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.

Monday 28 December 2015

Commemorating Childermas

Say, ye celestial guards, who wait
In Bethlehem, round the Saviour's palace gate,
Say, who are these on golden wings,
That hover o'er the new-born King of kings,
Their palms and garlands telling plain
That they are of the glorious martyr-train,
Next to yourselves ordained to praise
His Name, and brighten as on Him they gaze?

But where their spoils and trophies? where
The glorious dint a martyr's shield should bear?
How chance no cheek among them wears
The deep-worn trace of penitential tears,
But all is bright and smiling love,
As if, fresh-borne from Eden's happy grove,
They had flown here, their King to see,
Nor ever had been heirs of dark mortality?

Ask, and some angel will reply,
"These, like yourselves, were born to sin and die,
But ere the poison root was grown,
God set His seal, and marked them for His own.
Baptised its blood for Jesus' sake,
Now underneath the Cross their bed they make,
Not to be scared from that sure rest
By frightened mother's shriek, or warrior's waving crest."

Mindful of these, the firstfruits sweet
Borne by this suffering Church her Lord to greet;
Blessed Jesus ever loved to trace
The "innocent brightness" of an infant's face.
He raised them in His holy arms,
He blessed them from the world and all its harms:
Heirs though they were of sin and shame,
He blessed them in his own and in his Father's Name.

Then, as each fond unconscious child
On the everlasting Parent sweetly smiled
(Like infants sporting on the shore,
That tremble not at Ocean's boundless roar),
Were they not present to Thy thought,
All souls, that in their cradles Thou hast bought?
But chiefly these, who died for Thee,
That Thou might'st live for them a sadder death to see.

And next to these, Thy gracious word
Was as a pledge of benediction stored
For Christian mothers, while they moan
Their treasured hopes, just born, baptised, and gone.
Oh, joy for Rachel's broken heart!
She and her babes shall meet no more to part;
So dear to Christ her pious haste
To trust them in His arms for ever safe embraced.

She dares not grudge to leave them there,
Where to behold them was her heart's first prayer;
She dares not grieve--but she must weep,
As her pale placid martyr sinks to sleep,
Teaching so well and silently
How at the shepherd's call the lamb should die:
How happier far than life the end
Of souls that infant-like beneath their burthen bend.

It is easy to be so absorbed in the joy of Christmas to forget some of suffering and turmoil that was associated with the miracle of the Incarnation.

Childermas, or the Feast of the Holy Innocents, commemorates the massacre of all males under the age of two in Bethlehem ordered by Herod to preclude a rival king.

The Coventry Carol is a haunting hymn which mourns the loss of the first Christian martyrs in the form of a lullaby to the Holy Innocents. 

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.

Saturday 12 December 2015

A Spotless Rose-- Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas and of Mexico.

In the 1640s, a peasant named Juan Diego was walking between his village and Mexico City and he saw a vision of a girl approximately sixteen years old surrounded by light on Tepeyac Hill. Speaking to him in Nahuatl, the local language, she asked Juan Diego that a church be built on Tepeyac Hill in her honor.  Juan Diego recognized the vision and the Virgin Mary.  The Bishop instructed Juan Diego to return to Tepeyac and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity.  The visage instructed Juan Diego to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill.  The usually barren Tepeyac Hill was blooming in Castilian roses, which were not native to Mexico.  Juan Diego gathered the roses which the Virgin arranged in his tilma cloak.  When the peasant opened the cloak before the Bishop, the flowers fell to the floor and an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted on the fabric.

Pope John Paul II canonized St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in 2002.  And in 1999, Pope John Paul II elevated Our Lady of Guadalupe to a Solemnity in all of the Americas.

The iconography of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was understood as being the Woman of the Apocalypse from Revelations 12:2 "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”.  Yet there are hermeneutical images that appealed to indigenous Americans too.  The Lady’s blue-green mantle was a hue reserved for the divine couple Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl.  A cross shaped image below the sash is the nahui-ollin and indicates the cosmos.  The rays of light look like maguey spines, the source of the sacred beverage pulque (and tequila).  Moreover, Many understand the black girdle along the Lady’s belt to indicate pregnancy, so Our Lady of Guadalupe is also unofficially considered the Patroness of the Unborn to the Pro-Life movement.

The rose amidst winter’s cold is an image of Advent which is not isolated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  A Spotless Rose is a 15th Century German carol.

A spotless Rose is blowing,Sprung from a tender root,Of ancient seers' foreshowing,Of Jesse promised fruit;Its fairest bud unfolds to lightAnd in the dark midnight,Amid the winter cold,A spotless Rose unfolds.

The Rose which I am singing,Whereof Isaiah said,Is from its sweet root springing,In Mary, purest Maid;For, through our God's great love and might,And in the dark midnight,Amid the winter cold,The blesse`d Babe she bare.

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