.- The Polish bishops' conference voiced concerns Monday over the interim report released by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.
The relatio post disceptationem, or “report after debate,” caused controversy and confusion yesterday after its release. Particularly under scrutiny have been passages about cohabitation before marriage and persons with same-sex attraction, as well as unclear language in the document.
In an Oct. 14 interview with Vatican Radio, translated into English by Rorate Caeli, Polish bishops expressed concerns that the relatio departed from the teachings of their late countryman St. John Paul II, who played a role in forming the final documents of the Second Vatican Council.
"Referring to the issues of marriage and family, certain criteria are being applied that raise doubt,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan. “For example, the criterion of gradualism. Can you really treat cohabitation as gradual, on the path to holiness?”
An excerpt from the document, in sections 12-23, speaks of this gradualness: “In considering the principle of gradualness in the divine salvific plan, one asks what possibilities are given to married couples who experience the failure of their marriage, or rather how it is possible to offer them Christ’s help through the ministry of the Church.”
It continues: “Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22) the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.”
The Polish bishops also questioned the synod’s approach to family issues, wondering why it seems to be focusing on “special cases” rather than the traditional family unit, which also needs support.
They also found the language in the document not clear enough to uphold the Church’s teachings on family and marriage, so much so that it commits the sin of omission, Archbishop Gadecki said.
“(It is written) as if the world's view prevailed and everything was imperfection which leads to perfection,” commented the president of the Polish bishops' conference. “(In a discussion on the document) attention was paid not so much to what this document says, but to what it does not say. Speak about the practical exceptions, but we also need to present the truth.”
The Polish bishops said the relentless focus on mercy is also problematic.
“It created an impression that the teaching of the Church has been merciless so far, as if the teaching of mercy were beginning only now," Archbishop Gadecki noted.
In an interview with CNA on Oct. 13, Cardinal Raymond Burke nearly echoed Archbishop Gadecki’s concern: “There is a continual evocation of mercy, as if the Church had never talked about mercy, but there’s no description of what this mercy is and what it means concretely in relationship to the truth and to just relationships.”
The relatio is a working document that will serve as a springboard for further discussion and reflection for the rest of the synod this year. No official teaching document will be released until well after the ordinary synod, scheduled for next autumn.
However, because this is the first time such a document has been made available to the general public, many bishops are feeling the need to speak out because of the confusion it has caused among the laity.
“This confusion is particularly distressing because of the message it will convey to the world in general,” Cardinal Burke observed.
Father Robert Barron wrote a column for Word on Fire on Oct. 14, trying to clear up the process of the synod, and the relatio’s role in that process.
“What has just appeared is not even close to a definitive, formal teaching of the Catholic Church. It is a report on what has been discussed so far in a synod of some two hundred bishops from around the world,” he wrote. “It conveys, to be sure, a certain consensus around major themes, trends that have been evident in the conversations, dominant emphases in the debates, etc., but it decidedly does not represent ‘the teaching’ of the Pope or the bishops.”
Fr. Barron noted that Blessed John Henry Newman once said of ecclesial life: “Those who love the barque of Peter ought to stay out of the engine room!”
“This is a somewhat more refined version of ‘those who enjoy sausage ought never to watch how it is made.’ The interim report on the Synod represents a very early stage of the sausage-making process and, unsurprisingly, it isn’t pretty.”
The confusing disputes about Christianity and how it is lived out in everyday life are not unlike the discussions that took place surrounding the synods of the early Church, Fr. Barron wrote, and simply represents a robust conversation in which all of the 200 bishops had a chance to say their piece.
“This does not imply for a moment that Pope Francis will agree with every point of view expressed, and indeed he can’t possibly, since many are mutually exclusive.”
“But it does indeed mean that he has the confidence and the patience required to allow the Holy Spirit to work in his preferred fashion.”