.- While the Synod of Bishops' ordinary council gathered to discuss the upcoming Synod on the Family this week, a private group of bishops and experts convened separately behind closed doors in Rome to consider the most controversial issues at the synod, particularly support of gay unions and Communion for the divorced and remarried.
Pope Francis chaired the May 25-26 meeting of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops, which is preparing for this October's synod on “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in contemporary society.”
The council, meeting at the Vatican, examined the synod's instrumentum laboris, or working document, which was produced by last year's Synod of Bishops, and integrated it with the responses to questions which were sent to dioceses worldwide.
“An extensive and detailed study of the text has generated proposals and contributions for its integration and improvement,” the Vatican Information Service noted, adding that the working document's final text will be prepared and translated by the Secretariat General within the next few weeks.
The council also considered modifications to the synod's modus operandi.
The Synod of Bishops' secretary general, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri – who was appointed in September 2013 – had changed the synod's working rules.
Prior to Cardinal Baldisseri's leadership, the synod had provided summaries in many languages of each scheduled intervention from the synod fathers.
That system was suppressed under Cardinal Baldisseri, and replaced with a brief summary presented daily by Holy See press officer Fr. Federico Lombardi.
In the face of criticism that this change negatively affected the synod's transparency, Cardinal Baldisseri claimed that “information is provided by a verbal summary” and is transparent, and that synod fathers were “not forbidden to speak to the press,” though they were prohibited from publishing their interventions, as any synod text “is property of the synod.”
On the other hand, the impossibility of seeing the extent of the discussion within the synod paved the way for media speculation.
This autumn's synod may re-present the same dynamic, given that while the Synod of Bishops' ordinary council was meeting with Pope Francis, a “shadow council” held a seperate closed-door meeting regarding the most contentious issues of the Synod on the Family, which include approval of gay unions and Communion for the divorced and remarried.
The May 25 discussion was held in a conference center of the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University – though the meeting itself was not managed by the university. Bishops and theologians spoke before a select audience of 50, according to French daily Le Figaro.
The conference was called the “Mutual Convention of the French, German and Swiss Bishops Conferences concerning the issues of the pastoral care of marriage and family at the eve of the Synod of Bishops.”
The meeting was in fact not for all the bishops of the interested countries, but only for some of them – while others were not even informed of the meeting.
Among the speakers at the meeting were Bishop Jean-Marie Lovey of Sion; Bishop Jean-Luc Brunin of Le Havre; the theologian Eva Maria Faber; Anne-Marie Pelletier, who won the 2014 Ratzinger Prize for Theology; Fr. François Xavier Amherdt, professor of pastoral theology at the University of Freiburg; Eberhard Schockenhoff, professor of moral theology in Freiburg; and the theologian Alain Thomasset.
The final remarks were given by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising.
One person who took part in the discussion stressed to CNA May 26 that “the tune was that of a pastoral opening on issues such as communion for the divorced and remarried, and the pastoral care of homosexuals.”
One of the speakers, who asked to be kept anonymous, refused to comment on the purpose of the conference and the tone of the discussion, as “it is unfortunately forbidden to us by the organizers to give any interview or explanation about yesterday's conference.”