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The Synod On The Family . . . The Instrumentum Laboris Lets The Synod Down

October 18, 2015 Frontpage No Comments


It has been a dramatic week for those following the Family Synod. First we were told that the relator general, Peter Cardinal Erdo, was being silenced after his resounding defense of Church teaching. Then 13 senior cardinals (the figure was later changed to possibly nine) under the leadership of George Cardinal Pell had written to the Pope objecting to the way the synod was being run. They were particularly concerned about the composition of the drafting committee for the Final Report.
Further rumors suggested that the final report was already being written even before the working groups had done their work. At the end of last week, possibly in the face of this criticism, it was stated that the final report had been abandoned, and there would be no document drawing together the synod’s proceedings.
On Saturday, October 10, this changed again. Veteran Vatican reporter Xavier Rynne stated that some of the hype was wide of the mark. He suggested that it was always planned that, while Cardinal Erdo would open the synod with a general reflection on the whole Instrumentum Laboris, other synod presidents would take over in the next two weeks.
Even more significantly, Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod, had apparently announced in the Assembly that the final report was still in place and would be voted upon section by section.
The synod is not an easy event to follow. Journalists can only work on what individual synod fathers tell them or what is presented at the daily press conferences. Here proceedings are funneled through the presenters in each language group.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Vatican spokesman, has admitted that there is no system of control over the spokesmen, or any recommendation that they count how often particular subjects are raised before speaking on them.
Fr. Thomas Rosica caused a continuing furor among traditionalists when, as an English language presenter at an early press briefing, he said that there was already such division on the pastoral treatment of homosexuals that it might be left to the local churches to decide.
Synod fathers objected, saying that homosexuality had hardly been mentioned and was being blown up by Fr. Rosica himself.
This has not stopped Abbot Jeremias Schroder, briefing in the German language a week later, saying something similar, rightly or wrongly.
It is no wonder that traditionalists are worried. If a moral issue such as the treatment of practicing homosexuals or the giving of Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried is left at a local level it does more than question specific moral doctrine. It tears at Church unity, undermines the Catechism, weakens teaching on the sacraments, and in general leads to confusion.
It also puts bishops and their priests on the spot. How are they to react if they disagree with the local consensus? Are they to be culpable for practicing what they preach?
Bringing together synod fathers from all over the world on the subject of family was always going to be contentious. It is well known that certain of the Church’s key teachings have been widely smudged, ignored or disobeyed at every level, including among the hierarchy, and forcing this out into the open was never going to be easy. It says much for the strength of the Church and her genuine Catholicity that it is even possible.
Much of what is happening in Rome will be nothing to do with this. Family is very broad, and there are many topics, such as the problems of war and child labor, which the synod fathers are discussing in unity.
However, grievances and lobby groups are an inevitable part of the process and catch most of the attention. Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., remarked that he has never attended a church meeting without them. In his words they are harmless enough so long as people are genuinely working for truth.
An added difficulty is having to work across different languages. The translations are not always prompt or good, for reasons of logistics. One priest I know explained: “You may think it is all a conspiracy when translations are inaccurate or delayed. Have a thought for the one who is doing the translating. It might be a young priest like me, roped in at the last moment because I happened to have a bit of German.”
There is a lot of concern across the board about agreeing to a text in one language without seeing it accurately rendered in one’s own. One observer remarked that it is time the Church bit the bullet and became really up-to-date, using English as the base for its consultative documents.
Language doesn’t rest there. There is also the question of how to present teaching in a palatable manner so as to attract those on the peripheries and dispel the notion of the Church as a rigid body. This appears to be a popular topic.
Vincent Cardinal Nichols is one enthusiast. He has suggested, for instance, that the term “indissolubility of marriage” might be more attractively rendered as the “faithfulness of husband and wife.” This might make some people prickle. We all use different terms according to the occasion and it may well be that more care could be given to what is used when. However, who can say that that faithfulness is interchangeable with indissolubility.

Unfamiliar With
John Paul’s Teaching

Where the synod has really been let down is in the quality of its core working document, the Instrumentum Laboris. Many of the synod fathers have complained of it. They say that the document should have started with a clear exposition of the Church’s teaching, and go out from there to its pastoral implementation. Instead, it follows a See-Judge-Act methodology, beginning from the state of the family in contemporary society, with a heavy bias towards its weaknesses.
We have sociology in the place of theology, as Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki put it, and a dreary, pessimistic picture of family life at that, as Archbishop Chaput added. There is general complaint that the picture drawn is heavily tilted toward life in the developed West and gives too little attention to the differing problems encountered elsewhere, especially in Africa.
The method has meant that a lot of time appears to have been wasted in the first week suggesting how a bad document, rather than the Church’s mission, could be improved.
Voice of the Family quotes Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser lamenting that many of the synod fathers appear unfamiliar with the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II on marriage and the family.
There are few references in the Instrumentum Laboris to fundamental documents such as Familiaris Consortio and the Letter to Families. “You cannot fruitfully and effectively direct the Synod on the Family without knowledge of even these two texts,” said Archbishop Hoser. He further notices lack of reference to Humanae Vitae, with the consequent strange avoidance of contraception, abortion, and disrespect for life.
He complains that as a result nothing of moment is being said of their consequences, spiritual, psychological and also biological, which affect the person and consequently the whole of humanity.
The liberals have been clever. They have chosen to focus on the divorced and remarried, where good people can be tied into a situation and so pull at the heartstrings. However, anybody can be asked to stop contracepting. To do so on any scale is going to require a huge shift in culture and it is difficult to see how this can be brought about without the united commitment of the Church.
This is what many family campaigners having been hoping for. The language of love and mercy is not the only language which people are seeking. Where the two are intertwined without due regard for truth — and I think here of St. Faustina’s text on the Divine Mercy which makes it clear that our Lord’s love is a demanding love, requiring obedience and, yes, chastity — they become soupy, like the worst of today’s rewritten hymns.
They do not challenge the young, or support those who are trying, often in difficult circumstances, to promote the Church’s teaching against popular culture. These doughty fighters need the strong words of the Church to uphold them.
This is the true Gospel of the Family, which rings with the resonance of clarity and unity, binding the past with the present, and the peoples of the world with each other.
May we continue to pray with great hope that the Holy Spirit guide the Church to its joyful proclamation.

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