and the church does finally change its stance on divorce, I can just imagine the great upheaval that would ensue…there will be millions that would go through the process, (just imagine the paperwork involved) especially in the case of OFW’s that have discovered infidelity occurring abroad or at home (even some illicit pregnancies reported)
    But what is the pope really doing? Debate about it?…discuss pros and cons? and then what? Pros win…cons lose. Cons win pros lose…haven’t scratched the surface yet on the upheaval thing. Now we have a pope that has finally said, “Let’s do some serious dialogue and see what happens” or has he opened Pandora’s box…but probably knowing fully well that the last item in the box (hope) will save the church. Will Elpis come to the rescue? Will the sacrament remain sacred? Or will it go down the tubes? I hope not!

  2. In our legal parlance today, divorce then cohabiting or marrying again is like a continuous crime, there is no effect for repentance for a sin continuously being committed. Unlike other since once committed it is done, so that one can truly repent afterwards.

    As to the recent act of Pope marrying people who have been cohabiting is not an act of being liberal or trying to liberalize marriage, there is no better solution to end cohabitation or live-in set up other than marrying them. It is making de jure what use to be a de facto. Neither baptizing Children out of wedlock or marriage outside the Church a new policy, the Church since its conception has always maintained that Children enjoy preference in the kingdom of God. The is no rule or doctrine that Children should be baptized according to how they come to this world. Pope Francis is not restructuring or creating a new face for the Church, He is only reviving or reminding the leaders what was the Church in the beginning, a Church called Mother, a Church of Love and Compassion.