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Day: October 21, 2015

Synod on the Family: Press Briefing Day 14

(Vatican Radio) Wednesday 21 Oct. “It is my hope that the Synod will be one that leaves us with open doors, not closed ones,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany at the daily press briefing for the Synod on the Family. Marx was present with Cardinal Daniel Sturla Berhouet of Uruguay, and Archbishop Eamon Martin of Ireland. The prelates spoke about their experience of the Synod and then answered questions.
Click below to listen to the full report by Fr. Russell Pollitt, SJ

Cardinal Berhouet explained that this was his first Synod so he was “learning many new things.” He said the he was struck by the intensity of work and the diverse opinions of the delegates. He said that he thought the delegates had done what they could to assist the Holy Father decide on a way forward. Berhouet explained that he thought it very important that the Church find ways of accompanying people when they are in fragile situations.
Archbishop Martin said that this was also his first Synod and that he had found it to be a “marvelous experience.” He thought that the delegates were finding a real convergence which was built upon common hopes and struggles. He spoke of the importance of accompanying the vocation of marriage just as the Church accompanies vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Martin said that there were two things that were most important: first, that we pray for families and, second, that the Church offers positive and clear guidance on its teaching on the family.
Cardinal Marx said that, in his small group, they had spent much time looking closely at the question of finding a way forward so that people who are divorced and civilly re-married can be reconciled with the Church. He pointed out that the proposals his group made were agreed upon unanimously – both Cardinals Walter Kasper and Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were in this group. Marx told the briefing that there had been great effort by the group to do good theology. “You can say I have an opinion but you must be very clear in your knowledge so that you can explain it,” the Cardinal said. He said that it was hard work but that they had to discuss difficult issues and find a common way which was “acceptable to everyone.” He said that the Church has started a discussion all over the world about the importance of family life for society and for human existence. Marx said they had also discussed gender and condemned any discrimination of women.
In the question session Berhouet was asked why his Spanish group seemed more open to ways forward. The group had begun their report saying “We must listen to the cry of people who want access to sacraments.” He replied that it was probably because of the situation they faced in South America. He said that there were many layers to family life which made things complicated. “Young women have children from different fathers in the slums for many reasons; because of our situation we have to be more sensitive,” he said.
Marx was asked many questions about finding a way forward for the divorced and civilly re-married to be admitted to the Eucharist. He said that this was a complicated matter and that his group had spoken about a numerous things. He listed a few criteria that might help in considering a way forward: look at individual situations, discern the circumstances, help them notice what they have done in their first marriage, look at the responsibilities they might still have to that relationship, towards children, other persons and to the ecclesial community. He said it would also be good to help people notice any other people they may have offended.
Cardinal Marx went on to say that doctrine is the living tradition of the Church – “not closed but living.”  He said that truth does not change but we gain greater understanding of the truth as we grow. “We don’t own the truth,” he said. He also said that theology, doctrine and pastoral praxis go together, they cannot be separated. “We cannot say we have a pastoral Synod and not talk about theology and doctrine… We have to live the doctrine, it is not a book.”
Archbishop Martin said that the hallmark of the Synod was “opening up a space, sometimes uncomfortable” that has allowed a deepening understanding of Church teaching. “We are influenced and shaped by those we listen to and those who listen to us.”
Martin was asked about the role women played in the small group discussions. It has been reported that in one small group a religious sister was dealt with in a very condescending manner. He said that he was sad to hear this but that in his group there was a great richness and diversity brought by the presence of women. He said that women participated fully and frankly, and there was no distinction made between their contributions and those of others.
At the end of the press briefing Cardinal Marx quoted Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice  “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
(from Vatican Radio)…

