Assessing the Synod on the Family

Comment before the Final Report:

What is a pastoral Synod?

As I followed the news reports and commentaries on the Synod, the overriding issue that emerged in the early days was the dominance of the bishops who were not ready to discuss the reality of marriage and family life today. Instead what seemed to be at stake was the false dichotomy of either a reaffirmation of the doctrines that have been handed on up till now or a refusal to believe Jesus teachings of the indissolubility of marriage. As framed by the Archbishop of Philadelphia: any change of practice leads inevitably to a change in doctrine. But this was a Pastoral synod and so the issues that the bishops were asked to pay attention to are life experiences.

We are still locked in the ecclesia docens model and still trying to convince us that if only the docens church could teach more effectively, the discens ecclesia would obey more readily. A major stumbling block lies in the abstraction "Church" (as in Holy Mother Church) replacing the reality "Church" As a result of this misplaced focus, we inevitably get caught up in a distinction between "core" Catholics (those who are allowed to receive communion and supposedly do so weekly) and "peripheral" (or "almost") Catholics.

The Church of Christ and the Catholic Church are not identical. The Church is larger than the Catholic organized religion. God's expansive love is greater than the Church's ability to save.

Richard Shields,


A closer look at Paragraph #85 of the Synod Final Report

A small section of Pope John Paul IIs Familiaris consortio was included in this Synod Final Report #85, but not the whole of Familiaris consortio #84 as many conservatives explicitly requested.

What was quoted, verbatim, is the following:

Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.

What was omitted are the following points:

My reactions to the final document

1. The long lasting significance of this synod is not the particular document that was voted on'a document that disappointed as many progressives as conservatives. Rather it is in the initial movement toward becoming a synod in the sense of bishops practicing collective responsibility for the Church. This Synod process put the bishops under public scrutiny. They were put on notice that the public and not simply the members of the Catholic Church was watching. If they refused to take on the responsibility inherent in their pastoral office, their claims to leadership would be seen as thin and empty. The Pope's direction insisted that the Bishops could not use doctrine nor expediency as an excuse for not learning from the experiences of Christians in all parts of the world. How successful was the process? The compromise document suggests to me that this synod was the first of perhaps many baby steps that will occur; but as the culture of Roman centrality becomes less controlling, we will see bishops becoming freer and more compassionate.

2. The key problems, from my perspective, were not the situation of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics or the status of same sex unions. These issues were the stuff through which deeper issues were raised and partially addressed. The issues at play and which threatened to be divisive were embodied in the "either-or" mentality of universal-local and pastoral-doctrinal. I am convinced that the Synod has placed that paradigm into question.

Richard Shields,

Francis is a mensch

A professor at Cathedral College on 87th Street in New York once said Pius X was a saint and didn't know it; Pius XI was not a saint and knew it; Pius XII was not a saint and didn't know it. What would he say about JP II and Benedict? And what of Francis? Francis is a saint and doesn't care about it. My own judgment about him is that he is a genuine Christian, the first in the papacy since John XXIII. I don't have much regard for his two predecessors, one an alpha animal and the other effete. Both were careerists. Francis is a mensch. I am partial to the mensch.

I also think he is smarter than his two predecessors and isnt at all anti-intellectual. I have the strong feelings that unlike his two predecessors and Pius XII he is not the commander in chief of the churchs intellectual life. His two predecessors were commanders-in-chief. They should have been conductors and instead they were kettle drummers. As for the synod, Francis got what he needed and we needed out of it: some serious dialogue and disagreement on long-run important issues. I dont know what the answers are myself but he provoked the traditionalist and the neocons (his predecessors bishops) out of their hole and made them object to reformers in public and try to swing votes. Major achievement in the history of the Roman Church. Whether what happened was his intention or not, God bless him for it, and God bless the Jesuits for bearing with him. I wait with joyful anticipation for his next move.

William M. Shea, College of the Holy Cross,

The benefit of dialogue in a church rent by divisions

It seems to me that, in the midst of some disappointment, a great positive emerged from the 2015 Synod and its 20124 predecessor, namely, the importance, the necessity, and the benefit of dialogue in a Church rent by divisions. In its Declaration on Religious Freedom, Vatican II insisted that inquiry is always to be free, carried on, among other ways, with the aid of dialogue. In the course of such dialogue, persons "explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth" (n.3). John Paul cited this teaching with approval in his Ut unum sint (n.18), but in his pontificate and in that of his successor the idea of dialogue remained but high-sounding theory. Encouraged by Francis in both theory and practice, the two recent Synods have shown that dialogue, even contentious dialogue, can be productive. Some non-European bishops commented that from the Synodal dialogue they had better understood, even if not accepted, the positions of their European brothers. Perhaps Francis will go down in history as the "dialogical" rather than "diabolical" Pope that some seem to have branded him.

Michael G Lawler, Creighton University,

Concern about the bishops' collective reponsibility without the laity

e: "... bishops practicing collective responsibility for the Church " I want to agree with this statement by Richard Shields, and it is something that many commentators have emphasized, namely the significance of the process. However the statement itself "bishops practicing collective responsibility for the Church" causes me most concern. I am supposed to be excited in 2015, fifty years after Vatican II, that decisions about Family Life (the topic of this most recent synod) will now be made by a consensus of ontologically different males while the 99+%, the sensus fidelium, will remain on the sidelines?

John Quinn,

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