Paragraph 2034 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:
The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.
It is fair to say that this statement fell under intense scrutiny with the release of the mid-term report from the Extraordinary Synod last Monday. Catholics who love their Church and work tirelessly to promote and defend it within the public square voiced a collective groan of anguish as they read the text of the interim report. The question that likely burst into the mind of most people was: “What is happening to our authentic teachers in Rome?”
Understanding this Extraordinary Synod and its proceedings begins with an explanation of its purpose. This Synod was to clearly identify the pastoral challenges facing families across the globe. It was not the task of this Synod to advance an agenda of change or to offer a laundry list of fixes. Participants had to look into the messiness of human existence and bring light to behaviors that are easier to ignore or deny than to examine. The bishops’ task was to listen.
Perhaps, this is part of the reason why observers around the world thought the process was becoming unconventional and democratic. It is true that the proceedings were less formal and that open dialogue between the participants was encouraged. Voice was given to all who were invited; from those bearing titles like Blessed or Your Excellency to those referred to husband or wife. Small group discussions were remarkably open and frank, inviting insights from everyone around the table.
This is not to imply that the assembly was without leadership or without decorum. Governance and protocols were instituted as needed. But, the leadership was not one of oppression or lordship. Rather, it was based on servant leadership; laying down one’s life for the beloved (cf Jn 15:13) which is the model of Christian family life.
The variations noted between this and past synods did not signal the enactment of a "majority rules" mindset. People were worried that "the squeaky wheel would be the one receiving the grease" in this environment. The faithful became frightened that the change in modus operandi during the past two weeks would surely mean that a change in doctrine would be forthcoming. And that panic was fueled by the unending spin following the release of a working document with no doctrinal authority.
Let your hearts rest easy. The truth is still the truth, charity is still our mission and there is reason to remain hopeful in the Catholic Church.
At the conclusion of the synod Pope Francis rose from his chair to address everyone. In his humble way, the Holy Father thanked us. He spoke of gratitude for the tensions that seasoned the proceedings because they were proof of the “animation of the Holy Spirit.” He assured us that the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness and openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48) must not be put into question or doubt.
Two of his concluding comments addressed the core of the controversy. He said, “the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church” and that
Alice Heinzen is the Natural Family Planning Coordinator in the Office for Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. She and her husband, Jeff, who directs the Office, have been in Rome, attending the Extraordinary Synod on the Family as observers (auditors) at the invitation of Pope Francis.