C. Christoph Schonborn
Photo credit: Vatican Radio

Week 2 at the Synod: Small group reports are in
Relatio subject of many suggestions, some complaints 
Saturday is voting day at the Synod.  Each paragraph of the mid-term working document, Relatio post disceptationem, will receive a vote and the final document will go to Pope Francis on Sunday. This document will, in turn, become the foundational working document for the Ordinary Synod taking place next year from Oct 4 - 29, 2015.   

But before any vote can be taken, those who are drafting the final document will have to take into account the suggestions made by 10 "circoli minor" or small language groups.  Of note, Pope Francis added two more people to the drafting team including a critic of Relatio, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa and Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia. 

The names of the individuals in each small group were not revealed but each consisted of clerics, experts and auditors. There were two French, three English, three Italian, and two Spanish groups. Each one was headed by a moderator and relator.

Two French speaking groups were headed by:

Group A: Cardinal Crhrisoph Schonborn (moderator)

Mons. Andre Leonard (relator)

Group B: Cardinal Robert Sarah (moderator)

Mons. Francois-Xavier Dumortier (relator)

Three English speaking groups were headed by:

Group A: Cardinal Raymond Burke (moderator)
Mons. John Atcherley Dew (relator)
Group B:  Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier (moderator)
Mons. Diarmuid Martin (relator)
Group C: Mons. Joseph Kurtz (moderator)
Mos. Stephen Brislin (relator)

Three Italian speaking groups were headed by:

Group A: Mons. Angelo Massafra (moderator)
Rev. P. Manuel Jesus Arroba Conde (relator)
Group B: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (moderator)
Mons. Salvatore Fisichella (relator)
Group C: Cardinal Fernando Filoni (moderator)
Mons. Edoardo Menichelli (relator)

Two Spanish speaking groups were headed by:

Group A: Cardinal Rancisco Robles Ortega (moderator)
Mons. Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga (relator)
Group B:  Cardinal Luis Martinez Sistach (moderator)
Mons. Rodolfo Valenzuela Nunez (relator)

What did the groups say?

While there were great differences in the tone and content of the reports, the language groups made several similar points.

1.  They wanted to expose the positive aspects of marriage. 
2.  They wanted to highlight Catholics who are loyal.
3.  They wanted to make sure there was no confusion regarding Church teaching.

While staunch defenders of orthodoxy like Cardinal George Pell and Cardinal Raymond Burke remain consistently at the top of the headlines here in the U.S., there are still plenty of leaders who want to see Relatio retain its pastoral direction.  

The English groups voiced a range of interventions with Burke's group "A" being the most oppositional.

Burke's group wanted to see an overall re-configuration ensuring unambiguous Church teaching. This group did not want the Church to be perceived as somehow condoning sex outside marriage.  They also took a firm stand against the question of the admission of divorced and remarried persons to the sacraments. What is surprising about the tone of this intervention is the fact that the "Francis leaning" perspective of the relator, Archbishop John Dew, seems to have been entirely drowned out. 

While Napier had critiqued Relatio, his group B still largely imitated its tone in key areas stating, "The Church must teach with clarity, but must also, as one member of the group stressed, 'have the courage to knock on forbidden doors.'"  The statement goes on, "Very often when we find the courage to knock on forbidden doors what we discover surprises us; what we encounter inside is the loving presence of God which helps us to address the challenges of today, no longer on our terms, but in new ways which might otherwise have been unimaginable. Knocking on forbidden or unaccustomed doors involves risk and courage.  Fear and anxiety of what we think are forbidden doors may mean excluding opening ourselves to the God who always surprises."   On polygamy, they recommended further study. 

Kurtz's group started with a short treatment of complementarity and the statement, "marriage is God's gift to man."  And while that John Paul II-inspired re-assertion of traditional values and roles is anathema to many married Catholics, the thrust of this group's interventions was mild, the tone still largely aligned to Relatio.

While Sarah's French group expressed dismay over the early release of Relatio, Schonborn's group expressed their gratitude.  Both intoned the welcoming aspects of Relatio while also reflecting the cautions expressed therein.  Unlike the other groups, both French-speaking groups argued for local and regional autonomy when dealing with particular issues facing families implying Rome must yield to the wisdom of those closest to their people. Sarah's group wants clear language addressing poverty as the number one issue causing turmoil and breakdowns in the family. Both groups reiterated Relatio's welcoming tone for homosexuals.

The Spanish groups clearly wanted to see some additions to Relatio. Along with the usual cautions regarding the perceived slippery slope in the language of mercy used in Relatio, Ortega's group denounced female genital mutilation, prostitution, and the abuse of children. Sistach's group wanted to include language defending life, opposing abortion while calling for further study on the possibility of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist along with greater clarity on homosexuality.  

Filoni's Italian group expressed appreciation for Erdo's Relatio and wanted to see the report highlight the pressures put on families by migration, bio-technology and other modern phenomenon. They wanted the concept of "gradualness" clarified and a greater emphasis on "the truth of marriage." Specifically, Filoni's group wants to see a substitution in the subtitles for Relatio's 36 - 52 inserting the phrase "pastoral care" for each group mentioned instead of "positive aspects"  at the beginning of 36 and "welcoming" at the beginning 50.  
Bagnasco's group B called for more study on some issues and stressed the development of doctrine that will accompany pastoral changes.  When it comes to the African context for polygamy and "marriage in stages", this group wanted a tougher stance.  

Finally, Massafra's group wanted to see the language of sin  and conversion reasserted and the concept of gradualness removed because of the confusion it would cause.  

The struggle toward reform

Clearly there are many who fear the demise of the Church's authority as it heads toward mercy.  But, as Relatio shows, there is clearly a force for reform inside the halls of power.  

Further, Pope Francis is getting clearer and clearer about where he stands.  He thinks there is a lot of dead wood in current laws. And he wants the Synod leaders to get on with the business of changing things saying on Monday, "If the law does not lead to Jesus Christ, if it does not bring us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead. And Jesus rebuked them [Doctors of the Law] for this closure, for not being able to read the signs of the times, for not being open to the God of surprises." 

Will this Synod continue to struggle to follow Francis' invitation to be courageous, loving and pastoral in new ways?  As Cardinal Tagle said, "The drama continues."   

See some of the press conferences for yourself. 

10/15/14 Press Conference at Sala Stampa


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