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

Pope Francis Wednesday Audience, May

Jeffrey Bruno

Diane Montagna - published on 12/10/14

Assemblies of bishops are "protected space" where Holy Spirit can work, Francis explains.

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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.

None of the interventions questioned the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of Marriage, i.e.: indissolubility, unity, faithfulness and openness to life (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, 48; Code of Canon Law, 1055-1056). This was not touched. All the interventions were collected, and thus we reached the second moment, i.e. a draft that is called the Report after the discussion. This report was also compiled by Cardinal Erdö, and was articulated in three points: listening in the context and the challenges of the family; looking at Christ and the Gospel of the family; confronting the situation and pastoral perspectives.

The group discussions then took place regarding this first proposed summary; this was the third moment. The groups, as always, were divided into languages, since it’s better this way, they are better able to communicate: Italian, English, Spanish and French. At the end of their work, each group presented a report, and all the reports of the groups were published immediately. Everything was given for the sake of transparency, so that we knew what was happening.

At that point — the fourth moment —  a commission examined all the suggestions made by the language groups and the Final Report was made, which kept the previous schema — listening to the reality, looking to the Gospel and pastoral commitment — but tried to implement the results of the group discussions. As always, a final message of the Synod — shorter and more popular than the report — was also approved.

This was how the synodal Assembly unfolded. Some of you might ask me: “Did the Fathers argue?” Well, I don’t know if they argued, but they certainly spoke strongly. And this is the freedom, it is precisely the freedom that exists in the Church. Everything happened cum Petro et sub Petro, that is, with the presence of the Pope, who is the guarantor of freedom and trust for everyone, and the guarantor of orthodoxy. At the end, with my intervention, I gave a synthetic interpretation of the synodal experience. Therefore, three official documents that have been published: the final message, the final report and the final address of the Pope. There are no others.

The final report, which was the point of arrival of all of the reflection of the dioceses to that moment, yesterday was published and is to be sent to the Episcopal Conferences, which will discuss it in view of the next Assembly, the Ordinary one, in October 2015. I say that it was published yesterday — it had already been published — but yesterday it was published with the questions addressed to the Episcopal Conferences and thus became the Lineamenta of the next Synod

We must know that the Synod is not a parliament, the representative of this Church comes, of that Church, of this Church.… No, this is not what it is. The representative comes, yes, but the structure is not parliamentary, it is totally different. The Synod is a protected space so that the Holy Spirit may work; there was no clash between factions, as in parliament, where this is permitted. Rather, it was a give and take between the bishops that came after a long process of preparation and that will now continue in another process of work, for the good of the family, the Church and society. It is a process, it’s the normal synodal journey. Now this Relatio will return to the particular Churches, and there the work of prayer, reflection and fraternal discussion will continue, in order to prepare for the next Assembly.

This is the Synod of Bishops. We entrust it to the protection of the Virgin Mary, Our Mother. May she help us to follow the will of God, by making pastoral decisions that best and most help the family. I ask you to accompany this synodal journey until the next synod with prayer. May the Lord enlighten us, may he enable us to go forward toward the maturity of what, as a Synod, we must say to all the Churches. Your prayer is important in this. 

Translation by Diane Montagna of Aleteia’s English edition.

Pope FrancisSynod on the FamilyVatican
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