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Divisions at Synod on the Family Are Not Political Clashes, Pope Says

Jeffrey Bruno
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Assemblies of bishops are “protected space” where Holy Spirit can work, Francis explains.

Pope Francis has begun a new series of talks on the family, in preparation for next year’s gathering of bishops to discuss problems affecting the family today. And the Pope began his reflections by addressing the controversies surrounding the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, which took place in October.

Francis noted that the two-week gathering this fall was covered by the media as if it were politics or a sporting event, but that he had encouraged participants to freely speak their minds on matters related to the family so that a full and open debate would lead to answers. He said that a synod, unlike a parliamentary gathering, is not a place for clashes between opposing sides but a "protected space" where the Holy Spirit can lead the Church to the truth. 

Here is the text of the Pope’s Wednesday address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Good morning. We have concluded a series of catecheses on the Church. We thank the Lord who has enabled us to make this journey and to rediscover the beauty and responsibility of belonging to the Church, and being Church, all of us.

Now we begin a new stage, a new series, and the theme will be the family. It is a theme that fits into this interim time between the two assemblies of the Synod dedicated to this eminently important reality. Therefore, before embarking on this journey into the various aspects of family life, today I want to start with the October Synodal Assembly, which had the theme: “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” It is important to remember how it unfolded and what it produced, how it went and what it produced.

During the Synod, the media did their job — there was much anticipation, much attention — and we thank them because they did it in abundance. So much news, so much! This was possible thanks to the [Holy See] Press Office, which held a briefing each day. But often the vision of the media was styled like sports coverage, or politics: there was often talk of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and progressives, etc. Today I would like to recount what happened at the Synod.

First, I asked the synodal Fathers to speak frankly and courageously and to listen humbly, to speak courageously about everything they had in their hearts. There was no prior censorship in the Synod; rather, everyone could — indeed, had to — say what he had in his heart, what he sincerely thought. “But, there will be talk.” It’s true, we heard how the Apostles discussed matters. The text says: “A great discussion broke out." The Apostles argued among themselves because they were seeking God’s will regarding the pagans, if they could enter the Church or not. It was something new. Always, when we seek the will of God in a synodal assembly, there are diverse points of view and there is discussion, and this is not something unpleasant. May it always be done with humility and a spirit of service to the assembly of brothers. Prior censure would have been a bad thing. No, no, everyone had to say what he thought.

After the initial Report by Cardinal Erdö, there was a first, fundamental moment in which all the Fathers were able to speak, and everyone listened. And the Fathers’ attitude of listening was edifying. It was a great moment of freedom, in which each expounded upon his thought with parresia and trust. There was a “tool” at the basis of the interventions, the result of prior consultation of the the whole Church. And for this we must thank the Secretariat of the Synod for the great work it did both before and during the Assembly. They have truly been superb.

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