Relatio – Circulus Anglicus “B”
Moderator: Em.mo Card. Wilfrid Fox NAPIER, O.F.M.
Relator: S.E. Mons. Diarmuid MARTIN
Of the Synodal Fathers members of the group: five were from Africa, seven from Asia, one each from Oceania, the United States of America and Europe. The uditores and a fraternal delegate contributed significantly to the reflection of the group.
In the first place, the group strongly felt that the Relatio ended up placing too much emphasis on the problems facing the family and did not stress sufficiently the need to provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope for those Christian families who despite many challenges and even failures – strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation within the Church and society.
The group proposed to add at the beginning of the Report — as was done in the Instrumentum Laboris – some paragraphs clearly stressing how the Word of God, and the beauty of the Gospel of Marriage, must be central to the entire focus of the Final Report of the Synod.
The group asked me to record explicitly its concern about some of the conclusions drawn in the Relatio, about its methodology, its complicated language (compounded by poor translation) and of the effects of its publication before it had been reviewed by the Synodal Fathers. Despite these difficulties the Group enthusiastically and profitably took up the discussion of the Relatio.
The task of the extraordinary Synod was to draw up a picture of the family and of the challenges facing the pastoral activity of the Church in today’s complex and diverse world. Inevitably this meant that it would focus on problems and on some of the principal challenges which are of particular concern in the Church today.
However, the Report of the Synod should go beyond a mere focus on the problems and the pathology of marriage and the family. The group felt that it could well draw on the testimonies – and the language – of the lay men and women who addressed the Synod.
Many in the group felt that a young person reading the Relatio would if anything become even less enthusiastic about undertaking the challenging vocation of Christian matrimony. The Synod Report – and the Message – should direct itself towards young people, to help them understand and be attracted by the Christian vision of marriage and the family, in a world in which they are exposed to many contradictory visions.
It was felt that in the current situation of widespread cultural confusion about marriage and the family and the human suffering that this can bring, there is an urgent need for leadership in today’s world and that such clear leadership can only come from the Church. Such leadership is an urgent part of the Church’s service to contemporary society and a failure to give such witness would be to fail humanity.
Some members of the group stressed the need of pastors to recognize their own failures and their inadequacies in fostering support for families. The Church needs a radical renewal of its style of ministry to families. Marriage accompaniment is a lifelong task not limited to preparation for the wedding. It is a task which belongs within a broad faith itinerary and must encourage and foster family prayer.
The main thrust should be to encourage those who are committed and witness to the Christian ideal and who struggle day by day, with the help of God’s grace to realize that ideal. This is important to stress as we move towards the Ordinary Session of the Synod of 2015 which is about “the vocation and mission of the family”.
The Church must of course also reach out to the realities of those whose lives do not yet fully realize that ideal. The problems should not be allowed to steal the principal narrative, but neither should the narrative end up marginalizing or discouraging those are still struggling.
It is not primarily a question of producing new documents or of simply repeating the Church’s teaching, but of reaching out and finding a language which can help the men and women and especially the young people of our time to open their hearts and minds to the Gospel of the Family, to understand it and to be attracted by it. This new language must dig deeper into the treasury of the faith and tradition of the Church and find ways of listening to the lived experience of faithful couples of their Sacrament of Matrimony.
The Church must teach with clarity, but must also, as one member of the group stressed, “have the courage to knock on forbidden doors”. Very often when we find the courage to knock on forbidden doors what we discover surprises us: what we encounter inside is the loving presence of God which helps us to address the challenges of today, no longer on our terms, but in new ways which might otherwise have been unimaginable. Knocking on forbidden or unaccustomed doors involves risk and courage. Fear and anxiety of what we think are forbidden doors may mean excluding opening ourselves to the God who always surprises.
All of us need the help of the mercy of God. The mercy of God is not just a medicine, much less a consolation prize, for those who fail. None of us can be faithful without experiencing God’s mercy. No one should devalue the place of mercy in the economy of salvation.
Let me briefly present some of the more significant conclusions of the group.
On the subject of the admission of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist the group stressed two principles flowing directly from God’s Word:
- the clear affirmation of the indissolubility of a valid sacramental union, while humbly admitting that we need a more credible way of presenting and witnessing to that teaching;
- the strong desire to invite and embrace sincere Catholics who feel alienated from the family of the Church because of irregular situations.
The group recalled the necessity of finding a new vocabulary to preserve the timeless teaching of the Church in a fresh and appealing manner. It recommended the examination of possible paths of repentance and discernment by which, in particular circumstances, a divorced and remarried person might participate in the sacraments; and about providing alternatives, such as a deeper appreciation of the classical wisdom and value of spiritual communion.
It was strongly emphasized that such brothers and sisters remain part of the Church and must be encouraged to remain part of the Church through prayer, attendance at Mass, the practice of virtue, participation in small Christian communities and apostolic service. They must always encounter in the Church the welcoming gaze and embrace of Jesus.
The group expressed concern about an over emphasis on the term “positive elements” when speaking of civil marriage and cohabitation. It preferred language which would address the law of gradualness as a way to enter into a pastoral dialogue with such people and seek to identify elements of their life which might lead them towards a greater openness to the Gospel of Marriage in its fullness. We must identify elements which could become bridges in our efforts of evangelization of the many who do not yet or no longer correspond to the ideal. It was stressed that the law of gradualness always involves a progression and a conversion towards the full ideal.
On the subject of the pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies, the group noted that the Church must continue to promote the revealed nature of marriage as always between one man and one woman united in lifelong, life-giving, and faithful communion.
The group encouraged pastors and parishes to care for individuals with same sex attraction, providing for them in the family of the Church, always protecting their dignity as children of God, created in his image. Within the Church, they should find a home where, with everyone else, they hear the call of Jesus to follow Him in fidelity to the truth, to receive His grace to do so, and. His mercy when they fail.
On the question of openness to life, it was noted that in many areas of the world children are seen as a burden rather than a gift of God. The group stressed that children are really the supreme gift of marriage. Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love will help couples to be ready with generous hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.In this light, the group felt that the Church should revisit and give a positive reevaluation of the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae for the formation of conscience regarding family planning.
On the subject of polygamy the group tried to define more clearly the specific pastoral challenges in different parts of the world. The primary pastoral challenge concerns new converts who are in a polygamous marriage who were not yet Christians when they entered into a polygamous union. A comprehensive pastoral study is recommended to be undertaken by the Episcopal Conferences of Africa.
The group recommended a new conclusion to the Relatio focusing on our Blessed Mother, who with her spouse St. Joseph, because of her unique role in the Holy Family of Nazareth and at the wedding feast of Cana and continues to play an important role in the Church. Married couples should have recourse to her especially when they face difficult challenges in their lives so that Mary our Mother may be an anchor of hope for all Christian families.
[03042-02.02] [Original text: English]