Below is the Vatican’s unofficial translation of the summary of the general debate of the Second General Congregation held in the Vatican:
Second General Congregation: Summary of the general debate
Holy Father: present
Synod Fathers: 180
During the second general Congregation, the general debate began. The theme, according to the agenda set forth in the Instrumentum Laboris, was: “God’s Plan for Marriage and the Family” (Part I, Chapter 1), and “The Knowledge and Acceptance of the Teachings on Marriage and the Family from Sacred Scripture and Church Documents” (Part I, Chapter 2).
Based on the premise that the family is the basic unit of human society, the cradle of gratuitous love, and that taking about the family and marriage implies education in fidelity, it was reiterated that the family constitutes the future of humanity and must be protected.
From many quarters, however, there has emerged the need to adapt the language of the church, so that doctrine on the family, life and sexuality is understood correctly: it is necessary to enter into dialogue with the world, looking to the example offered by the Vatican Council, or rather with a critical but sincere openness. If the church does not listen to the world, the world will not listen to the church. And dialogue may be based on important themes, such as the equal dignity of men and women and the rejection of violence.
The Gospel must not be explained, but rather shown — it was said in the Assembly — and above all, the lay faithful must be involved in the proclamation of the Good News, demonstrating the missionary charism. Evangelisation must not be a depersonalised theory, but must instead ensure that families themselves give concrete witness to the beauty and truth of the Gospel. The challenge, it was said, is that of passing from a defensive situation to an active, proactive one, or rather, reviving the capacity for proposing the heritage of faith with a new language, with hope, ardour and enthusiasm, offering convincing testimonies and creating a bridge between the language of the church and that of society.
In this sense, the use of a “biblical” rather than a “theological-speculative” catechesis was called for, since, in spite of appearances to the contrary, people are no longer satisfied by selfishness and instead seek ideals. Humanity desires happiness and the Christian knows that happiness is Christ, but no longer succeeds in finding the suitable language to communicate this to the world. The church, instead, must be “magnetic”; it must work by attraction, with an attitude of friendship towards the world.
With regard to couples in difficulty, it was emphasised that the Church needs to be close to them with understanding, forgiveness and mercy: mercy, it was said, is God’s first prerogative, but it must be seen in the context of justice, as only in this way will the whole of God’s plan be respected.
Marriage is and remains an indissoluble sacrament; however, since the truth is Christ, a Person, and not a series of rules, it is important to maintain the principles while changing the concrete forms of their implementation. In short, as Benedict XVI said, novelty in continuity: the Synod does not call Doctrine into question, but reflects on the Pastoral, or rather spiritual discernment for the application of such Doctrine in response to the challenges faced by contemporary families. In this sense, mercy does not eliminate the commandments, but it provides the hermeneutic key to them.
Furthermore, it was underlined that even imperfect situations must be considered with respect: for instance, de facto unions in which couples live together with fidelity and love present elements of sanctification and truth. It is therefore essential to look first and foremost at the positive elements, so that the Synod may infuse with courage and hope even imperfect forms of family, so that their value may be recognised, according to the principle of graduality. It is necessary to truly love families in difficulty.
In the context of a society in which there prevails a sort of “ego-latry”, leading to defamiliarisation, it is important to acknowledge the loss of a sense of the covenant between a man ( and a woman) and God. The proclamation of the beauty of the family, therefore, must not be simply aesthetic, the presentation of a mere ideal to imitate, but must instead present the importance of definitive commitment based on the covenant between married couples and God.
Another essential point is the rejection of clericalism: at times the church seems more concerned with power than with service, and for this reason she does not inspire the hearts of men and women. It is therefore necessary to return to the imitation of Christ, and to rediscover humility: the reform of the church must begin with the reform of the clergy. If the faithful see pastors who imitate Christ they will therefore draw close to the church once more, enabling her to proceed from the act of evangelising to being inherently evangelical.
The theme of the essential value of sexuality within marriage was also considered: sexuality outside marriage is discussed so critically that married sexuality can appear almost as a concession to imperfection. The Synod indicated, more briefly, the need for a greater formation of priests in relation to policies in favour of the family and the re-launching of the transmission of faith within the family.
During the hour of free discussion, from 6 to 7 p.m., two suggestions emerged: that the Synod send a message of encouragement and appreciation to families in Iraq, threatened by extermination perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists and forced to flee so as not to renounce their faith. The suggestion was subject to vote and approved by a majority.
Another call was the need to reflect on the married clergy of the oriental churches, as they too often live through “family crises”, which may extend to the question of divorce.