VATICAN CITY — Married couples became a focus of the fourth day of discussion at the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.
In addition, three synod fathers tackled questions about African and Middle East perspectives on the family, and it was revealed that Pope Francis had urged participants on Tuesday to avoid a “hermeneutic of conspiracy,” after details came to light of a letter sent to him by 13 cardinals and bishops at the beginning of the synod. They warned against manipulation of the proceedings by the synod secretariat.
But despite the Pope’s pleas to avoid suspicions, synod fathers continue to have serious concerns about the synod’s new methodology.
Married couples are participating as auditors at the synod, presenting their firsthand experiences as couples, parents or grandparents.
The Vatican released details about their interventions (talks) given on Monday and Tuesday. The first was given by Mexican couple Gertrudiz Clara Rubio de Galindo and Andres Salvador Galindo, both executive secretaries for Church commissions in Latin America.
Awareness of God’s Plan
Married for 45 years, with two children and four grandchildren, they said that despite economic hardship, they decided to “fight against the imbalance” and to “persevere with our marriage and the family we had started to raise, although we took this decision without a clear awareness of what the sacrament of marriage meant.”
Through an experience with the Encuentro Matrimonial Catolico, a Catholic marriage guidance group, they learned to” communicate, to forgive, but above all to understand God’s plan for us as a married couple and as a family. And we continue to fight for our relationship, but now with more awareness, in accordance with God’s plan.”
Rubio de Galindo concluded that the pastoral care of the family in the third millennium requires “pastors impassioned by God’s plan,” who accompany and form families so that they may discover and experience “their identity and mission”.
Meshack Jabulani and Buysile Patronella Nkosi of South Africa gave their testimony on Oct. 6. Married for 35 years, with five children and eight grandchildren, one of their sons-in-law and their daughter-in-law intend to convert to Catholicism.
They said their marriage has been possible “by letting the Word of God, Christ himself, be our compass.” They said they have faced “numerous challenges, of perhaps not seeing things the same way or hurting each other in one way or another, but our redemption has always been to try to be humble enough to say, ‘I am sorry.’”
They agreed with the Holy Father, that the words “pardon me, thank you and may I please” are indispensable in order to “live in peace and harmony in our family.”
“It is important to remember to say, ‘I love you’ to each other and to the children,” they said. “Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, emphasizes the importance of love as the principle of life in society, the place where a person learns the common good, since the family is the first place where a new person learns to love, to forgive, experiences forgiveness and learns to share.”
They told the delegates that, in the face of a “throwaway culture,” they see their calling as one of encouragement, to help young people “enter into the journey of holy matrimony looking at Christ as their new hope.” They said they “continue to pass on our faith, all the Christian values and the culture of ubuntu — humaneness.” This, they said, “brings joy and fulfillment and has made our lives richer and fuller through the grace of God.”
Middle Eastern ‘Families Are Torn’
Meanwhile, at today’s press briefing with Archbishop Charles Palmer Buckle of Accra, Ghana, Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan of Antioch, and Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli, archbishop of Ancona, Italy, the crisis facing families in conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East was highlighted. Patriarch Younan noted that, “due to these terrible problems, families are torn” and doing all they can to remove themselves from conflict in Iraq and Syria.
He said they are “sometimes helpless” when facing this “tragic situation.” They would “like to get out of this hell, not because they don’t feel safe, but because they are persecuted, often kidnapped,” he said, adding, “It’s a real catastrophe [that] has been dragging on for so long.”
Asked about reports from Syria of the Islamic State group (ISIS) beheading three men accused of “terrorizing” people, Patriarch Younan said, “We truly feel forgotten or betrayed by Western governments who seem to follow only political and economy expediency and so forget these minorities who were the cradle of civilization.”
The patriarch, who has persistently called on the West to act more decisively, said “we patriarchs and religious men are really shaken by what is happening in these communities in Iraq and Syria, and this is why we try to make the voice of these people heard. It’s a cry of alarm from these regions of the world.”
