.- With a two-thirds majority vote, the more than 200 bishops gathered for the Vatican's synod on the family supported Church teaching on hot-button issues such as homosexuality and communion for divorced and remarried persons.
The Vatican's synod on the family was opened by Pope Francis Oct. 4, and it will close Oct. 25. This year's event follows the theme “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world,” and follows 2014's extraordinary synod on the family, which focused on pastoral challenges involved in family life.
This year's discussion tended to be reduced in Western secular media to two issues: communion for divorced-and-civilly remarried, and Church teaching and pastoral care regarding homosexuality.
However, actual topics brought up during meetings were much broader, with synod fathers touching on themes such as domestic violence, violence against women, incest and abuse within families, marriage preparation and pornography.
A closing news conference at the Vatican Oct. 24 reported a sense of collegiality among the global bishops. Only two of the 94 paragraphs showed a disparity in the voting, both of them surrounding the topic of pastoral care for divorced and remarried persons.
Despite the calls by some for the Church to change its doctrine by allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics without an annulment to receive communion, the synod’s final report upheld current Church teaching and practice on the issue.
“It’s therefore the responsibility of pastors to accompany the persons concerned on a path of discernment according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop,” paragraph 85 read.
While there was an overall support for the Church’s teaching and current pastoral practice to remain in place, the document also stressed that divorced and remarried couples are baptized persons who must be “more integrated into the Christian community,” while “avoiding every occasion of scandal.”
“The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral accompaniment,” paragraph 84 said, explaining that their involvement in the Church “can be expressed in different ecclesial services.”
Synod fathers emphasized a process of careful discernment in considering which of the areas of exclusion in the liturgy, pastoral, educational and institutional framework of the Church can be done away with for divorced and remarried Catholics.
In some countries, for example, divorced and remarried persons are not only asked to abstain from communion, but also from teaching catechesis and from being godparents.
Divorced and remarried individuals were encouraged to make an examination of conscience, asking themselves “how they behaved toward their children when the marriage entered into crisis; if they were tempted to reconcile; what the situation is for the abandoned partner; what consequences does the new relationship have on the rest of the family and the community of faithful; what example this offers to the youth who must prepare for marriage.”
Pastoral discernment and accompaniment of such individuals must direct them “to the awareness of their situation before God.”
In paragraph 86, it was noted that consulting with a priest helps form a correct judgement “on what hinders the possibility of full participation in the life of the Church and on the steps that can foster it and make it grow.”
Also affirmed in the document was the Church’s stance on homosexuality, which was one of the most contested issues of last year’s synod, particularly in the final document.
This year, however, the topic of homosexuality was almost completely removed, apart from one paragraph on the pastoral care of families who live with persons that have homosexual tendencies.
“A special attention” ought to be given to accompanying families in such situations, paragraph 76 of the document said.
It reiterated that “every person, independently of their sexual tendency, must be respected in their dignity and welcomed with respect,” but clarified that “there is no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or establish analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family.”
Synod fathers called ideological colonization in this regard “unacceptable in every case,” as well as the pressure local Churches often face to succumb to the secular push allowing for gay “marriage.”
The final document also backed Church teaching on life issues, such as abortion and contraception.
In paragraph 33, it is reiterated that all human life “is sacred because, since its beginning, it involves the creative action of God.”
“The biotechnical revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the generative act, rendering it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and woman,” the document read.
By undergoing this manipulation, “human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes and desires of individuals or couples, not necessarily heterosexual and in a regular marriage.”
Only God “is the Lord of life from it's beginning to it's end,” the document continued. “No one, under any circumstance, can claim for themselves the right to directly destroy an innocent human being.”
Openness to life was also underlined as an “intrinsic requirement of married love.”
While an unfortunate mentality has diffused in society which reduces procreation “to individual gratification or that of the couple,” the synod fathers stressed that children are always a blessing, and are especially loved by Christ.
The beauty of marriage and the family was expressed throughout the document, with strong references to marriage indissolubility from the beginning to the end.
Quoting Pope Francis’ Oct. 4 homily for the opening of the synod, paragraph one of the document emphasized that “God didn't create the human being to live in sadness or to be alone, but for happiness, to share his path with another person that is complimentary.”
“From the beginning of creation God made them male and female; because of this man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
It recalls how “God united the hearts of man and woman who love each other and unites them in unity and indissolubility. This means that the goal of married life is not only to live together forever, but to love each other forever!”
“In the freedom of the ‘yes’ exchanged between a man and woman in marriage, the love of God is experienced and made present,” the document continued, explaining that it is God who sustains this union through the Holy Spirit, even when it fails.
Emphasis was placed up front on the indispensable role families play in the Church, with paragraph 2 of the document recalling Pope Francis’ words to families Sept. 27 while at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
“So much was God's love that he began to walk with humanity, he began to walk with his people, until it came time to mature and he gave the greatest sign of his love: his Son,” the document read.
“And where did he send his Son? To a palace? To a city? To make an impression? He sent him to a family. God entered the world in a family.”
In paragraph four, synod fathers said that the family, founded on the marriage of a man and woman, is the “magnificent and in-substitutable place” of love and the transmission of life.
Synod fathers said they are able to see the reality of families today across the globe with “renewed freshness and enthusiasm” when looking back with the gaze of Christ.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, pastors, in the knowledge that no family is perfect, can discern “the paths with which to renew the Church and society in their commitment for the family founded on the marriage between a man and woman.”
“The Christian announcement that concerns the family is truly a good news,” they said.
On Saturday a spokesman for Cardinal George Pell – head of the Vatican's economy secretariat – said in a statement that the prelate was “very pleased with the document.”
“It expresses well what the current pastoral practice and teaching of the Church are on sexuality, marriage and families,” the statement read.
“No doctrinal developments, no doctrinal surprises, no doctrinal backflips. No changes in praxis or discipline,” but rather a “beautiful commendation of large families and of the witness of happily married spouses and their children as agents of evangelization.”