Synod’s Clarion Call: Solid Catholic Catechesis

Participants continue to call for communicating Church teachings clearly to reach the faithful in the pews.

Participants in the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family listen to a presentation in the Vatican's Synod Hall.
Participants in the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family listen to a presentation in the Vatican's Synod Hall. (photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — As the first week of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family neared its conclusion, participants discussed same-sex unions, divorce and civil remarriage and the negative impact of contraception on society.

During the sixth general congregation on Thursday, which followed chapters on “difficult pastoral situations” of the instrumentum laboris (working document) of the synod, the participants heard how the Catholic Church encompasses all “health families and families in crisis” and that indifference mustn’t be shown to the weakest but, rather, patient help.

There were calls to streamline the procedures of annulments, but caution was expressed about risking “superficiality” and about the need to “always safeguard respect for the truth” and the “rights of the parties.” Apportioning blame must also be avoided, it was said, and a “calm discussion of cases” should be carried out instead.

Also recommended was recourse to administrative channels regarding marriage nullity as a complement to the judicial process, and it was suggested the local bishop could decide on nullity through these administrative channels. Divorced-and-civilly-remarried persons should be treated with respect, the synod heard, and pastoral care must not be “repressive, but full of mercy.”

The synod participants also discussed polygamy: Although it is a “diminishing tendency,” it continues to be favored in rural contexts. Some polygamists have converted to the Church, and a request was made for specific pastoral measures in these cases.


Greater Marriage Prep

As in earlier sessions, there were calls for “greater preparations for marriage,” especially among the young, which should be presented with “not merely a moralistic exhortation” that risks generating a sort of religious and human illiteracy, but have an “adequate emotional education.” The path to marriage must involve “a true growth of the person,” the synod heard.

During the open discussion, divorce and remarriage was again raised: It was remarked that it is “important to carefully avoid moral judgment” or speaking of a “permanent state of sin,” seeking instead to enable “understanding” that a person in this circumstance not being admitted to the sacrament of the Eucharist “does not entirely eliminate the possibility of grace in Christ.” Rather, it is due to “the objective situation of remaining bound by a previous and indissoluble sacramental bond.”

In this respect, the importance of spiritual communion was “emphasized repeatedly.” It was also noted that these proposals have limits, and there are no “easy” solutions to the problem.

On the pastoral care of homosexual persons, it was said that emphasis needs to be placed “on the importance of listening” and the usefulness of “listening groups.”

The sixth general congregation also discussed interconfessional marriages and Catholics who change their Christian confession and vice versa.

During the seventh general congregation on Thursday, the themes taken from the working document were the same. Emphasis was again placed on adequate prematrimonial catechesis and pastoral accompaniment for couples following marriage. Also examined were cases in which couples experience great suffering, such as those of spousal abandonment.

“The problem exists, and the Church does not neglect it,” it was repeated several times in the assembly. Pastoral care must not be “all or nothing,” but be merciful.



With regard to cohabitation, it was said that, often, “economic and social factors” are to blame, rather than a rejection of Church teaching. Same-sex unions were again brought up, and a “respectful and non-discriminatory approach” called for in addressing them.

Further attention was paid to mixed marriages and how they are a “witness to harmony and interreligious dialogue.” Also mentioned was the virtue of chastity in marriage and the seriousness of the crime of abortion. Mention was also made of families in Asian contexts who suffer from “infanticide, violence towards women and human trafficking.”

The responsibility of parents for educating their children is inherent, the synod heard, and it was said that the pastoral care of children can create a “point of contact” with families who find themselves in difficult situations.

With regard to children, the negative impact of contraception on society and the resulting decline in the birth rate, it was remarked that Catholics “should not remain silent in relation to this issue, but should instead bring a message of hope: Children are important, they bring life and joy to their parents, and they reinforce faith and religious practices.”

Finally, attention turned to the essential role of the laity in the apostolate of the family and in its evangelization, as well as lay movements able to accompany families in difficulty.



Humanae Vitae

Similar themes were addressed in the eighth general congregation on Thursday afternoon, with a special focus on Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth). The synod participants heard of a wish to deepen understanding of the encyclical and why the Church is opposed to contraception. There was also forceful and repeated condemnation of “genetic manipulation and cryopreservation of embryos.”

African participants decried the linking of economic aid with strong pressure from Western nations towards acceptance of abortion and same-sex unions. It was pointed out how ”sexual and reproductive health” presents mutually contradictory concepts. The promotion of such “rights,” it was said, represents a risk, as it may influence the interpretation of other norms such as combating discrimination of women.

Synod participants also heard of the need for “long and detailed” marriage preparation, as in the case of preparation for religious life. Returning to the subject of annulments, there was a call for a greater presence of “suitable, prepared lay judges, women in particular.”

Mention was made of the importance of homilies in promoting the gospel of life to families, and in the free discussion Thursday evening, a “penitential path was highlighted” to accompany reflection on divorced persons who remain alone and suffer in silence.


Collateral Damage of Divorce

Speakers also highlighted the need to protect children of divorced couples from the psychological effects of marital breakup, as well as the parents’ right to choose when it comes to their education.

By the end of the eighth general congregation, the Vatican said 180 talks had been made by the synod fathers, and in the open debate, 80 further talks.

During the press briefing on Thursday, Archbishop Paul Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, president of Canada’s bishops’ conference, said that during this synod “we are starting to see ‘inductive’ thinking, starting with looking at individual situations.” He said “no template” can be applied to such diverse cases, and an open mind is necessary for each instance.

“Each person is an individual person,” he said, adding that “Jesus didn’t meet general cases; he met and addressed individuals.”

Also on Thursday, the synod also heard a testimony from Arturo and Hermelinda As Zamberline, a 41-year-married couple from Brazil, who said representatives of the Church should stop giving “contradictory advice” on birth control and help Catholics obey Church teaching against contraception.

They appealed to the Pope and the synod to help Catholics understand and live Humanae Vitae, which affirms Church teaching against contraception.

“If couples, as well as clergy, could at least find illumination and support, that would already be a great encouragement,” they said. “Often, contradictory advice only aggravates their confusion.” And they called for a “pastoral teaching program” to help people adopt and observe the principles laid out in the encyclical of Paul VI, who will be beatified at the close of the synod.

Said synod president delegate Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, “It is necessary to encourage a mentality of openness to life to thwart the contraceptive mentality and the spread of an individualist-anthropological model that in certain countries has led to a strong demographic drop, whose social and human consequences are not sufficiently considered today.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.