The lineamenta – or preparatory document – for next year’s ordinary synod of bishops on the family that the Vatican published Tuesday is raising further questions about the way the synodal process is being handled.
Usually the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops holds a press briefing on the day of a lineamenta’s publication, and the media is notified of its release sometime before the event. The lineamenta is usually then ready right away in various languages and sent to bishops conferences, religious superiors, laity and others.
But in this case, no briefing took place, the document appeared unexpectedly on the Vatican website, and then in Italian only. The press was given no opportunity to ask questions about the document. It was published in English today.
This may simply be due to the fact that the final report of the extraordinary synod held in October serves as the basis of the lineamenta for next year’s ordinary assembly. The only addition is a series of 61 questions which the Vatican says are intended “to facilitate the reception of the synodal document" and help examine the themes they raise.
But these questions raise a further concern as some refer to the three paragraphs in the final document which did not receive the required two thirds majority relating to remarried divorcees and homosexuality. The secretariat of the synod of bishops said all the questions are aimed at avoiding a "formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine, which would not respect the conclusions of the Extraordinary Synodal Assembly and would lead their reflection far from the path already indicated."
Seeing as their inclusion in the final report along with their voting numbers was in accordance with Pope Francis’ wishes, it’s arguably legitimate to have questions relating to them as well as the other subjects. But even if their inclusion is understandable, it would probably have been more honest if the synod secretariat either mentioned they received too few votes, or listed them separately to the other questions. As it stands, they are on a par with the other issues that passed, and therefore given apparent equal weight.
Furthermore, the question on divorce and remarriage asks that assessment of the Orthodox practice towards remarried divorcees be considered – a position that critics say differs from the Church's teaching and is closer to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to offer communion for those who have divorced and civilly remarried.
The lineamenta has positive aspects, but observers understandably see forces again at work, aimed at achieving a predetermined result.
Probably the best response to these concerns is to act on Pope Francis' words at today's general audience when he entrusted the synod to the protection of the Virgin Mary.
"May she help us to follow the will of God, by making pastoral decisions that best and most help the family," he said. "I ask you to accompany this synodal journey until the next synod with prayer. May the Lord enlighten us, may he enable us to go forward toward the maturity of what, as a synod, we must say to all the Churches. Your prayer is important in this."