By editor - 10 October, 2015
At the Synod of Bishops, a clear common theme emerged from the reports of small groups that have been discussing the Synod’s working document.
Virtually every group said that the Instrumentum laboris was overly preoccupied with the problems of marriage and family life, and did not provide enough encouragement and guidance for the faithful who are committed to living out their vocations in the family.
After an opening discussion in which prelates had the opportunity to speak briefly to the entire assembly, the Synod broke up into 13 small groups for more intense discussion.
These groups, divided by language (4 using English, 3 Spanish, 3 French, 2 Italian, and 1 German) delivered their initial reports on Friday, October 9.
The most prominent theme running through the different reports was the need for a more positive approach to Christian marriage.
There were also several complaints that the instrumentum laboris reflected the concerns of Catholics in the Western world – particularly Europe and the US – without giving adequate attention to Catholic families elsewhere.
Other concerns expressed by the bishops in several small-group reports included the negative impact of “gender ideology” and the “ideological colonisation” of the developing world by secular institutions; the plight of migrants and refugees, especially Christian refugees in the Middle East; and the need for the Church to provide better support for families struggling to meet the demands of Christian marriage.
“More attention needs to be given to theological reflection on the faithful, loving married couple and family, who, so often heroically, live an authentic witness to the grace of the family,” suggested the English-language group A.
“The message of the Synod must announce the Good News of Jesus Christ clearly and attractively.”
English group B agreed that “the analysis of the difficulties which the family faces was too negative.”
That group said, “Despite the challenges that the family face in every culture, families with the assistance of divine grace do find within them the strength to carry out their vocation to love, to strengthen social bonds, and to care for wider society, especially for the most vulnerable. The group feels that the Synod should express strong appreciation to such families.”
English group C, too, called for “a less negative reading of history, culture, and the situation of the family at this time.”
English group D said that the Synod’s message “should begin with hope rather than failures,” and remarked that “the text lacked anything that would attract people.”
French group B asked for “a positive outlook on today’s family, a place where not all is bad.”
French group C suggested, “Our final text should give heart to families, showing the confidence we have in them, boosting their confidence in us.”
The German group recommended that each chapter of the Synod’s message should begin with a passage “that describes the beauty of marriage.”
The French A group combined two of the bishops’ most frequent complaints, saying that “it is not good that the Synod focuses only on the problems and crises that confront the families of the West.”
Closely tied to criticisms of the ‘Euro-centric’ approach of the working document, there were many mentions of the corrosive effects of Western secularism on the families of the developing world.
The French group B in particular warned against “what appears to be a new ideology, often called gender ideology,” which “dissolves the family, parenthood, and human love.”
Despite some strong criticisms of the instrumentum laboris – which one group described as “chaotic” in its organisational structure – the working groups generally voiced confidence that the Synod could produce a positive message.
At a press briefing after the release of the small-group reports, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila admitted that the reports reflected a good deal of confusion, but argued that “it is good to be confused from time to time.”
Cardinal Tagle emphasised that the Synod fathers do not anticipate any change in the teachings of the Church. “We are affirming teaching, not changing it,” he said. “We are looking for liberating ways to give new life to families.”
Another prelate involved in the Friday briefing, Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, took issue with the complaint that the Synod has been preoccupied with the concerns of Europe and North America.
“In my circle, we have people from all the continents, and the problems are similar,” he said.