Vatican City, Jun 24, 2015 / 11:00 am
That the discussion at October's Synod on the Family is going to be a lively one is indicated by the fact that the most controversial paragraphs of the final report from last year's synod are included in the working document which was released Tuesday.
At a June 23 press conference presenting the instrumentum laboris, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, noted that it is "based on the previous synod's document" and that his office "itself drafted many of its paragraphs" based on the responses which it received from bishops' conferences around the world to a questionnaire it had sent out.
The instrumentum laboris is 147 paragraphs, and its three parts will serve as a basis for the three weeks of discussion at this autumn's gathering of bishops at the Vatican. It is available in Italian, but has not yet been released in translation.
It includes in its text three paragraphs from the 2014 synod's final report which failed to reach the supermajority which is necessary for consensus. Those three paragraphs dealt with pastoral care for the divorced and remarried, and for homosexuals. They advocated admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion and reforming the nullity process, while the paragraph on care for those with a homosexual orientation was considered vague by many synod fathers.
On the other hand, the 2015 synod's working document is hinged on the notion of "accompaniment," which might be applied, according to the document, to the divorced and remarried, homosexuals, and those living in difficult situations – as well as to those actually living their marital life in a Christian way, those discerning marriage, and priests themselves, who the synod suggests need better education on issues related to marriage.
The need for more education for both priests and laity will likely be a core issue for the synod fathers.
Given the weight attached to the issues of homosexuality and the divorced and remarried, some other issues receive little attention in the instrumentum laboris. For example pornography is mentioned but once, in passing, in a paragraph on fragility and affective immaturity which was adopted from the last synod's final report.
As the final composition of the body of bishops attending the synod draws near, it is foreseeable that the synod will maintain the Church's tradition in pastoral care.
The Italian bishops have chosen as their representatives Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Bishop Franco Brambilla of Novara, and Bishop Enrico Solmi of Parma. All should stand with traditional Catholic teaching, with some nuanced positions from Bishops Brambilla and Solmi.
The Polish bishops were among the most active in defending Catholic tradition at the 2014 synod, and the delegates of the Polish bishops conference show that their activism will not come to an end. Bishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw strongly has denounced what he has called Church's betrayal of St. John Paul II's teaching on marriage and family, and Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan took the floor at the 2014 synod to stress that "the main goal is to pastorally support families, not to strike them down."
Bad surprises may come from Belgium. Archbishop André-Joseph Leonard of Malines-Brussels, 75, has been replaced by Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, who has called for the Church's full approval of homosexual acts.
Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo will be the delegate from Malta: while not as far leaning as Bishop Bonny, he has shown himself keen to adopt the Orthodox practice of oikonomia, or tolerating second marriages.
The delegates from Germany are certain to support "pastoral openings" for the remarried and for homosexuals, as their leader, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, has already indicated that German dioceses will pursue such a course regardless of the synod's indications.
Despite this, with an overall glance, the composition of the Synod of Bishops will stand with traditional Catholic teaching and practice on marriage.
The four synod fathers elected by the US Bishops conference are Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishops Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and José Gómez of Los Angeles. All are against access to Communion for the divorced and remarried.
France's delegation presents Bishop Jean-Luc Brunin of Le Havre, a supporter of the Germans, and Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris, who is more traditional.
The Spanish delegates are also more traditional: Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, and Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, who is a staunch supporter of the Neocatechumenal Way.
Firmly pointed in the traditional direction is Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht.
Moreover, the vast majority of African delegates are firmly opposed to the German bishops' proposals.
In New Zealand, Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, a supporter of the German bishops' proposals, was not elected as delegate this year. Another supporter of the proposals, Cardinal Daniel Sturla Berhouet of Montevideo, also failed to gain the votes to represent his country at the synod – the Uruguayan representative will instead be Bishop Jaime Fuentes Martín of Minas, a member of Opus Dei.
In the end, the 2015 Synod of Bishops' composition may well maintain traditional Catholic teaching and practice, and this is why the papal appointments at the synod, unannounced as of yet, will play an important role in balancing positions.
The synod will then focus on nuances, which has already begun with the inclusion in the instrumentum laboris of the more controversial portions of the last synod's final report.