On October 8, 2013, Pope Francis announced that an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops would meet in October 2014 to discuss ways that the Church could continue our mission of evangelizing the family. This first synod would identify some of the modern challenges, and the bishops would then meet during an Ordinary Synod in 2015 to discuss practical ways to address some of these issues.
In November of 2013, a Vatican commission released a preparatory documentthat outlined the purpose of both synods. It included basic catechesis on the family and was sent to the bishops around the world asking their input on nine questions surrounding the topic.
The answers to that questionnaire were collected and synthesized in a document called the “Instrumentum Laboris” that was published in June 2014. This document outlined the challenges presented by the bishops and provided the outline of topics that would be discussed by the bishops during the synod.
In the months and weeks leading up to the synod, many bishops provided interviews for various news outlets around the world. Quickly, the world seized the opportunity to discuss the Catholic Church’s teachings on family life. The result was a firestorm of media coverage before, during, and immediately following the synod.
When the synod began, the bishops’ discussions were not made available to the public. The press was not allowed to be present during their interventions. After all the various bishops spoke, their contributions were synthesized into a midterm report called the “relatio post disceptationem.” This report was published by the Press Office of the Holy See, and it caused an enormous controversy.
That mid-term report was then discussed by all of the bishops in small groups organized by language. They were tasked with reading the mid-term report and proposing amendments. Their amendments were submitted, the relatio was revised accordingly, and a final copy was voted on by the bishops. That final “Relatio Synodi” was approved by the bishops, sent to Pope Francis, and then published for the general public to read, too.
And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine.” – Pope Francis
- What was your experience of the synod? What did you read and hear about it? What reactions do you remember?
- The synod was tasked with identifying the issues being faced by families around the world. If you were given the same task, what issues would you discuss? What do you see are the biggest challenges facing families?
- Before the synod, an expectation arose that the Church would change some of her teachings and practices. Did you hear anything like this? If so, what were some of the changes that various groups were calling for?
- The “relatio post disceptationem” caused quite a stir. Many raised questions about some of the language that was used. What might have caused controversy with the following sections:
- Cohabitation: “A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal.”
- Communion for divorced and remarried: “For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop -, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.”
- Homosexuality: “Are our communities capable of providing [an encounter with a Church that offers them a welcoming home], accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
- Several people made comments that the Church was not changing her doctrine or teaching, but was simply trying to change her tone’ in regards to many of these challenges. Do you think the Church needs to alter the tone’? Why or why not?
- What do you think is the goal of Pope Francis with the synod? With his emphasis on an “open and fraternal discussion,” how do you think the synod will change the encounter with the Church?