Also at the briefing, a reporter asked if African bishops were “blocking” some of the synod debates, namely on contentious moral issues preoccupying some European or Western bishops. Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, rejected the accusation, telling reporters they were instead sharing “what we have of value for the universal Church.” He spoke out against making aid to Africa contingent on a policy to allow, for example, same-sex rights. Such policies are a “gross violation of sovereignty,” he said.
But the archbishop, whose archdiocese and the Ghanaian Church has received considerable funding from the German Church over the years, said although African attitudes differ on this compared to the West, some countries could decriminalize homosexual acts, but “not overnight.” He was responding to a question given by a representative of the dissenting New Ways Ministry, a lobby group pushing for Church validation of homosexual acts.
The archbishop, one of very few African bishops to have voiced his support for the Cardinal Kasper proposal on allowing Communion for Catholics who are divorced and remarried, said the rights of all must be upheld. “Perfection is not attained instantly, but we’re working towards it,” he said.
Still Assessing Cardinal Erdő’s Address
Although the Holy See has urged governments to take "necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against" homosexual persons, observers felt Archbishop Palmer-Buckle missed an opportunity to uphold the Church’s doctrine on homosexual behavior, which it calls “objectively disordered.”
The panel was also asked about how important they felt Cardinal Peter Erdő’s speech was. Cardinal Menichelli said it was a “summary” and a way to “highlight fundamental points.” But he said the document, which many synod fathers praised for upholding Church teaching, is “not in contrast” to the instrumentum laboris (working document), which, he said, is the “main” document of reference.
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said Cardinal Erdő had made a “nice summary” and that African bishops “respected him for what he did”; but he said the document is one of four to six, and there is “much to be done.” Patriarch Younan said this is a “synod of the people.”
Asked if the instrumentum laboris was too Western-centered, as some synod fathers have said, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle regretted that good news from Africa rarely gets heard, and so perhaps “gives the wrong perspective” that this synod is only dealing with European issues.
It also emerged today that 13 as-yet unnamed cardinals and bishops taking part in the synod sent a letter to the Pope on the first day of the synod.
The signatories had two concerns: first, that the moderators and rapporteurs in the circuli minores, the language-based discussion groups, were designated by the secretariat so the secretariat could steer the debate; second, that members of the commission charged with drafting the synod’s final message were not elected.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, reassured them the following day that the moderators and rapporteurs would be elected by the synod fathers. The Pope reassured them that he had chosen the composition of the commission for drafting the final message.
The Pope gave an unscheduled speech on Tuesday urging synod fathers not to enter into a “hermeneutic of conspiracy” and defining such an approach as “sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful.”
However, synod fathers continue to have serious concerns about the instrumentum laboris, which, for the first time, remains the main text for the synod and which will end up as the final document.
For the first time also, amending paragraphs of the document requires those in the small groups passing a vote by a two-thirds majority, instead of a vote on propositions at the end. The collective amendments are then submitted to a commission to evaluate which amendments are to be made or not.
This means that controversial paragraphs in the document, such as the Cardinal Kasper proposal that failed to achieve a two-thirds majority at the end of the last synod, appear to now require a two-thirds majority vote to amend them.
“The burden of proof now is on the side that wants to amend them,” said a synod official. “So bishops are now trying to clarify that three controversial paragraphs that did not get the two-thirds majority now require a two-thirds majority just to change them.”
Participants are also concerned that these paragraphs that failed to achieve the required votes last time were retained in the final document of the extraordinary synod — a document that Pope Francis stressed this week is one of three “official documents” of the meeting, along with his two speeches of the last synod.
The Pope has stressed that doctrine won’t be touched, but critics contend that Cardinal Kasper’s proposal will do just that, by contradicting two millennia of Church teaching on marriage.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
He is the author of The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?
(Ignatius Press, 2015).