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For a Lady Pope

2014 Synod on the Family

The first Synod of the Church on the family took place in October 2014. The second will meet in October 2015. Many of the faithful wonder if the Church is ready to change its pastoral activities and therefore its doctrine on the family. The expected points of debate were essentially the Church’s position on the banning of contraception, the fate of the divorced who later remarry, the practice of in-vitro fertilization, couples living together outside marriage, homosexuality ...

Open-mindedness or conservatism?

 Several bishops, including Cardinal Kasper in Rome, Bishop Housset in France and Bishop Bonny in Belgium clearly expressed their worries about adopting a policy of openness.


Cardinal Walter Kasper, a close friend of Pope Francis (but does he really portray the Pope’s views?), gave interviews and published a book, "The Gospel of the family". He talks about the need for a new catechism on family life and sexuality, using clear, understandable and compassionate language, suitable to today’s era. He even adds; No-one understands the official language used in the Church’s doctrines. 


Other prelates announced their opposition to any doctrinal changes. Just a few days before the opening of the Synod, five Cardinals affirmed their position by publishing a book entitled, "Staying in the truth of Christ," in five languages. One of these prelates was Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, quite a big gun, since he is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the guardian of the doctrine in a way. These cardinals challenge any proposed changes, including the bans imposed on divorced and remarried Catholics.


The final report


What can be taken from the final report of the 2014 Synod? It is actually an inventory of difficult situations in which some of the faithful live, and an inventory of pastoral issues that result. The language of the encyclicals of the last century (Casti Connubii of 1930 and Humanae Vitae of 1968) was banned. Terms such as" intrinsically wrong , " illegal and shameful", "absolutely excluded " are no longer used...


We finally return to the use of language similar to that of the Gospels - less dogmatic, less intransigent, less arrogant.


What are the findings? What are the recommended solutions?


The Synod recognizes that social reality is complex and that families face significant challenges. It highlights difficult periods, like the first years of marriage, which call for pastoral care.

It also addresses more specific situations:

- The Synod acknowledges, in a way, that cohabitation is often chosen in anticipation of a wedding, and that civil unions are favoured over marriages, which are considered a financial luxury by some ... "All these situations,” the report continues,“ must be tackled in a constructive manner, by trying to turn them into an opportunity to move towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. We need to welcome these people and accompany them with patience and delicacy."


Finished then are the initial condamnations.

- Regarding the separated, divorced, or abandoned; "many of the Synod Fathers have stressed the need to make the procedures for recognition in cases of nullity of marriage more accessible. It’s about establishing the truth of the validity of the case.”

- The bishops reflected on the possibility of allowing the divorced and remarried to receive the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. A division emerged between those Synod Fathers in favour of the current discipline (no sacraments) and others more open to extending the welcome to the Eucharistic table in certain situations. For this to happen, any access to the sacraments would be preceded by a penitential journey under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop. The conflict between the two sides was intense and finally nothing was decided upon.

- The Synod confirmed that there is no basis to assimilate or establish even remote analogies between homosexual unions and God's plan for marriage and the family. "However,” the report says, "men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity."

- As for contraception, the Synod proposed to "rediscover the message of the Humanae Vitae encyclical of Paul VI, which emphasizes the need to respect the dignity of the person when making a moral evaluation of birth control methods." We know however that it is in this encyclical that the absolute prohibition of contraception such as condoms, the pill, the IUD, is laid-out...


What can be concluded?

The shape has changed. Statements made in previous years have been forbidden, such as those of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco who, on 1 April 2007, stated that "legalising relationships between people living together was tantamount to recognizing pedophilia and incest" or those of the Mexican Cardinal, Javier Lozano Barragan, who dared to say on 4 December 2009: "Transsexuals and homosexuals will never enter the kingdom of heaven." He added: "They are though all the same people and we must respect them." The Synod has revised this type of language to reflect the more gentle language of Pope Francis who, on July 29, 2013 stated: "If a person is gay, and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?

In substance, nothing has changed

 For example, the most implausible Synod position continues to be that on contraception. In the West, more than 95% of the faithful regard the Vatican doctrine on contraception as outdated and totally ignore the bans in their every-day lives.

The Synod still does not accept freedom of conscience in the field of contraception. In 1968, Belgian bishops had already agreed that people might not come to the same conclusions as those recommended by the Encyclical Humanae Vitae and, if this is the case, they "have the right to follow their own beliefs in this area." Pope Paul VI did not appreciate this loophole, which he described as unacceptable.

From a pastoral point of view, who is the priest who would dare tell an engaged couple preparing for marriage: if you want to space out your chilldren’s births, know that the Church continues to outlaw the use of contraception? This is not how things work. There is a dialogue, we talk about the respect and dignity of the man and of the woman, we talk aboiut planning the births, we talk about responsible parenthood ... But we forget the Humanae Vitae and its convictions. When we know that the Church of England allowed birth control in 1930, one remains perplexed as to the blindness of the Synod prelates.


Regarding (civilly) separated or divorced spouses, the Synod turns its back on the legal declarations of the nullity of marriage. These people have usually entered into a religious marriage knowingly and have had children. They are hardly willing to dwell on the past when standing up to defend themselves in a religious court. Once again, the Church examines the validity of marriages based on the moment they were contracted, but it refuses to rule on a marriage that was originally considered valid but which later turns into torture or hell for one or other of the spouses. This is putting the law before people. There is no movement within the Synod to allow divorce, even if one of the spouses has been a victim of serious violence.

Concerning divorced and remarried Catholics, the rivalry between conservative and progressive bishops will be fierce between the two Synods (2014 and 2015): Will access to the sacraments be granted without too much condescension or will it continue to be refused? The voice of the faithful has no ear in this quarrel, even if 80% of them are in favor of allowing the divorced and remarried to receive the sacraments.


Pope Francis’ current position

We are thus curious to see how the Pope will act during half-time. Will he let the two sides, that of Kasper and that of Müller, battle it out before he makes a decsion, or will he wait to see which side wins without getting overly involved himself?

It does in fact seem as if the Pope has decided to do some Spring cleaning and get rid of a large number of prelates - those who oppose his desire to make the Church more humane, more merciful and less doctrinal - in order to ensure that Synod 2015 is far more symathetic to his plans.

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