Orthodox Church Representatives Have Their Say at the Synod

Fraternal delegates explain their concerns regarding the pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.

VATICAN CITY — Fraternal delegates, including a representative of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church’s head of external relations, have been sharing their views on the pastoral challenges to the family at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.

At a Holy See Press Office briefing Saturday, reporters were informed that the ecclesial leaders emphasized the previous day that the hopes and challenges attached to the family unit are common to all Christians, and there is no lack of difficulties.

The Vatican said they highlighted the economic crisis, the mass media — which at times propose “models that lead to adultery” — and factors such as “wars, migrations, globalization, the drama of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola and the Islamic fundamentalism present in some countries.”

All of these threats “continually place the good of the family at risk in every context,” they said during the Friday discussions.

The fraternal delegates said all Christians need “adequate marriage preparation and appropriate reflection on marriage between believers and nonbelievers.” Regarding the divorced and remarried, they said their “acceptance in the Church may give them new hope” and promote a “more serene family life, thus creating a richer society.”

They stressed the importance of “listening to difficult family situations,” as the Church “wishes always to help those who suffer, looking both at the sacred Scriptures and at the problems of contemporary life.”

In relation to homosexual persons, a wish was expressed “for listening and comprehension, far from any form of condemnation,” while emphasizing that “marriage is a union between a man and a woman.”

Particular attention was paid towards children born in a difficult context and all victims of violence, especially women and minors, “as well as the defense of the most vulnerable, of those who have no voice.”

The delegates also stressed the importance of the proclamation of the Gospel. The family is the first school of faith, it was said, and sharing the “joy of the Gospel” is essential.

The Vatican said “some differences” were encountered regarding “birth control,” underlining the “freedom of conscience of believers, while respecting the meaning of love and marriage.” In relation to second marriages, the Orthodox Church delegates said these are a “deviation” and only celebrated “after a period of accompaniment” by the Church in an attempt to “bring married couples towards reconciliation.”

The delegates of the Churches present in the Middle East thanked Pope Francis for last year’s prayer vigil for peace in Syria and across the world, and they emphasized the responsibility of the region’s Christian families to evangelize within a largely Islamic context.


Points That Stood Out

Speaking to reporters, synod press secretary Father Thomas Rosica mentioned a number of points that stood out in these debates, including the economic crisis, means and methods of communication and their effects on families and the instability of war.

A key point came from the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Father Rosica said Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium underscored a real concern, which is “to reach out to young people,” and “to avoid too much ‘moralizing’ or being ‘too rigid’ where we lose the audience we are speaking to.”

Another notable point, he said, came from the Church of England’s representative, who spoke on preparation for marriage. “Most of the preparation we are speaking about regarding marriage is about adult formation,” but he stressed: “Marriage formation begins as children. It begins with offering to them models” of what marriage is and should be.

Turning to linguistic groups, Father Rosica said Group A, which is headed by Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (the Vatican’s version of the Supreme Court), had “a very interesting dynamic in the group.” After the original part of the meeting, in which people identified themselves and gave brief biographies, they delved right into the topic, he explained.

One of the positive things about the group, he noted, is that the laypeople, participants and auditors “have a voice,” and “they are appealed to very often by the cardinals and bishops to share their experience.”

In the question-and-answer session that followed Saturday’s briefing, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said, as far as he was concerned, synod participants felt they could say what they wanted to say, and “many themes” have been raised. The atmosphere has been “very relaxed” and friendly, with each person's view listened to with respect. He said there has been a “difference of opinion” but also a “huge amount of unity.”

He explained that, unlike other synods, this assembly won’t be issuing a set of final propositions. He said the final document from this first synod on the family will more closely resemble an instrumentum laboris (working document) than propositions.

“This is a process that is continuing,” he said, referring to the ordinary synod to take place a year from now. The Irish archbishop added that the relatio post disceptationem (post-discussion report) issued on Monday will be the framework for a final document and act as “another instrument to guide the process.”


Media Restrictions Criticized

Outside the synod, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, criticized on Thursday media restrictions of the synod, telling Salt and Light television that “all Christians have the right to be informed about the intervention of their bishops.”

Father Rosica, Father Lombardi and Father Manuel Dorantes have staged daily briefings, summarizing the debate in various languages, but without saying who said what or issuing full summaries of individual talks.

On Friday, the synod participants issued a message to families suffering the results of conflict. They said they “share the paternal concern of the Holy Father, expressing our profound closeness to all the families who suffer as a consequence of the many conflicts in progress.”

“In particular, we raise to the Lord our prayers for Iraqi and Syrian families,” they added, and they decried using violence in God’s name. Although they thanked the international community for their solidarity, they implored nations to act to re-establish peaceful coexistence in Iraq, Syria and in all of the Middle East.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.