‘I have been surprised at how fearful some are of change – as if the Church will collapse if certain language is used or if pastoral responses are too forgiving. This Church isn’t collapsing.’
The work of the Synod is taking more shape as we finished the second week of relentless presentations and conversations, and much fantastic pasta and just a few glasses of wine.
People are generally very weary but there remains a sense of optimism and the persistence of courage on the part of many synod members who have brought with them such a strong sense of the pastoral and a wish to represent the needs of ordinary folk in families throughout our very disparate world. I recall an early plea to the synod to let ‘our pastoral imaginations’ flourish during this time. Wonderful language!
Today we finalised the recommendations, modi, from the small groups, circuli minors, that are being analysed by the Drafting Commission; a group of eminences chosen by Pope Francis.
The Commission will prepare the final document to present to the synod; congregazione generale, in the coming days. There was an early challenge to the composition of this group but Pope Francis dealt with that with singular finesse – his style is so gentle and firm.
During this week, it has become clearer where the consistency is and where the firm lines of the doctrinal potentially meet or perhaps even collide with the presence and pleas of the pastoral. There is also a place emerging where the doctrinal views take on different distinctions as they engage with diverse cultures and are asked to take into account contemporary life in desperately troubled regions of our world.
What a richness we have in our Christian churches and how privileged I feel to be witness to what I pray is a significant time of Spring and renewal. I say Christian churches because the ecumenism of this Synod is palpable and visible. Leaders from major fraternal churches are present and are participating fully in the presentations and dialogue.
Always in good grace, eminencies from across the globe have presented their three minute interventions without fear and in the spirit of what His Holiness asked of us all – to be frank and fulsome in our honesty.
Last Friday, the auditors gave their interventions. A wonderful international cross section of views about the lived experience of family life that provided a rich bed of ideas that people hoped would influence the Synod.
Pope Francis listened, as he always does, most attentively and often with his always distinctive smile. Some of the interventions, like those of the Synod Fathers, including mine and those of a couple of auditors provoked mixed responses.
Whether or not these interventions have the influence their authors would like is yet to be seen and we anticipate some joy and some disturbances. I have been surprised at how fearful some are of change – as if the Church will collapse if certain language is used or if pastoral responses are too forgiving. This Church isn’t collapsing.
There are many consistencies. No one has disputed the importance of families and of family life as foundational to the world and as the centre of the Church – indeed as it is modelled on the family of Jesus as its prototype. Mothers and fathers as well as grandparents and extended families have been acknowledged fulsomely.
Indissolubility of marriage is not in question. No one has disputed the importance of preparing Catholic couples for marriage and of supporting them through their times of trial. No one has disputed the importance of families being with and praying together and forming strength in their communities and parishes. And no one has doubted the seriousness of troubles facing our families and communities and in particular, our young people, those families being shattered and displaced by war and poverty, and the refugees across the globe. These are just a few of the very many areas of agreement.
There are salient differences emerging: how to define family; how to best manage the discernment about annulments, regionally or centrally, and the constant problem of divorce; how to show compassion and mercy to families who are divorced and re-married, who wish to receive the Eucharist, irregular marriages, same sex relationships, the role of women in Church leadership (not, I might add, ordination), the role of conscience, and a few more.
Meanwhile, interspersed with dense and exhausting conversations and good Italian food we continue to enjoy sharing ideas and walks with kindred souls; we continue to marvel at the strength of our faith and the capacity of people to talk across so many language groups; and, I suspect at least some of us auditors wonder about the need to develop a more refined grasp of the theological texts that are relentlessly quoted.