Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Synod on the Family – The Final Documents [3]

The Final Relatio Synodi: Commentary on Part III.

As already mentioned some of the clauses are inherited from the 2014 session whilst others were interpolated by the Secretariat in the Instrumentum Laboris (IL). Some clauses are completely new.

This third and last part is entitled 'The Mission of the Family' and presumably corresponds to the 'Act' part of 'See, Judge, Act'. The preamble talks of the 'Gospel of the Family' – a phrase which the Irish Bishops did not like! What was Chapter II in the IL has now become Chapter I in the Relatio and is entitled 'The Formation of the Family'. It starts with clauses 57 & 58 on marriage preparation which are rewrites of the inherited clause 84 and two interpolated clauses 85 & 86 and clauses 94 & 95 in the IL. The clauses follow a much logical sequence than in the IL.

Clause 59 on the Celebration of Marriage is a reworking of clause 79 in the IL. Clause 60 on the Initial Years of Married Life is a reworking of inherited clause 96 and interpolated clause 97 in the IL. Clause 61 on the Formation of Priests and Other Pastoral Workers is a very much extended version of interpolated clause 89 in the IL.

Chapter II in this Part III corresponds to Chapter IV in the IL and is entitled Family, Generativity and Upbringing. 'Generativity' is a new word for me and a better one would have been 'Procreation' or a better title could perhaps be just 'Marriage and Children'. The IL is somewhat confused at this point and we get sentences like: Some see a need to continue to make known the documents of the Church’s Magisterium which promote the culture of life in the face of the increasingly widespread culture of death (interpolated clause 137). Why only 'some'? Thankfully this has been changed to This situation calls for an ever-increasing diffusion of the documents of the Church’s Magisterium which promote the culture of life in clause 62 on The Transmission of Life. That should make the liberals groan!

Clause 63 on Generative Responsibility mentions both Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio as essential guides. The appalling interpolated clause 137 in the IL where uninformed conscience was put on a par with the teaching of the Church has not been repeated.

Clause 64 on The Value of Life in All its Stages is a reworking of clauses 140 & 141 in the IL. Both documents refer to the 'tragedy of abortion' which is an inadequate statement. Many people who accept abortion might agree that it is a tragedy but surely the Relatio should say something much stronger such as defining it as an 'unspeakable crime' as in the Second Vatican Council. For once the wording of the IL is preferable to the Relatio. The Relatio speaks of being in favour of life whilst the IL speaks of defending it. The Relatio talks of the Church being close to those who have 'endured abortion' whilst the IL speaks of 'those who have suffered through abortion'. But both versions are weak. Both say Those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral obligation of conscientious objection. I think, in England at least, more support from the clergy to those who do work in healthcare facilities would not go amiss.

Clause 65 on Adoption and Foster Parenting is a reworking of clause 138 in the IL. Clauses 66 to 68 deal with the upbringing of children and replace clauses 142 to 146 of the IL.

Chapter III of the Relatio corresponds to Chapter III of the IL and is entitled The Family and Pastoral Accompaniment starting with 'Complex situations'. This is where controversy begins! Inherited clause 98 in the IL almost put irregular situations on a par with sacramental marriage having regard to to-day's world. It certainly suggested that there are positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and cohabitation. Clause 70 of the Relatio still speaks of positive elements but perhaps in a slightly attenuated manner; unfortunately clause 71 still seems to suggest that cohabitation can be a valid stepping-stone to sacramental marriage as in clause 102 of the IL.

Clauses 72 to 75 deal with mixed marriages and replace clauses 126 to 128 of the IL. Clause 76 replaces clauses 130 to 132 in the IL dealing with persons who have homosexual tendencies. 'Gay marriage' is condemned but there is an ambiguity in the use of the word 'union'. Clause 76 says

'Regarding proposals to place unions of homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family”.'

The quotation is taken from the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4. The conclusion of that document reads:

'11. The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.'

The document from the CDF signed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger and approved by St John Paul II thus does not approve of legal recognition of homosexual unions (civil partnerships in the UK). The Relatio Synodi fails to condemn such unions but does condemn 'gay marriage'. Approval of legalised unions is very much a liberal idea. There are reports that Pope Francis has been ambiguous on this subject when in Buenos Aires. So is this Relatio ambiguous on the subject? Although it quotes from the CDF's document it does not endorse it as a whole. It is something to watch out for when we have Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation.

There then follows a section on 'Accompaniment in Different Situations'. Clause 77 gives a general view on the Art of Accompaniment and is an abbreviated version of clauses 109-111 in the IL. Clauses 78 & 79 deal with marriage breakdown and are an extended rewrite of clauses 112 & 113 in the IL. A new clause 80 separates out the question of single-parent families briefly mentioned in clause 113 of the IL. Clause 81 is on reconciliation and the Church's role in helping in such which was mentioned briefly in clause 104 of the IL.

Between the time the IL was written and the 2015 session of the Synod Pope Francis has issued his motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericors Iesus which fundamentally reform the annulment process. This is reflected in clause 82 of the Relatio which replaces clauses 114 to 117 of the IL. The IL had a suggestion that In cases of the validity of consent in marriage, most agreed on the importance of the faith of those to be married and suggested a variety of approaches to be examined further. Quite what that means I do not know. It gets no mention in the Relatio but I believe does get mentioned in the motu proprios which have led to considerable comment by Canon Lawyers. This is a very complex affair which I am not competent to comment on although I find the grounds for nullity to have been stretched to such a degree compared with earlier years that they tend to promote scandal.

