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Synod on family concludes with message of mercy

By Sarah Mac Donald - 25 October, 2015

Synod Fathers call for a more welcoming Church for cohabitating couples and Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried.

Extraordinary Synod“The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy,” Pope Francis said on Saturday in his closing address to the Synod on the Family.

Thanking all involved, the Pope said the synod had “laid bare the closed hearts which frequently hide behind the Church’s teachings and good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”

He said the synod’s conclusion was not about settling issues but attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition.

The Pontiff also challenged those who hold up Church doctrine above all else, saying the Church’s primary duty is to proclaim God’s mercy and save souls.

Pope Francis said it was also about trying to “broaden horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints”.

Highlighting how in the course of the synod different viewpoints were freely expressed, he added, “and at times, unfortunately, not entirely in well-meaning ways” and that led to a rich and lively dialogue “[offering] a vivid image of the Church which does not simply ‘rubberstamp’, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to freshly parched hearts.”

Pope Francis also emphasised that the synod had heard that what is normal for one bishop is not for another, what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another, depending on contexts.

The Pontiff said that without falling into relativism or demonising others, the synod sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckonings and desires.

The synod, he said, was a “return to our true ‘journeying together’ in bringing to every part of the world, every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!”

In their document, the Synod Fathers called for a more welcoming Church for cohabitating couples and Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried.

Though the synod discussion were at times divisive, underlining the gap between conservatives and progressives, the concluding document surprisingly emphasised the role of discernment and individual conscience in relation to whether civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.

The bishops voted on the document in their last session of the Synod, giving each paragraph a yes or no vote. Each of the 94 paragraphs of the document were adopted by the assembly with the required two-thirds vote, 177 bishops of the 265 present for the voting.

The final document containing 94 paragraphs was assembled by a 10-man drafting committee and is only available in Italian at the moment.

According to Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter, “The three paragraphs dealing with issues relating to divorced and remarried Catholics were closest in the voting, receiving, respectively, 187, 178, and 190 votes.”

“The middle paragraph, which received the most no votes of any paragraph in the document at 80, states that decisions on what action to take about divorced and remarried persons will not always be the same in every case.”

The Vatican correspondent of NCR has described the document as recommending “softening the Church’s practice towards those who have divorced and remarried, saying such persons should discern decisions about their spiritual lives individually in concert with the guidance of priests”.

In his article for the NCR, McElwee states, “Although the final document from the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops says discernment for remarried persons can ‘never overlook the demands of truth and love in the Gospel,’ it seems to significantly move decision-making for how they can participate in the church to private conversations in dioceses around the world.”

“Suggesting use of what is called the ‘internal forum,’ the document says priests can help remarried Catholics ‘in becoming conscious of their situation before God’ and then deciding how to move forward.”

“The conversation with the priest, in internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct decision on what is blocking the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the church and on steps that might foster it and make it grow,” states the document.

“While the words in the document lack specificity, they may signify a notable shift in the church’s practice that divorced and remarried persons cannot take Communion without receiving annulments of their first marriages.”

Also notable is the fact that neither the words Communion or Eucharist appear in the paragraphs, allowing interpretation of their meaning and a possible opening for Francis to make more specific decisions in the future according to Joshua McElwee.

The final paragraph urges Pope Francis to issue his own document on the family.

As bishops voted on a final document, they also approved a statement on families affected by conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine.

In it, they appeal for peace and the resolution of these conflicts, asking the international Community to act via diplomatic channels and to engage in dialogue to end the suffering of thousands of people.

They made special reference to families compelled to flee their homes, and gave thanks to the countries that have welcomed refugees.

“Gathered around the Holy Father Francis, we the Synod Fathers, along with the fraternal Delegates and Auditors participating in the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, turn our thoughts to all the families of the Middle East.”

“For years now, due to bloody conflicts, they have been victims of unspeakable atrocities. Their conditions of life have been further aggravated in recent months and weeks.”

The Synod Fathers highlighted the use of weapons of mass destruction, indiscriminate killings, beheadings, kidnapping of human beings, trafficking in women, the enrolment of children into militias, persecution on the basis of religious belief or ethnicity, the destruction of cultural heritage and countless other atrocities have forced thousands of families to flee their homes in search of refuge elsewhere, often in conditions of extreme precariousness.

“Currently they are prevented from returning and from exercising the right to live in dignity and safety on their own soil, contributing to the reconstruction and the material and spiritual well-being of their respective countries.”

“In such a dramatic context, there are continual violations of the fundamental principles of human dignity and of peaceful and harmonious co-existence among persons and peoples, of the most basic rights, such as the rights to life and religious freedom, and of international humanitarian law.”

“We think of all the people who have been kidnapped and ask for their liberation. Our voices unite with the cry of so many innocent people: no more violence, no more terrorism, no more persecution! May the hostilities and weapons trafficking cease immediately!”

They warned that peace in the Middle East must be sought not with choices imposed by force, but rather with political decisions that respect the cultural and religious particularities of the individual Nations and their various components.

“Although we are grateful especially to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and many European countries for the welcome they have granted to refugees, we wish to make a further plea to the international community so that in the search for solutions they set aside particular interests and make use of the tools of diplomacy, dialogue and international law.”

Recalling the words of Pope Francis to ‘all communities who look to Abraham’, they said they were “convinced that peace is possible, and that it is possible to stop the violence in Syria, Iraq, Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land that every day involves increasing numbers of families and innocent civilians and aggravates the humanitarian crisis”.

“Our sole wish, like that of the people of goodwill who form part of the great human family, is that we may all live in peace, so that ‘Jews, Christians and Muslims find in other believers brothers and sisters to be respected and loved, and in this way, beginning in their own lands, give the beautiful witness of serenity and concord between the children of Abraham’.”

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