Tuesday 22 December 2015

The Synod on the Family – the Final Documents [Introduction]



Commentary on the Reports of the language groups or circoli minori

So, the final Relatio Synodi has been published in English nearly two months after the close of the Synod on the Family. We thus have available to us the documents that arose from the second session of the Synod. We started with the Instrumentum Laboris (IL).

The IL was based on the final Relatio Synodi of the first session of the Synod in 2014. It will be remembered that that contained three clauses which did not obtain the two-thirds majority which is normally a requirement for remaining in such a document but they remained in at the insistence of the Holy Father Pope Francis as he felt they deal with matters which required further study. The way in which the Synod worked is that the Secretariat under Cardinal Baldisseri produces a draft which then gets amended and voted on by the delegates at the Synod. The draft considered at the 2014 session was largely rewritten but the three clauses voted down remained. The first (clause 52) dealt with the possibility of communion for the divorced and remarried; the second (clause 53) dealt with spiritual communion – the argument being that anyone can receive spiritual communion (a doubtful proposition to say the least) so why not the divorced and remarried and thirdly (clause 55) dealt with homosexuality.

In the summer of 2015 there appeared the Instrumentum Laboris (IL). This was essentially the Relatio from the first session but with a great number of new clauses interpolated more than doubling its length from 61 to 147 clauses. This was clearly an attempt by the Secretariat to get the Synod back on track to follow the ultra-liberal ideas proposed by Cardinal Kasper and others. Particularly objectionable features were:

  • Clause 98 suggesting there were positive elements to be found in sexual unions outside of marriage
  • Clause 121 reintroduced the idea of Graduality of the Law misrepresenting Familiaris Consortio – an idea rejected at the 2014 session.
  • Clause 123 claimed that the previously rejected clause 52 on communion for the divorced and remarried now had the support of a great number without explaining who this 'great number' were. Utterly disgracefully it misquoted Familiaris Consortio.
  • Clause 137 gave faint praise to Humanae Vitae but goes on to assert the primacy of untutored conscience.
Prior to the 2015 session there was heavy criticism of this Instrumentum but it nevertheless was presented to the Bishops as the working document. The Synod seems to have been then divided quickly into working groups and their individual reports have been made available despite the Secretariat's attempts to suppress publication. There were 13 of them.

French Language Groups

The report of the first French-language group under the Archbishop of Quebec seems to have been written fairly soon after the start of the 2015 session. The relator was the Archbishop of Chambery. Evidently there were divergent views so the report is rather 'On the one , hand....' and then 'On the other...' with little firm conclusion other than on the magnitude of the task in hand and omissions from the Instrumentum Laboris. They felt the IL could be more positive but they wondered whether any notice would be taken of what they said.

The second French-language group was under the chairmanship of Cardinal Robert Sarah. His relator was Father Dumortier, Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, which had hosted the Shadow Synod back in May 2015. The most concrete comment was that the IL was too negative and Euro-centric.

The third French-language group was under the chairmanship of Maurice Piat Bishop of Mauritius. (Incidentally I think I may have taught him English literature some 55 years ago and knew his family in that far-off isle!). His relator was the Archbishop of Gatineau, Quebec. It starts off with a good point that one should talk of 'families' and 'our families' rather than 'the family' as some abstract concept. It goes on to say how the whole document could be made a great deal more positive with a new draft. It mentions two points of concern: gender theory and bio-ethical problems.

English Language Groups

The first English-language group was under the chairmanship of Cardinal Pell who needs no introduction. The relator was Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky both regarded as conservatives. The group wanted more reference to scripture and tradition and joined with Cardinal Sarah's group in wishing it was not so bleak and Euro-centric.

The second English-language group was under the chairmanship of Cardinal Vincent Nichols with Diarmid Martin Archbishop of Dublin as relator. They wanted a document seen through the eyes of faith rather than sociology. They also felt it was unduly negative. The group proposed a broad rewriting of paragraphs 17-30 under the title of The Family on the Pilgrimage of Life. We will have to see whether they got it.

The third English-language group was under the chairmanship of Eamon Martin Archbishop of Armagh with the Archbishop of Brisbane as relator. Oh dear! They want a more decentralized church. They regard the concept of the ideal family as being somewhat bloodless – is that how they see the Holy Family? This must have been the group that Doctor Cernea attended as they shocked her with the words:

'We also considered certain phrases which have become commonplace in Church documents, among them “the Gospel of the family” and “the domestic Church”. These were vivid and illuminating formulations when they first appeared, but in the meantime they have become clichés, which are less clear in their meaning than they are usually assumed to be. We felt that it may be a good thing if they were given a rest.'

