Papal spokesman reflects on two-week Vatican discussion of family issues
In a long interview with Vatican Radio, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., spoke about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which took place at the Vatican from Oct. 5-19.
“I thought it was a truly special experience, and very different from that of preceding Synods,” Father Lombardi said. “This time it was a step along a journey that does not constitute a Synod closed in on itself, a closed chapter, but one moment of a long and profound discernment of the Church as a community on a journey.” The Pope, he said, chose this method precisely because the Synod is dealing with very complex issues at the heart of the experience of the whole Church, the People of God. This Synod was also special because it dealt not just with doctrinal issues, but with the relationship between doctrine and pastoral practice.
In this, he said, there are certainly some parallels to Vatican II, as others have pointed out. During the Council, Father Lombardi explained, Pope St. John XXIII set the universal Church on a journey with regard to life in all its dimensions. At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together with regard to a more particular theme, that of the family. It is a very complicated journey that involves everyone in the Church, and that requires a profound, systematic reflection on the pastoral and dogmatic issues.
Father Lombardi also reflected on the role of the Pope at the Synod. The Holy Father, he said, took a very precise approach, speaking to the assembled bishops at the opening of the Synod, and then listening to the Synod Fathers. This, said Father Lombardi, was to allow the Synod Fathers to speak with complete freedom, without being concerned with what the Pope might think. The Pope “wanted to ensure full freedom, and this was very much appreciated, and was effectively reflected in the dynamic of the Synod.” It was only at the end of the gathering that the Holy Father again intervened, with his speech closing the Synod, in which he “pulled together the strings of the spiritual experience of the Synod as an ecclesial and spiritual event.” Without the Pope’s final speech — and to a lesser extent, his homily at the closing Mass — “the Synod would have remained incomplete, and not been read with the key of faith that truly inspired and motivated it, according to the mind of the Pope,” Father Lombardi said.
Asked about how the Synod was communicated to the world, Father Lombardi began by emphasizing the unique character of this Synod. For this reason, he said, it cannot be compared to earlier Synods, nor must we expect it to follow the same patterns. For example, he said, the sheer number of interventions, and the freedom and frankness that characterized them, made it impossible to publish everything that was said in the Synod Hall. Nonetheless, the Press Office was able to offer a balanced synthesis that highlighted the various topics treated each day during the Synod.
Speaking to one of the most discussed issues during the Synod, the publication of the mid-term Relatio post disceptationem, Father Lombardi noted that although this had always been done at previous Synods, there was some confusion when it was released. Nonetheless, he said, the publication of the Relatio itself contributed to the “very intense dynamic of reflection and communication. The subsequent release of the reports of the small working groups then became “logically necessary and natural” that reflected the transparency of communications in the Synod. Father Lombardi said that, although press coverage of the Synod was occasionally unbalanced, focusing on controversial issues such as Communion for the divorced and remarried or on homosexuality, nonetheless the communications effort on the part of the Church allowed those who so desired to understand what was happening in the Synod and to participate in the Synod “with notable intensity.”
Asked further about how the outside world followed the Synod, Father Lombardi said the problem is always a question of conveying the depth of what is happening in an ecclesial event. That understanding, he said, is often lacking or insufficient, sometimes on the level of an understanding of the faith, which for the Church is essential. “The final speech of the Pope,” he said, “has helped and should help everyone to enter into this level of profundity.” The Synod, Father Lombardi explained, should not be evaluated in terms of different sides, or as a question of human strategies in governing the Church. Rather, it should be understood that the Pope wanted the Church to begin a journey, “to seek the will of God in the light of the Gospel and the light of faith, in order to find answers to the most vital questions of the family and, in a certain sense, of anthropology, of the condition of men and women in the world of today.”
Reprinted courtesy of Vatican Radio.