Below is the Vatican’s unofficial translation of the summary of the Third General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops which took place in the Vatican.
Third General Congregation: Summary of the general debate
Holy Father: present
Synod Fathers: 184
The general debate continued throughout today’s third general Congregation. The theme according to the order of the Instrumentum Laboris was: “The Gospel of the Family and the Natural Law” (Part I, Chapter 3) and “The Family and Vocation of the Person in Christ” (Part I, Chapter 4).
At the opening of the Congregation, it was announced that the Ordinary Consistory, convoked by the Holy Father for Monday 20 October, will be devoted to the situation in the Middle East, on the basis of the results of the meeting of various Papal Representatives and Superiors of the competent Dicasteries, held in the Vatican from 2 to 4 October. The theme of the Consistory will be presented by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. The meeting will also be attended by six Oriental Patriarchs and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal.
The general debate then continued in relation to the issues stated above. It was agreed that greater preparation for marriage is necessary, so that it is not only valid but also fruitful. The suggestion was to look not only towards remedies for failure of the conjugal union, but also to focus on the conditions that render it valid and fruitful. It is necessary to transmit a vision of marriage that does not regard it as a destination, but rather as a path to a higher end, a road towards the growth of the person and of the couple, a source of strength and energy. The decision to marry is a true vocation and as such requires fidelity and coherence in order to become a true locus for the growth and the protection of the human being.
For this reason, married couples must be accompanied throughout their path in life, by means of intense and vigorous family pastoral care. The path of preparation for the marriage sacrament, must therefore be long, personalized and also severe, without the fear of eventually leading to a reduction in the number of weddings celebrated in church. Otherwise, there is the risk of filling the3 Tribunals with marriage cases.
A further point that emerged during the discussion was the influence of the mass media, at times intrusive, in presenting ideologies contrary to the doctrine of the Church in relation to family and marriage. In this respect, it was said, Catholics must be protected but must also be better prepared: the Church must offer her teaching in a more incisive manner, presenting doctrine not merely as a list of prohibitions, but also by drawing closer to the faithful, as Jesus did. In this way, acting with empathy and tenderness, it will be possible to reduce the gap between doctrine and practice, between the teachings of the church and the daily life of families.
What is needed is not a choice between doctrine and mercy, but rather the beginning of an enlightened pastoral care to encourage above all those families in difficulty, who are often aware of a sense of not belonging to the church. Today’s debate then turned again to couples in difficulty and divorced and civilly remarried persons, for whom, it was said, that the church should offer not judgment but truth, with a gaze of understanding, because people follow the truth, and will follow the church if she speaks the truth. The “medicine” of mercy offers acceptance, care and support. Also because — it was shown — suffering families do not seek rapid pastoral solutions, and they do not wish to be a mere statistical figure, but rather feel the need to be inspired, to feel that they are welcomed and loved. More space must be allowed for a sacramental rather than a juridical form of logic.
With regard to the approach to the Eucharist by the divorced and remarried, it was emphasised that it is not the sacrament of the perfect, but rather of those who are on the way. Like yesterday afternoon, the debate focused on the need to renew the language of the proclamation of the Gospel and the transmission of doctrine: the Church must be more open to dialogue, and must listen more frequently (and not only in exceptional cases) to the experiences of married couples, because their struggles and their failures cannot be ignored; on the other hand, they can be the basis of a real and true theology. Again, in relation to language, some perplexity was expressed at the suggestion — included in the Instrumentum Laboris — to deepen the concept, of biblical inspiration, of the “order of creation” as a possibility of rereading “natural law” more meaningfully: it was added that it is not enough to change the vocabulary if a bridge to effective dialogue with the faithful is not then created. In this sense, the much foretold and widespread need for change may be understood, it was said, as pastoral conversion, to make the proclamation of the Gospel more effective.
In the Assembly, three specific dimensions of the family were presented: the vocation to life, the missionary aspect understood as witnessing Christ through the family unity, and acceptance of the other, as the family is the first school of otherness, the place in which it is possible to learn patience and slowness, in contrast to the frenzy of the contemporary world. A further dimension of the family unit is shown also in holiness, as the family educated in holiness is the icon of the Trinity, the domestic church in the service of evangelisation, the future of humanity. Other points indicated during the third general Congregation related to the importance of catechesis for families, especially for children, and prayer between domestic walls, so that it may give rise to a true generation of faith, enabling its transmission from parents to children.
Finally, the need for a more thorough formation for priests and catechists was underlined.