Final Synod Briefing Concludes

VATICAN CITY – Moments ago, Synod Delegate President Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis from Aparecida in Brazil, pontifical appointment Cardinal Christoph Schönborn from Vienna in Austria, and Brother Herve Janson, the Prior General of the Little Brothers of Jesus, delivered the final Synod briefing inside the St. John Paul II Hall at the Holy See Press Office.

Here are three takeaways from their presentations.

Takeaway one: Excluding Sunday’s closing liturgy, the work of the 2015 Synod on the “Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World” concludes today in Rome. The final item of business is an assembly vote on the so-called Relatio Finalis.

In his remarks, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn from Vienna in Austria described this month’s intensive meeting between the Pope and some 270 bishops as a “gift,” resulting from consultations of the faithful, the discussions of two synodal assemblies, and the publication of an entire ‘library of books’ on the ‘Gospel of the Family.’

He said this month’s work constitutes “a great ‘Yes!’ to the family, its importance, [and] its relevance today.” And, the cardinal underscored that “The principle message of this Synod is the theme” of the assembly itself: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.” As such, the synod bore testimony to the truth that the family is not passé, but remains “the key reality of society.” Brother Janson described the synod process as “an enriching experience” that evidenced that “every family can make a contribution to the Church.”

Takeaway two: Now, we wait for the publication of the final synodal report.

At the conclusion of this afternoon’s briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists to return to the press office around 6:30pm for advance copies of the Relatio Finalis. Synod Delegate President Cardinal Assis told journalists the document comprises some ninety-four punti (or, paragraphs), about two-thirds the length of the Instrumentum Laboris. Released in June, that text contained 174 numbered paragraphs divided into three substantive parts. According to the synodal calendario dei lavori, the final report will be the subject of a vote this evening from 16:30 until 19:00 ore here in Rome.

Synod fathers will vote on the document as a whole as well as each of its numbered paragraphs. Brother Janson is eligible to vote on the text, although other lay women and men will not be. 

Takeaway Three: Here’s what we know about the final report…

1.Fundamental Orientation

Speaking about the fundamental orientation of the document, Cardinal Assis said it reflects the collegial spirit that animated the collaboration among the bishops during their three-week-long meeting with Pope Francis.

He noted the expansion of small group discussions occasioned wider participation among the fathers and delegates. And, Cardinal Schönborn  described the small group discussions as a certain ‘strength’ of this year’s synodal assembly, noting that it represents ‘true progress’ in the fifty year history of the permanent institution.

The cardinals underscored that discussions were not a matter of one or another side ‘winning’ or ‘losing,’ but about working toward offering the Pope sound pastoral consul as he strives to serve families. Such a spirit is evidenced in the final synodal report, which is the “fruit of consensus,” according to Cardinal Schönborn, reflecting ‘synodality’ that consists in “respecting differences.”

2.Particular Content

At today’s press conference, there were some early indications of the content included in the report to be voted on this evening.

Cardinal Schönborn  defined the family as comprised of ‘A man and a woman,’ noting as essential attributes their ‘faithfulness, common life together, and openness to life.’ He highlighted the importance of the nucleus of the family, but he said that this doesn’t exclude other kinds of ‘patchwork families.’ And, he noted that the final synodal report will have ‘clear’ language about ideological colonization brought about by international aid programs that impose anti-life and anti-family policy requirements. He added that the report includes a graph that emphasizes the responsibilities of the governments of the world to protect families.

Regarding the question of the admission of divorced and civilly remarried persons to sacramental communion, Cardinal Schönborn  said it is not simply a matter of ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The subject did receive ‘great attention,’ but the key word was ‘discernment.’ Although the final report does not address the issue in a ‘direct way,’ the cardinal did cite paragraph 84 from Pope St. John Paul II’s 1981 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio as one touchstone that guided synodal discussions.

Further, he remarked that homosexuality is ‘lightly’ addressed in the report, “mainly giving words to families with gay people.” The document discusses the subject of homosexuality only in the context of “the Christian way of accepting” such persons into a family. Certainly, “this does not mean that it will not continue to be discussed in some parts of the world,” however. The cardinal said that the “Theme of homosexuality [was] ‘too delicate’ for discussion at [the level of the] universal Church.” It requires some “cultural discernment.” And, he pointed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he edited, as one place to find a full exposition of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, saying it is ‘clearly outlined’ there.

As far as continental consultation and sound decentralization are concerned, Cardinal Schönborn  said that “No one wants to nationalize or continentalize the Catholic Church.” In fact, he said that “I’d be desperate if we had a national Austrian Church.” But, he noted that “There’s always been a tension between centralization and decentralization” in the life of the Church.

Cardinal Assis proposed the “model of the Latin American Catholic Churches and CELAM for the future of Catholicism,” noting that “Communion is always maintained, but in the principle of subsidiarity it’s important [that] conferences have their own competences.” Cardinal Schönborn  said the idea of decentralization is nothing new, but an old theme and commended the Latin Americans for their “long experience of continental bishops’ conferences.” He said that “We live in a universal Church. There is always a balance between centralization and decentralization.”