Synod’s small groups seek consensus amid diverging visions

(Vatican Radio) Participants at the Synod on the Family have concluded their small group work and presented the results of their discussions on the third and final part of the working document, dedicated to ‘The Mission of the Family today’. On Wednesday members of a special committee are drawing together the recommendations of all the small groups into a final document which will be presented and voted on by Synod Fathers on Saturday.
Philippa Hitchen takes a look at the conclusions of those Circuli Minores which were presented to Synod on Tuesday afternoon:
The afternoon began with a presentation from the Russian Orthodox delegate to the Synod, Metropolitan Hilarion, who gave a bleak assessment of secular society incapable of providing any moral direction for people today. Without mincing his words, he warned against calls for renewal within Christian churches and accused some Protestant communities of selling out to a godless world by blessing those in same-sex relationships.
His words were music to the ears of Catholic bishops from many countries who are also wary of any changes they see as undermining the traditional teaching of the Church. (Those leaders seem less willing to explore the Orthodox tradition of blessing divorced and remarried couples without undermining the indissolubility of sacramental marriage).
Yet listening to reports from the 13 language groups, it became clear that these closed door discussions have highlighted divisions between those who are wary of change and those who feel the Church must find new ways of responding to the new challenges facing families today. “The Church should be prudent, but not so prudent it ignores those in need”, warned one group. Another echoed the fears that any discussion of so-called ‘irregular’ relationships can be seen as recognition or even approval of them.
The German and French groups seemed most united in their call to recognize that realistic discussion of such irregular situations in no way detracts from the witness of faithful Catholics who do live up to Church teaching and who deserve the unconditional support of the pastors. One English group talked of a challenge to Church leaders’ imagination to find a new language of dialogue to discern shared values among people of different backgrounds and beliefs. The Italians noted the importance of listening to individual stories and recognizing the complexity of each marital  breakdown, while the French spoke frankly of clashes over questions of remarriage and women in Church ministry.
So where is all this headed and how is it possible to draw such disparate views into a document that will satisfy all participants? Over two years after the Pope first announced the start of the Synod process, bishops said more research and input is needed from experts, including deeper anthropological study into questions of gender and same-sex relationships. In the end, the Church leaders agreed on just one thing: that unlike an ecumenical council, the Synod is an advisory and not a decision making body, so all this wealth of honest and at times heated discussion will be handed back to the Holy Father, for him to draw out the final conclusions. 
(from Vatican Radio)…

The Circuli Minori conclude their examination of the Instrumentum Laboris

Vatican City, 21 October 2015 (VIS) – On Monday and Tuesday this week the Synod Fathers examined the third part of the Instrumentum Laboris, which deals with, among other themes, irregular family situations, admission of divorced and remarried faithful to communion, the pastoral care of homosexuals, and responsible parenthood. The working groups analyses the special needs of families in irregular or difficult situations, acknowledging, as affirmed by the English-speaking group C whose rapporteur is Archbishop Mark Benedict Coleridge, that “those cohabiting are in a quite different situation from those who are divorced and civilly remarried. We also agreed that cohabitation, though very widespread in many cultures now, could not be considered a good in itself. We were prepared to recognise that there may be good in the relationship of those cohabiting rather than in cohabitation in some quasi-institutional sense”. “We know that that are many other families who feel they are far from the ideal model, and others who to a greater or lesser extent do not even think it is for them”, comments the French group represented by Bishop Laurent Ulrich. “Divided families, mixed families, single parent families, families without marriage, even civil only; we cannot reject them, and we do not wish to think that their path does not lead them to God, Who loves and draws all people towards Him. We believe that in them we see the Spirit of the Lord Who inspires much of their behaviour in their lives, and this detracts nothing from Christian families whom we support and encourage”. With regard to the divorced and civilly remarried, there is general agreement about the need to provide more effective pastoral accompaniment for these couples, and especially for their children who also have rights. Some groups express perplexity, however, in relation to what the Instrumentum Laboris refers to as a “a penitential path”. “It is not clear to name the journey taken by the divorced and remarried as a ‘penitential path’”, remarks the Spanish-speaking group represented by Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo. “Perhaps it would be better to speak about itineraries of reconciliation, as there are some irreversible situations that cannot be subject to a penitential path without the possibility of overcoming this”. “It would appear that, with regard to the issue of closeness, we are all in agreement, but what happens when we consider access to the sacraments?” asked the Spanish-speaking group whose rapporteur is Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, O.A.R. “Without doubt, we need to set in motion a generous movement removing many of the obstacles from the way so that divorced and remarried faithful can participate more widely in the life of the Church: at the moment they cannot be godparents, they cannot be catechists, and they are not able to teach religion. … We must show that we are listening to the cry of many people who suffer and who call to participate as fully as possible in the life of the Church”. “With regard to the discipline of remarried divorcees, at present it is not possible to establish general criteria covering all cases, which are very diverse”, observes the Italian group represented by Cardinal Maurizio Piacenza. “There are divorced and remarried faithful who apply themselves to following the path of the Gospel, offering significant witness of charity. At the same time, it is undeniable that in some circumstances, factors are present that limit the possibilities of acting differently. As a consequence, the judgement on an objective situation cannot be assumed in the judgement on subjective ‘impunity’. The limits and conditions thus become an appeal to discernment – primarily on the part of the bishop – which must be accurate and respect the complexity of such situations”. The English group A, whose rapporteur is Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz, expresses the view that “pastoral practice concerning admission to the Sacrament of the Eucharist by the divorced and civilly remarried ought not to be left to individual episcopal conferences. To do so would risk harm to the unity of the Catholic Church, the understanding of her sacramental order, and the visible witness of the life of the faithful”. The English group represented by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin requests that “the Holy Father, taking into account the rich material which has emerged during this synodal process, consider establishing during the Jubilee Year of Mercy a Special Commission to study in depth the ways in which the disciplines of the Church which flow from the indissolubility of marriage apply to the situation of people in irregular unions, including situations arising from the practice of polygamy”. There are many references to this issue in St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Familiaris consortio”. The condition of homosexual persons is considered primarily from the perspective of the family context. The English group C insists that “we address this issue as pastors, seeking to understand the reality of people’s lives rather than issues in some more abstract sense”. The group also asks that “the final document include at an appropriate point a clear statement of Church teaching that same-sex unions are in no way equivalent to marriage”. On the same issue, the English group A reiterates that “the Church as the spouse of Christ patterns her behaviour after the Lord Jesus, Whose all-embracing love is offered to every person without exception. Parents and siblings of family members with homosexual tendencies are called to love and accept these members of their family with an undivided and understanding heart”. Some Fathers suggest that the issue be eliminated from the discussions in this Synod as its importance would call for a specific Synod on the matter. The theme of responsible parenthood has given rise to lively exchange, and is of great current importance in relation to the dignity of the person and of life. The working groups also considered mixed marriage, and called for greater pastoral focus on the defence of women and children in precarious situations. With regard to the Synod methodology, the French group represented by Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher writes, “like agronomists who talk about different methods of irrigation, we have talked about the method of our Synod. Is it well-suited to its purpose? We expend an enormous amount of energy, from all points of view. People are exhausted from the work they are doing. Will the result be worth the effort? Perhaps we could have identified some specific themes to examine between the two Synods, so as to have more time to study. Will Pontifical Commissions be appointed to carry out the work we hope will be done? … We have enjoyed the greater amount of time given to us in small groups. From our exchanges, there strongly emerges the ministry of communion that is ours as bishops”. “The theme of mercy has run throughout the Synod, challenging our pastoral ministry”, concludes the Italian group B. “We are aware that the mystery of the Incarnation fully expresses the salvific will of God. This divine determination has also been entrusted to our mission and to the sacramental means that find their true hermeneutic in the sense of being an appeal to conversion, support, a medicine and an aid for our salvation”….

