VATICAN CITY — As the synod fathers’ small groups continue to meet, it seems increasingly clear that the Synod of Bishops’ relatio synodi (concluding document) will be substantially different than the midterm relatio that was released Monday.
The relatio synodi is called to mirror the concerns and proposals raised during the small-group discussions this week, in which bishops have been grouped according to language.
After the issuance of the midterm report, the synod fathers raised their concern in 41 open talks, which highlighted the absence of the word “sin,” the absence of the "gospel of Family" and some perhaps-naive sentences of the document that could be subject to misinterpretation.
“The issue at stake is whether the Catholic Church is going to shape the world with its teaching, the truth it reveals, or if it is going to be shaped by the world,” Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, who is president of the Polish bishops’ conference, shared with CNA Oct. 15.
Archbishop Zbignev Stankevics of Riga, Latvia, echoed Archbishop Gadecki’s words in an Oct. 14 interview with Vatican Radio.
“Currently, the family is under a very strong ideological attack. The main task of the synod fathers is not to make a poorly-defined opening, but to apply, once again for today’s situation, the teaching of the Church,” Archbishop Stankevics said.
He then added that, “certainly, we should meet the contemporary challenges as much as is possible, but without losing our Catholic identity and without renouncing the truth about marriage.”
The small groups are having lively discussions about the issues at stake, though Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona, Spain, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., both downplayed the degree of this liveliness in a briefing with journalists on Wednesday.
“There is a climate of fraternity and pastoral care. All of our amendments have been voted [on] by a unanimity of participants,” Cardinal Martinez said Oct. 15.
Archbishop Kurtz said that three suggestions have emerged from the discussion of his small group: emphasizing the positive value of Christian families; ensuring the Church’s words are welcoming and heartfelt; and guaranteeing that pastoral care is rooted in the beauty of Church teaching and of Scripture.
In a chat with CNA held under condition of anonymity, one synod father said that his small group has “substantially rewritten the introduction of the relatio,” has “cut the quote of the ‘seeds of good’ because it was out of context and could create confusion and has asked that we place more emphasis on the positive examples of the faithful.”
“The document was too clerical, in our view,” the source maintained.
Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, underscored in a briefing with journalists that his small group “also discussed topics which had not been properly discussed in the synod hall.”
“We proposed that the processes for the declaration of nullity be free of any charge, since it must never be said that the Church is paid for a declaration of nullity: It drives the faithful to think that nullity can be obtained when it is paid for,” Archbishop Fisichella said.
The archbishop also stressed that “there is little acknowledgement of the natural methods of family planning: There is almost a form of boycott to educate about natural family planning.”
Also, the bishops of Africa raised their concern over some "missing hotspots" in the synod’s midterm report.
Bishop Nicolas Djomo Lola of Tshumbe, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, listed among the missing hotspots “the attention for the children without family because of war.”
The list of proposals generated by the small groups will be given to the general secretariat for the Synod, and then the relator of each small group will report on the outcomes of their groups.
After that, there will be a free discussion; and during the afternoon, the general secretary of the synod, the general rapporteur, the special secretary and the committee of six will meet to collect all the interventions and draft the relatio synodi.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, a member of the committee of six, told CNA that the bishops “seem to be basically satisfied from the major outline of the midterm report,” which is “going in the right direction: It’s pastoral, it’s inviting, it’s based on our doctrine, and it is rooted in the sacred Scriptures.”
According to Cardinal Wuerl, the synod’s final report will deal with “how to make pastoral applications, how to be inviting, how to be welcoming.”
The final report will collect all the issues at stake and will be voted on by the synod fathers, and then it will given to the Pope, who will decide whether or not to make it public.