VATICAN CITY — Now released in English, the Extraordinary Synod of Bishop of the Family’s relatio synodi (final report) reveals a more positive tone regarding the family called for by the synod’s small groups, as well as greater clarity on phrases that generated confusion in the midterm relatio.
The Oct. 5-19 synod reflected on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”
At the close of the 10-day meeting, which gathered together 253 bishops from around the world, a final document was issued that summed up key points of the discussion that took place and which serves as the official “working document” for next year’s ordinary synod on the family.
With substantial changes made in comparison to the much-discussed midterm synod report, particularly surrounding the topics of both homosexual and divorced-and-remarried persons, the final document, the English translation of which was released Oct. 30, offers a more positive tone, more references to Scripture and clearer language.
On the topic of homosexuality, the final report noted how some families have some members who are homosexually oriented and said that there had been significant discussion surrounding the appropriate pastoral response in accord with Catholic teaching.
“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” the report read in Paragraph 55.
However, it also emphasized that “men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
In the following paragraph, the report condemned international organizations that link their financial assistance to poor countries with the acceptance of laws supporting the establishment of same-sex “marriage.”
On the topic of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, the final report emphasized that these situations require “careful discernment and an accompaniment of great respect.”
“Language or behavior which might make them feel an object of discrimination should be avoided, all the while encouraging them to participate in the life of the community,” the document read, pointing out how the synod fathers discussed the possibility of giving persons in this state access to confession and Communion.
Although there were divergent opinions on the issue, with some advocating for current practice to remain the same and others promoting a more personalized approach that would give access in certain situations, the final word in the closing report said that the topic still “needs to be thoroughly examined.”
Discussion also touched on the topic of spiritual communion for the divorced and remarried, which is a topic the synod fathers also said needed “further theological study” in light of the sacrament of marriage.
Persons who are divorced and who have not remarried often bear witness to their promise to a faithful marriage, the report continued, saying that these persons “ought to be encouraged to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present state of life.”
Significant discussion also surrounded the topic of streamlining the annulment process, and the report observed how many synod fathers had stressed the need for making the process “more accessible and less time-consuming.”
Among the proposals offered was the establishment of an administrative process under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, as well as a “simple” process to be used when the case of nullity is clearly evident.
Others who opposed to these suggestions said that there would be no assurance of a reliable judgment; however, the report revealed that there was a consensus in all the cases for the need to make the attainment of the truth and the validity of the marriage bond the “primary character” of the process.
Among other proposals, the role of faith in the lives of persons who marry “could possibly be examined in ascertaining the validity of the sacrament of marriage, all the while maintaining that the marriage of two baptized Christians is always a sacrament,” the document explained.
Paragraph 49 also touched on the procedure of marriage cases, saying that numerous synod fathers requested that a group of persons, both lay and clerical, be completely dedicated to this particular work, which would require greater responsibility from the diocesan bishop.
In regard to mixed marriages, the final relatio explained that there were frequent talkss expressing concerns on the topic and that differences with Orthodox Churches in terms of marital regulations can in some cases create “serious problems.”
Although media headlines have been swirling since the end of the synod, the synod fathers have been outspoken in saying that all reports published during the synod are still a work in progress, with no official weight attached.
In his concluding speech, Pope Francis himself explained that “we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas.”
He encouraged that this spiritual discernment be used to “find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”
The Pope also prayed that the Lord would accompany and guide the synod fathers as they prepare for next year’s ordinary synod, which will reflect on the theme “Jesus Christ Reveals the Mystery and Vocation of the Family.”