Declaration by the director of the Holy See Press Office

Vatican City, 21 October 2015 (VIS) – The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., issued the following statement this morning: “The circulation of entirely unfounded news regarding the health of the Holy Father by an Italian newspaper is gravely irresponsible and unworthy of attention. Furthermore, as is clearly evident, the Pope is carrying out his very intense activity in an totally normal way”. Subsequently, during a briefing on the Synod, he added the following further information: “I fully confirm my previous statement, having verified the facts with the appropriate sources, including the Holy Father. No Japanese doctor has visited the Pope in the Vatican and there have been no examinations of the type indicated in the article. The competent offices have confirmed that there have been no arrivals of external parties in the Vatican by helicopter; similarly, there were no arrivals of this type during the month of January. I am able to confirm that the Pope is in good health. I reiterate that the publication of this false information is a grave act of irresponsibility, absolutely inexcusable and unconscionable. It would be equally unjustifiable to continue to fuel similarly unfounded information. It is hoped, therefore, that this matter be closed immediately”….

Pope Francis: keep our word, heal our families, save the world

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis held his weekly General Audience this Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square. In his remarks to the faithful gathered in the Square, Pope Francis returned to the theme of the family, and specifically to the promises a man and a woman make to each other when they form a family in marriage.
The Holy Father began his main catechesis with a reflection on the family as founded on a promise. “The family,” said Pope Francis, “lives of the promise of love and fidelity that a man and woman have made to each other,” a promise that unites families through and across generations, and extends to the whole human family. “[The marriage promise] involves a commitment [on the part of the couple] to welcome and educate their children; but it is fulfilled also in taking care of elderly parents, in protecting and caring for the weaker members of the family, in helping one another to achieve their potential and accept their limits.”
Recalling, then, that the family is the natural social institution and the foundation of all human society, based on liberty and fidelity, Pope Francis He said that our ability to give our word and to keep it is one of the great and distinguishing capacities of human being. “Fidelity to promises is a masterpiece of humanity,” he said. “If we look at its daring beauty, we are afraid, but if we despise its courageous tenacity, we are lost.” This was an aspect of the nature and scope of the family in human life that was a focal point of the English-language summary read out following the main catechesis in Italian:
The promise of love and fidelity made between husbands and wives, which is the basis of all family life.  This promise is called into question nowadays, and seen as somehow opposed to personal freedom.  Yet the truth is that our freedom is shaped and sustained by our fidelity to the choices and commitments we make throughout life.  Fidelity grows through our daily efforts to keep our word; indeed, fidelity to our promises is a supreme expression of our dignity as human beings. 
The Holy Father also discussed the family as the “school” of virtue, par excellence, saying that there is truly no greater “school” to teach us such fidelity than marriage and the family, which are, in God’s plan, a blessing for our world – for, as Saint Paul tells us, the love on which the family is based, points to the bond of love between Christ and His Church. 
The Holy Father concluded with an appeal for continued prayerful support of the work of the XIV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is currently in the last of three weeks of sessions here in Rome, exploring the challenges and vocation of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world. 
(from Vatican Radio)…