Questionable Aspects of the Synod on the Family

Vatican briefing on the Synod, Tuesday 7 October 2014.
Vatican briefing on the Synod, Tuesday 7 October 2014. (photo: YouTube)

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family enters its third day of discussions tomorrow and so far, much has gone as expected. Plenty of debate has already taken place about how to make the Church, and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life, more attractive.

According to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the atmosphere has been lighthearted, enjoyable and conducive to the free and open debates desired by Pope Francis.

But the material, disseminated by the Holy See press office, is causing some concern: many of the interventions, for example, appear to seek reconciliation with the way the world sees the Church (one speaker reportedly said the Church should "show friendship towards the world") rather than holding up dogmatic truths or acknowledging that the Church will always be counter-cultural.

Another questionable element of the assembly has been that only a lengthy, general summary of each congregation is being distributed. The synod secretariat, unlike past ones, is neither disclosing extensive summaries of most individual interventions, nor revealing who is giving them. This is in order to free up discussion; it’s also due to the relative brevity of this synod and its “extraordinary” nature. But the downside is that the limited information leads to more generalizations than normal, and offers few clues as to whether one or more participants might be sharing any particular opinion.

More seriously, it makes disclosure of the synod's discussions susceptible to the whims of the reporting press secretaries and the Vatican press office. There’s no knowing what is being filtered out, nor what is being given undue attention.

Despite this, it’s possible to ascertain some kind of picture of what’s taking place. Clearly of particular interest in the early congregations has been the need for a change in the language used by the Church with regards to marriage and the family.

Vatican press secretary Fr. Thomas Rosica said today there is a “great desire” among participants for changes in this regard, and there have been calls for the Church to enter more into “dialogue with the world” with a “critical but sincere openness”. These should be on secular values the Church holds in common, said one participant (or was it many?), such as the “equal dignity of men and women and the rejection of violence.”

Much stress is being put on the fact that a change of doctrine is not up for discussion. But concerns remain that, even if that is the case, changing how the Church is presented will make it appear to have been altered.

The issue of language is a case in point: synod participants heard today of a wish to tone down the use of terms such as “living in sin”, “contraceptive mentality” and “intrinsically disordered”. The suggestion appeared to have been warmly received.

But such a change risks making it seem that the Church no longer believes, at least as strongly as she once did, the truths she is compelled to teach. It's a concern that's yet to be raised at the synod. Or maybe it has been.