Vatican Press Conference Suggests Clearer, Evangelizing Synod Discussion

This afternoon, there was a second briefing for journalists at the Holy See Press Office. Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. moderated this secondo incontro. He introduced Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, Québec in Canada, the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. English, Spanish, French, and German language Media Attachés also joined the discussion. You can view the hour and twenty minute long presentation here.

Before Archbishop Durocher’s presentation of his experience of the Synod, Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica offered the English language briefing for accredited journalists. In his remarks, he stressed four basic points and made one personal observation. First, he reiterated Secretary General Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri’s comment from the third general congregation. He said that there are only three formal documents of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” These are (1) the Holy Father’s opening address of October 6, 2014; (2) his closing discourse of October 18, 2014; and, (3), the final Relatio Synodi. In effect, this means that the Relatio post disceptationem is not an official or formal document of the Synod.

Next, he made three comments about how the discussions inside the synod aula are presenting the family and the priesthood. First, they are discussing the family as the protagonist of evangelization – i.e., the principle agents of the renewal of the sacrament of marriage. Second, they are articulating the role of the family as both model and healer of marriage. Lastly, they are calling for priestly formation at the service of marriage. In some interventions, this is tied to calls for a new catechesis of marriage. Fr. Rosica noted that there were at least ten requests for a catechumenate of marriage, which would prolong matrimonial formation beyond reception of the sacrament. These observations suggest similarities between the synodal discussions unfolding this week and the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II’s Exhortation Familiaris Consortio.

According to Fr. Rosica, the new three minute time limit on interventions positively affects the clarity of the speakers’ comments. Formerly, speakers could make five minute-long remarks. Fr. Rosica seemed to maintain that the new rule invites a clearer and more focused discussion inside the synod aula. Last year, there was widespread concern about the lack of doctrinal clarity, especially with respect to the midterm relation or report.

Canadian Archbishop Durocher offered his observations from the perspective of a voting synodal delegate. This is his third synodal experience. Most recently, he was a member of the extraordinary synodal assembly of 2014 on “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” There, he helped to prepare the final relatio synodi. That document occasioned written responses from the particular churches and episcopal conferences, which have been collated in the form of the instrumentum laboris for this month’s Synod.

He spoke about changes to the particular law of the Synod. While these might seem trivial, Archbishop Durocher maintains they are “quite remarkable.” In fact, they are “raising a lot of questions” among the delegates, according to him. Previously, synodal assemblies gathered in plenary sessions to hear interventions, disbanded into small groups for discussion, then produced a text to be read from the floor of the synod aula, and ended by discussing the text in small groups again. This time, the text already exists in the form of the instrumentum laboris. Some Synod fathers find it difficult to adjust to the change.

At this year’s Synod, the discussions of the circuli minores (or, small groups) will constitute the mainstay of the synodal schedule. Perhaps, that new arrangement will invite a shift in focus from textual criticism to living exchanges of ideas and experiences in a spirit of fraternal communion.

So far, it would seem that the discussion is responding positively to this change. Archbishop Durocher noted that conversations are revealing a concern about the growing gulf between the secular culture’s approach to inter-personal relationships and Christ’s Gospel of the Family. In the synodal discussions, two dispositions have sought to respond to this widening gap: One emphasizes the Church’s teaching and right practice while the other advocates dialogue and encounter with the world.

Some synodal delegates are concerned that overemphasis on teaching can lead to a certain kind of cultural passivity, sealing the Church off from the world and rendering her incapable of influencing the culture for Christ. But, notably, Archbishop Durocher stressed that the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family is a “gift for the world;” it is truly “Good News for the world,” he said. Thus, one needs to carefully balance affirmations of sound teaching and attempts to invite dialogue with others. Both are needed. As such, the two approaches are not opposed to one another, but integrally ordered toward one another. They are complementary, expressing themselves most fully in an exercise of collegiality, according to him.

Alternatively, one could present these approaches in terms of the deductive and inductive methods. The deductive method starts with teaching, applying it to particular instances. On the other hand, the inductive method begins with particular persons and the anthropological assumption about the essential goodness of individuals. It journeys with people in a culture of encounter along an ascending path toward ever greater acceptance of the Gospel. Again, both methods need one another; they are incomplete without each other.

Some other interventions offered yesterday were mentioned in the course of the briefing. These included wider use of general absolution, regional or continental resolutions of the question about the admission of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to sacramental communion, and the rejection of exclusionary language in the pastoral care of homosexuals. All three pastoral proposals were mentioned in light of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, set to begin in a little more than two months on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. We will have to watch how these parts of the discussion progress.