Vatican Releases Synod’s Small-Group Reports

The synod fathers will not vote on a series of proposals, but on a comprehensive text that the Pope will take into consideration for the following post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addresses the press regarding the synod Oct. 16.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addresses the press regarding the synod Oct. 16. (photo: CNA/Bohumil Petrik/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — After the synod’s small groups released their reports Thursday, asking for a substantial rewriting of the meeting’s midterm report, the Vatican has said the synod’s final report will be prepared and voted upon on Saturday morning.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, added that it is unlikely the synod’s final relatio will be released Saturday evening.

“We are in a work in progress, and I would approach step by step toward Saturday. Given the several requests for amendments, I find it difficult [to suppose] that Saturday evening there will be a polished text ready for publication,” Father Lombardi said Oct. 16.

Unlike previous synods, the synod fathers will not vote on a series of proposals that the Pope will take into consideration for the following post-synodal apostolic exhortation, but will vote  on a comprehensive text that will serve as the basis for discussion and preparation for the 2015 synod, also on the family.

Beyond Cardinal Peter Erdo and Archbishop Bruno Forte, general rapporteur and special secretary of the synod, and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod, the Pope appointed a commission of six prelates to help in drafting the final document.

On Thursday, Pope Francis enlarged that commission, adding Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa and Archbishop Denis Hart of Australia.

“Since someone noted that there were no representatives from Africa in the commission, the commission has been enlarged in order to include representatives of all the five continents,” Father Lombardi commented.

He also announced the release of the texts of the 10 reports of the small groups and recounted that “there had been an explicit discussion within the synod about whether to make these relations public or not.”

According to one of the synod fathers, Cardinal Baldisseri said that the relations were not going to be published, thus arousing the lively reaction of the assembly.

“Many bishops stood, and someone also banged his fist on the table. Cardinal Baldisseri said he wanted to listen to everyone, and he found that the majority of the synod fathers wanted the document to be published,” the source maintained.

“This way, there will not be so much ground to change or bias our discussion in the final report,” he added.

Glancing over the reports issued by the small groups, the need to substantially rewrite the midterm report emerged.

There are three common and primary concerns of the synod fathers: the absence in the text of any reference to the "gospel of the family" and more widely to Gospel references; the need to underscore and highlight positive examples of Christian families; and the request to take out, or at least clarify, the principle of graduality, which may lead to confusion.

“Gradualness should not make insipid the challenge of the Gospel to conversion, to ‘go and sin no more,’ as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery,” reads the report of the third English-speaking small group, chaired by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. “The aim of recognizing gradualness should be to draw people closer to Christ.”

“Truth and mercy are not mutually exclusive terms, and in proclaiming truth, we also proclaim the most profound mercy — that of reconciliation and unity with God; on the other hand, it is in mercy that we find truth,” the group added.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria, coordinator of one of the French-speaking small groups, tried to balance the different positions while speaking with journalists during a media briefing.

“If some synod fathers say: ‘Be careful, because we mustn’t forget doctrine,’ on the other hand, there is also a need for the accompaniment of many situations, those situations the Pope refers to as [being part of the Church as] a field hospital.”

As many of the synod fathers have criticized the absence of the word “sin” from the midterm report, Cardinal Schönborn clarified that “the discussions have also dealt with confession.”

For the archbishop of Vienna, it is “evident there are tensions in the synod; there are different aspects to take in consideration: on one side, the doctrine, the clear word of the Gospel; on the other, Jesus acting with mercy. How to join these two sides is the permanent challenge of the Church and pastors.”

These tensions are proven by the some 600 requests for modification presented in the morning before the reading of the relations of the small groups.

All remaining focus is on the synod’s report, which is to be voted on Saturday morning.

One of the synod fathers commented to CNA, “If the new report doesn’t mirror the synod fathers’ remarks, it is possible that the text will be dismissed by the assembly.”