Clause 83 congratulates those who have stayed faithful to their marriage vows in spite of divorce reflecting a brief mention at the end of clause 113 of the IL.

There then follows a section on 'Discernment and Integration'. Clause 84 deals with the divorced and civilly remarried. It replaces clauses 120 and 121 in the IL. IL 120 said the such couples should not be discriminated against and should be encouraged to participate in the life of the Church. IL 121 suggested a process of discrimination to ascertain whether it was impossible for the divorced to return to their previous spouse and whether some exclusions should be reviewed. The divorced and remarried should be encouraged to follow the law of gradualness. It then said that the community should be led to accept such situations according to the Law of Gradualness referring to Familiaris Consortio 34. Now Familiaris Consortio refers to the Law of Gradualness as the gradual conforming of souls to the teaching of the Church and NOT gradualness of the Law i.e. gradually changing the teaching but this is surely what the IL intended.

The new clause 84 in the Relatio talks of integration of the divorced and civilly remarried into the Church. In a thoroughly fulsome manner it talks of a joyful and fruitful experience and the Holy Spirit pouring into their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all. After such hyperbole it suggests that any exclusions should be surpassed which in plain English means added to but I think they meant the reverse. It claims that none of this will show 'a weakening of her faith and witness in the indissolubility of marriage'. The mention of indissolubility is an improvement!

Clause 85 calls for the divorced and remarried to reflect on what they have done and further says that moral imputability can vary according to the circumstances. Clause 86 is very important and reads:

'The path of accompaniment and discernment guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of Church and Church practice which can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. FC 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity as proposed by the Church.'

It is important to note whilst there is a reference to the internal forum this is not a reference to the internal forum where somebody, in the absence of an annulment of their previous marriage, sincerely believes that the first marriage was invalid and therefore they can receive communion – a version of the internal forum that was explicitly condemned by St John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio. Thus the whole idea of a Way of Penance leading to them being admitted to communion, as suggested in clauses 122 and 123 of the IL, has been dropped.

It is a pity though that the words of St John Paul about attending the mass (different from participating) and the exclusion from communion are not quoted in full. At least his words are not deliberately and dishonestly misquoted as in the IL under Cardinal Baldisseri. Likewise the nonsense about spiritual communion being available for those unable to receive eucharistic communion because of the lack of a state of grace, as suggeseted in clauses 124 and 125 of the IL, has been dropped. Further the suggestion about considering the Orthodox practice on second marriages in clause 129 of the IL has been dropped – squaring the circle was obviously not one of the aims of the Bishops.

The final Chapter IV is on 'Family and Evangelisation' has some generalities in clause 87 on marriage from Pope Francis. One wonders whether the translation into English has been carried out by a native speaker of the language – the awkward language could certainly be improved. For example 'forgive me' would be a better translation than 'pardon me' which is usually used in different circumstances! Clause 88 talks about tenderness.

The next section on 'The Family: Object of Pastoral Care' starts with the words: To be faithful to its mission, the Christian family will have to well understand.... I think many couples might find this section rather irritating as if everything is down to them in a somewhat moralising tone with no mention of any pastoral care by the clergy – a particularly egregious lack since the time of Familiaris Consortio and before.

Finally there are sections on 'The Relationship with Cultures and Institutions' and 'Openness to Mission' which do have some good points but are written in a somewhat platitudinous style – clauses 91 to 93. Finally there is a self-congratulatory clause 94 where the Bishops hope that this Relatio might give hope and joy to many families in the world. Perhaps I am unduly cynical but I am reminded of what one African Bishop said of the Instrumentum Laboris: “Would any young couple want to get married after reading this?”. The Bishops were faced with a herculean task in revising and rewriting the Instrumentum Laboris and they have succeeded in removing the heretical suggestions and by and large it is a great improvement despite the Secretariat. But...

In a final post on this subject I will give my overall conclusions.


  1. Thank you for the work you have done in assessing the final documents of the Synod. I honestly believe that the orthodox delegates worked very hard, and against a decidedly stacked deck to ensure most of the IL was revamped. Kudos to them.

    Cardinal Burke, however,in an interview with The Wanderer was frank about his disappointment with the final document. I don't know if you accept weblinks, - just in case, here is the link to the interview on the final document of the 2015 with Cardinal Burke.

    (My apologies for the duplication if you have already posted this link elsewhere)

  2. geneticallycatholic: Many thanks for your comment. I think I have seen Cardinal Burke's comments before but I have reread them using the link you kindly provided. I am 100% with him. The problem is that there are two ways of reading a document. I am a lawyer and in my view the correct way is to read the text no more and no less. A good example, mentioned by Cardinal Burke, is where it fails to give the full teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried as in Familiaris Consortio. However the document does confirm Familiaris Consortio and does not negate any part of it; certainly not the prohibition on communion for the divorced and remarried. That should be the end of it but there always those who will read into it things that are simply not there.
    The link you give leads to a page where the recent death of Judge Antonin Scalia is mentioned. I used to know him when we were both teenagers and I was moved, this morning, to listen to a lecture of his at:

    You have to scroll down one page to get to his talk to the Acton Institute. He is arguing for 'originalism' in interpreting the American Constitution and he says you have to stick to the original text and not add things that are not there. Thus he says you cannot argue for a right to abortion when as a matter of fact there is nothing about abortion in the constitution although that is precisely what the Supreme Court did. He is arguing for it not being a living entity which evolves. Unfortunately he was in a minority and the majority want to read things into documents that are not there claiming the spirit of the document. This is what is happening constantly in the Church with the documents of Vatican II and will happen with the Synod on the Family. It is well worth listening to if you have a spare half hour.


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