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Keeping doors open at the Synod on the Family

Keeping doors open at the Synod on the Family

(Vatican Radio) On Tuesday afternoon, participants at the Synod of Bishops on the family move into small language group discussions, following on from one and a half days of presentations at the General Congregations. Philippa Hitchen takes a look at some of the key issues that have emerged during this first phase of the three week encounter….


There’s no easy way to summarize the 72 interventions by Synod participants that took place over the past 24 hours. But I think it is possible, in broad brushstrokes, to distinguish two ways in which these Church leaders are reflecting on the challenges facing families today.

The first is a philosophical approach, starting with Scripture and doctrine to formulate solutions to perceived problems of secular culture threatening Catholic beliefs and traditions. If we open the door to that secular mentality, one bishop warned dramatically, then the wolves will come in.

A second approach, put forward by other bishops, is to start from the profound changes taking place in society and ask how the Church can use Scripture and tradition to remain relevant to peoples’ lives today. Not living in fear of a hostile and godless culture, but rather engaging with it, to offer the Good News of the Gospel to anyone and everyone searching for meaning in their lives.

From that perspective, the introductory presentation on Monday by Cardinal Peter Erdo can be seen as an exquisite and classical presentation of Church teaching on the family  – but, as Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, former head of the Canadian bishops conference, pointed out –  it is just one piece of the puzzle. Rather than the final word for the bishops, as some have tried to suggest, it’s simply a starting point, from which the small language groups now begin their discussions. It’s within this smaller, more interactive setting that every participant – lay men and women, plus the non-Catholic representatives – can share ways of upholding Church teachings while remaining in touch with real peoples’ lives. Or if you’d rather use words from Pope Francis’ vocabulary – how to be a Church with its doors wide open, not stuck in the sacristy but on the streets getting its hands dirty.

On the subject of vocabulary, there’s been lots of talk about the use of language that won’t alienate people who are thirsting to hear the word of God. Several participants warned strongly against a language of exclusion, especially when talking about people living in second marriages or in same-sex relationships. While we easily agree on sensitive, inclusive language to talk about victims of violence, the poor, or other marginalized people, we haven’t yet found consensus on a language to describe gay people as part of our own family, our own brothers and sisters.

Violence against women has been another hot topic raised by some synod fathers, one of whom quoted shocking statistics showing how one third of all women in the world are victims of domestic violence. He called for the Synod to stress in the strongest possible terms that Scripture (in particular St Paul’s letters) can never be used to justify male domination or violence against women. He also suggested the Church could show it means business by opening up greater roles for women in the Vatican and in local diocesan positions, or allowing lay men and women to preach the homily at Mass, underlining the unity between God’s word and their lived experiences.

If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming or straying from the strict confines of the Synod’s guiding document, well, one participant had a helpful image of how sometimes, in our cars, our Sat Nav systems come up against a road block and can’t find a way through. That’s when we have to trust technology to open up a path that might be quite different from the road we were expecting to take. Over to the small groups now, to continue the journey. 

(from Vatican Radio)

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