The opening assembly of the Synod bishops 1 and Pope Francis in Vatican City on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: (C) L'Osservatore Romano.

The opening assembly of the Synod bishops 1 and Pope Francis in Vatican City on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: (C) L’Osservatore Romano.

Yesterday, the director of the Holy See press office announced that bishops can make their interventions at the Synod on the Family public.

Wait…what’s the Synod on the Family again?

It’s a gathering of bishops from all over the world, coming together at the Vatican to discuss a variety of issues that relate to the family. Married couples and other experts are also there to present their experiences to the bishops. There’s even a baby.


And what’s an intervention?

An intervention is basically a speech made by a synod participant. The interventions are limited to three minutes in length, although bishops may submit more in-depth reflections in writing.

So why does this matter?

Allowing the bishops to make their interventions public – unlike at last year’s synod – creates a clearer picture of what’s going on inside the synod hall, where no reporters are allowed. The move is being applauded on the grounds of transparency. Several bishops have begun posting their interventions online. In addition, the presentations by the married couples at the synod will be made public by the Vatican press office.

The bishops will still have the privacy to conduct frank discussions when they go into their smaller working groups, which will then yield reports that will be published and available to the press.

Here are two interventions from U.S. bishops who hosted Pope Francis in his trip to the United States just a few weeks ago – Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia:

Synod Intervention
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, New York


While we bishops are here as pastors, we are also here as disciples.

We are especially disciples when we listen with gratitude, humility, and openness to God’s Word, particularly His Incarnate Word, Jesus.

Yes, we gather as a synod of bishops, but, first and foremost, we assemble as disciples.

Thus, the starting point of the Synod must be what God has revealed to us about marriage and the family: that one man and one woman, united in lifelong, life giving, faithful love, eager for God’s gift of babies, raised with tenderness in the sacred communio of the family, is the premier relationship of this life, so holy that it reflects the interior love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Most Blessed Trinity.

To defend, support, sustain, renew, and restore that noble nature of marriage and family as God intended “from the beginning” — as His Son reminded us in last Sunday’s Gospel — is our starting point for the synod, as well as our goal.

Today’s challenges and particular dangers to God’s intention for marriage and family – – cultural, economic, sociological, political, – – and our pastoral response to them, are very, very important, but should flow from our starting point.

Gods’ Word must always come first.

While pastoral realism and compassion inspires us to consider carefully the situation of marriage and family now, our duty is to follow Jesus in recalling and restoring what His Father intended “. . . in the beginning.”


Synod Intervention
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Philadelphia


The Instrumentum seemed to present us with two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope. When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his Apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible.

In mastering nature for the purpose of human development, we human beings have wounded our oceans and the air we breathe. We’ve poisoned the human body with contraceptives. And we’ve scrambled the understanding of our own sexuality. In the name of individual fulfillment, we’ve busied ourselves with creating a new Babel of tyranny that feeds our desires but starves the soul.

Paragraphs 7-10 of the Instrumentum did a good job of describing the condition of today’s families. But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church. The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.

George Bernanos said that the virtue of hope is “despair, overcome.” We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families.

They were there because they love the Pope, but also because they believe in marriage. They believe in the family. And they were hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ. We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman.

This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.