They complained about the methodology of the Synod and said there seemed to be more muddle than method. I think they added to the muddle. They quoted Pope Francis: Evangelii Gaudium, “time is greater than space”. An idea that appears in Lumen Christi. Quite what it means escapes me.

The fourth English-language group was under the chairmanship of Thomas Collins Archbishop of Toronto with Charles Chaput Archbishop of Philadelphia as relator. They started with a remarkable suggestion as to how the document should begin: 'We need to acknowledge and ask forgiveness for our own mistakes as pastors, especially those that have undermined family life.'

They then say 'we found much of the text to be flawed or inadequate, especially in its theology, clarity, trust in the power of grace, its use of Scripture and its tendency to see the world through overwhelmingly Western eyes.'

From thereon their criticism gets more and more devastating: chaotic, without inherent logic. Sentences seemed to be tossed together without any organic connection to one another. It is well worth reading.

Italian Language Groups

The first Italian-language group was under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Agrigento, Italy and his relator was Father Manuel Conde described as a Spanish expert. It is written in a rather verbose manner perhaps typical of a Latin culture but under the polite comments one detects a certain dissatisfaction with the IL. They insisted that marriage is only between a man and a woman. They deplore gender theory.

Incidentally I am very grateful to the website of the Diocese of Shrewsbury for providing translations of these Italian-language group reports – translations by Bishop Michael Campbell himself. The Diocese provides remarkably good coverage of the Synod on its website.

The second Italian-language group was chaired by Cardinal Menichelli Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy. His relator was Cardinal Piacenza head of the Apostolic Penitentiary. The most notable point in their report was pointing out that there was not a single biblical reference until page 32 and then only in a footnote.

The third Italian-language group was chaired by Cardinal Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa and his relator was the Archbishop of Vescova, Italy. Again the criticism is of the negativity and Euro-centric nature of the IL. They proposed emphasis on the power of the family in evangelisation and suggested numerous amendments.

Spanish Language Groups

The first Spanish-language group was chaired by Oscar Andres Rodriguez Madariaga, SDB, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras) and as relator Card. José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, OAR, Bishop of David (Panama). They examined the whole of the IL and came up with 54 suggested amendments but there is no hint of what these were.

The second Spanish-language group was chaired by the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico and his relator was the Archbishop of Merida, Venezuela. They complained that the translation from Italian into Spanish and Portuguese was not always accurate. They set out the points in the IL on which there was agreement but not those where they disagreed. They lacked time to complete their examination of the IL.

German Language Group

The German-language group was chaired by Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna and his relator was Monsignor Koch, Archbishop of Berlin, who has recently fallen over backwards trying to please the Jews. They start off about mercy saying: 'The justice of God is his mercy, by which he has made us just.' Well equating the two can lead to some problems. Does God show mercy to the unrepentant sinner making him just? Cohabitation is to be regarded as normal prior to marriage and accompanying them is a pastoral challenge but also a joy! There is mention of 'biographical-historical lines' which reflects some of the claptrap that came out of the Shadow Synod.

They emphasise conscience and one of their conclusions states Any impression is to be avoided which only uses Sacred Scripture as a quotation source for dogmatic, juridical or ethical persuasions. The law of the New Covenant is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers (CCC N.1965-1966). That seems to be trying to set the law of the New Covenant against scripture and suggesting that conscience can be superior to Scripture as the New Covenant. Well if one reads on in the Catechism it makes it clear that the law of the New Covenant is to be found primarily in Scripture in particular the Sermon on the Mount.

A curiosity is that Bishop Campbell's translation which I have commented on above is evidently a later document then that that appears on the Vatican website. The earlier document reads almost like a note made at the time. I suspect that Cardinal Schoenborn decided to rewrite it himself – it reads very much as if written by one person giving his views rather than a report of a group.


It is remarkable that in none of these reports from the groups is there any specific mention of communion for the divorced and remarried. It should be remembered that each of these groups had representatives from all other the world e.g. Africa, Asia, the Middle East etc. The frequent complaint that the IL was too Euro-centric reflects the over-emphasis in the IL on communion for the divorced and remarried, cohabitation and the other problems which beset the Western world. Outside of the western world the Bishops want none of it. There is the overall criticism that the IL was too negative as well as being Euro-centric. Numerous amendments were suggested but there is very little detail of what those amendments were. The western contribution is quite good from North America and the likes of Cardinal Chaput however the vacuity of the Irish contribution is evident and this is reflected in the English contribution. The German contribution is uniquely and quite obviously pushing the heterodox line of Cardinal Kasper and others.

I will turn next to the actual final Relatio Synodi and see how far it reflects the reports of the language groups.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Sir: Excellent analysis; wish you worked for our journals.


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