Wednesday 30 December 2015

The Synod on the Family – the Final Documents [1]

The final Relatio Synodi  

Some shenanigans, the Relatio introduction and Chapter I

After the reports of the language groups or circuli minori no more documents have been published other than the final Relatio Synodi which appeared on the Vatican press website immediately after the close of the 2015 and final session of the Synod at the end of October but only in Italian. We had to wait until mid-December to get an official English translation.

There is no official account of what happened at the Synod but we do have an account by Professor Robert Mattei published on 27th October 2015 in 'Corrispondenza Romana' with a translation appearing on the 'Rorate Coeli' website. Professor Mattei wrote:

'In order to understand better how things actually went, we need to go back to the evening of October 22nd, when the Synod Fathers were given the final report, worked on by an ad hoc commission on the basis of the amendments (ways) to Instrumentum Laboris, proposed by the work groups which were divided by language (circuli minors).'
To the great surprise of the Synod Fathers, the text consigned to them on Thursday evening was only in Italian, with the absolute prohibition of communicating it, not only to the press, but also to the 51 auditors and the other participants in the assembly. The text did not take into any account the 1355 amendments proposed over the course of the preceding three weeks, and substantially reproposed the implantation of Instrumentum laboris, including the paragraphs that had roused the strongest criticism in the Hall: the one on homosexuality and the other on the divorced and remarried. Discussions were fixed for the following morning, with the possibility of preparing new amendments that night only, on a text presented in a language mastered by only part of the Fathers. But on the morning of October 23rd, Pope Francis, who had always followed the work carefully, found himself faced with an unexpected rejection of the document edited by the commission.

After mentioning those who opposed the draft Professor Mattei continues:

The document could certainly not be re-presented the following day in the Hall, without the risk of it being put in minority and causing a big split. The solution for compromise was found following the way outlined by the “Germanicus” circle, which included Cardinal Kasper, the icon of progressivism, and Cardinal Müller, Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith. Between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, the Commission revised the new text, which was read in the Hall on Saturday morning, October 24th, and then voted on in the afternoon, obtaining for each of the 94 paragraphs the qualifying majority of two-thirds, which with the 265 Synod Fathers present, was equal to 177 votes.

No doubt many will not accept that account but we have Pope Francis's remarks on the Saturday evening : [the Synod] “was also about laying closed hearts bare which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families. […] It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible. [...] In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue".

These were strong words and coupled with the fact that the final Relatio Synodi was only available in Italian for some six weeks after the end of the Synod tends to support a certain typicity to Professor Mattei's account. For another account of what happened it is worth reading Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane (some regard him as a liberal). It certainly makes one wonder about how these Synods are conducted. For example, the Archbishop explains...

'The Secretary General then told us that it was our solemn duty to read the text carefully so that we could present proposed amendments the following morning. This was OK for those who know Italian. But the fact is that many of the bishops (and even some of the cardinals!) don’t know Italian or don’t know it well enough to read and respond to a complex document like this one. Bishop Hurley is one of those, so I had to sit down with him last night and go swiftly through the text so that he knew what he was responding to.'

Archbishop Coleridge recounts that things were not much better on the Saturday when the final text was presented for voting only in Italian. It was, however, read out and there was simultaneous translation but one wonders how much of the detail was sufficiently clear to those not fluent in Italian.

Turning to the text itself it is clear that it is based upon the Instrumentum Laboris. The Introduction has been rewritten and clause 1 now contains references to Gaudium et Spes and Pope Francis's references to Scripture – references sadly lacking in the IL. It says that the Pope wanted them to study the reality of marriage. I would have thought that the first reality to be emphasised is the teaching of Christ and the Church on marriage before looking at the experience of marriage in the world. That was not to be. The table of contents of Chapter I in the IL and RS show how similar the two documents are:

Instrumentum Laboris:
Part I
The Socio-Cultural Context
Anthropological Changes
Cultural Contradictions
Social Contradictions
The Weakness and Strength of the Family

Relatio Synodi:

Part I

The Church Listening to the Family

Chapter I
The Family and the Anthropological-cultural context

The Socio-Cultural Context
The Religious Context
Anthropological Change
Cultural Contradictions
Conflicts and Social Tensions
Fragility and Strength of the Family

My heart sinks! As one African Bishop remarked during the 2014 session 'Who would ever want to get married after reading this?' Note the section on 'Religious Context' was no doubt 'stuck in' after a lot of argument.

A new clause 4 has been inserted as an introduction to Part I before Chapter I. It is a series of generalities about marriage without actually saying what marriage is as defined by the Catechism. The problem is knowing who wrote this new paragraph 4 or more generally who wrote any of the changes between the IL and the RS?'

Was it something produced by the Secretariat in the document given to the Fathers in great secrecy on the Thursday evening or is it a revision made in the 24 hour review from Friday morning to Saturday morning by the newly appointed Commission? In the case of this, clause 4, I am inclined to think it was the former. However, it is a general problem with this document. Many people have had a hand and the result is often very disjointed.

Take clause 5 for example. It has survived from the Relatio that came out of the 2014 session of the Synod. However, the first words have been changed from "Faithful to Christ's teaching" to "Docile to what the Holy Spirit asks us” which strikes me as a considerably weakening. And then we get this,

“We are aware of the principal tendencies in anthropological-cultural changes in which individuals, in their emotional life and life as a family, receive increasingly less support from social structures than in the past.” 

What are these social structures? The welfare state or what? There is no explanation. Then there is a criticism of individualism followed by the sentence:

“We are thinking of mothers and fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, immediate and distant relatives and the bonding of two families at every wedding.” 

I do not think they are accusing all of these of 'individualism' but it certainly reads that way! There are then some very positive words about the value of the family obviously inserted to counteract the negative bits about the socio-cultural scene. It is just the wrong way round.

We then get the new clause 6 about the Religious Context. That amounts to saying that religion is growing in some parts of the world and diminishing in others. Well they had to say something about religion didn't they?

Clause 7 is on anthropological-cultural changes. The 2014 Relatio did not have such a clause and it was interpolated by the Secretariat into the IL. It was very gloomy and Euro-centric. It has been rewritten to be much more positive. The decline in the birth-rate is clearly attributed to contraception and abortion rather than just being caused by consumerism as the IL would have it.

Clause 8 is again an interpolation into the IL but has been much strengthened in its treatment of gender ideology but it also has a longer quote from Pope Francis where he seems to be suggesting that only married couples and not individuals are made in the image of God. Perhaps that explains something about the clergy.

Clause 9 on Conflicts on Social Tensions is a vast improvement on the interpolation by the Secretariat. 'Exhaustion of resources' has been dropped and the problems of migration and refugees is much more clearly stated.

Clause 10 on the Weakness and Strength of the Family is just contradictory waffle interpolated by the Secretariat.

That concludes Chapter I. In the next Chapter we have to consider the The Family in the Socio-Economic context.

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