The synod’s final report, released Saturday, presents substantial changes with respect to the much discussed midterm report, especially regarding homosexual persons and the divorced and remarried.
The final report was voted on, paragraph by paragraph, by the synod fathers; and, by Pope Francis’ choice, the result of each poll has been publicized, thus showing a glimpse into the synod fathers’ thought.
Though all the paragraphs gained a majority of votes, not all of them reached the super-majority of two-thirds, which is required for official approval.
With 181 voting synod fathers (out of 193), a simple majority is 93, while the super-majority is reached at 123 votes.
Speaking with journalists during a press briefing Oct. 18, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, commented that in light of preparations for the 2015 synod, the paragraphs that failed to gain official approval “cannot be considered as dismissed, but primarily as paragraphs that are not mature enough to gain a wide consensus of the assembly.”
An overall glance at the final report
Like the midterm report, the final report is divided in three parts, titled: “Listening, context, and challenges of the family”; “the glance to Christ: the Gospel of the Family”; and “The confrontation: pastoral perspectives.”
The 62 paragraphs of the document are filled with quotes from the Sacred Scriptures, the lack of which in the midterm report was lamented by most of the small groups.
Another outcome of the small groups’ suggestions is the frequent reference to the positive testimonies Christian families can give in contemporary society.
The strong stance against international organizations that bind financial aid to the introduction of homosexual rights has been clarified and emphasized in a separate paragraph, while it was included in a wider paragraph in the midterm report.
At a first glance, all the concerns expressed by the small groups have been taken in consideration.
The divorced and remarried: pastoral consideration, points of clarification
The paragraphs on the divorced and remarried and on homosexual persons having been the most controversial of the midterm report, the paragraphs on those issues have been slightly modified, though they still failed to meet a wide consensus.
Regarding the divorced and remarried, almost all the synod fathers agreed that “pastoral care of charity and mercy tends to the recovery of persons and relations,” and that “every family must be listened with respect and love.”
The consensus is slightly lower when the document stresses that “the synod fathers urge new pastoral paths, that may start from the effective reality of families’ fragility, being conscious that these fragilities are endured with suffering than chosen with full freedom.”
There is even less consensus when the final report speaks about reforming the procedures for the declaration of nullity of marriages.
In contrast, a paragraph stating that those who are divorced without having remarried, who “often testify to the faithfulness of marriage” should “be encouraged in finding in the Eucharist the food which can sustain them.”
The report however states that “a particular discernment” must be put in action for a pastoral accompaniment of separated, divorced, abandoned; focuses on the situation of those who separate because of domestic violence; and underscores that divorced and remarried must not feel “discriminated” against, and that their participation in the community “must be promoted” since “taking care of them is not for the Christian community a weakening in faith and in the testimony to the indissolubility of the marriage.”
The paragraphs on access to Communion for the divorced and remarried (52 and 53) did not gain a supermajority among the synod fathers.
Also, one paragraph concerning homosexual couples did not gain the needed supermajority: paragraph 55 describes the situation of families “having within them persons with a homosexual orientation.” Considered vague, it received only 118 yes votes.
The following paragraph, 56, condemned the linking of international financial aid to the establishment of same-sex marriage, did receive a supermajority.
Synod Fathers all agree: more education is needed
There is however only one paragraph — the second one — that reached unanimity among the synod fathers.
“Despite the many signals of crisis of the institution of the family in the diverse contexts of the ‘global village’, the wish for a family is still alive, especially among young people, and this motivates the Church, expert in humanity and faithful to her mission, to tirelessly and with profound conviction announce the ‘Gospel of the family’,” paragraph two states, in part.
The final report provides largely the same view of the current situation of the family as did the midterm report, but it also notes positive testimonies of the family, and the role of grandparents.
The final report also addresses the importance of the affective life: “the individualistic danger and the risk of living selfishly are relevant. The Church’s challenge is to help couples in the maturation of their emotional dimension and in the affective development through the promotion of dialogue, of virtue, and of trust in the merciful love of God.”
In general, the paragraphs based on Sacred Scriptures and providing quotes of Magisterial documents gained a wide consensus among the fathers.
The final report also emphasized the need for a positive reception of Humanae vitae, Paul VI’s encyclical on regulation of birth, which highlighted many positive aspects of family life and reaffirmed the doctrine of the Church.
Education has always been a primary challenge, as has been stressed since the publication of the synod’s working document, and this is why the two final paragraphs of the final statement focus on the issue.
The “educative challenge” is one of “the fundamental challenges of families,” and the Church “supports families, starting from the Christian initiation, through welcoming communities.”
“The Church is requested to support parents in their educative commitment, accompanying babies, children, and adolescents in their growth through personalized paths able to introduce them to the full sense of life and arise choices and responsibility, lived in the light of Gospel.”
Toward the 2015 synod
The final report values more the experience of Christian families than did the midterm report, and put in action many suggested changes.
Yet, it cannot be considered a definitive document: the final report will function as a “working document” for the 2015 Synod of Bishops, which is considered the second part of unique synodal path on the family.
Only after that will the pope issue a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which will shed light on how the Church is called to face the challenges of the family today.