(John Thavis) Pope Francis spoke clearly at the synod’s first day, and since then has sat back and listened, without intervening in the debate. But with a surprise move announced late Friday, the pope showed that he is still guiding the outcome. The pope named six additional prelates to help prepare the relatio post disceptationem, which will form the basis for next week’s group discussions and, eventually, for the final document that will be drawn together at the end of next week.
All are supportive of the pope’s call for pastoral mercy. Card, Wuerl, for example, spoke in a recent interview with Catholic News Service about divorced and remarried Catholics, saying that reception of Communion was not a doctrinal position, but a pastoral application of church doctrine. Archbishop Fernandez has emphasized that church doctrine can develop, and does not remain static.
At a press briefing today, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who was present at the 1980 synod on the family, said it was clear that this synod cannot simply repeat what was said decades ago. While the theological debate on some of the issues will go on, he said, this synod needs to speak a new language, and “show that there can be development of doctrine” based on what emerged in the synod debate and in the pre-synod questionnaires.
In general, he said, there’s a movement away from seeing the church’s teaching on marriage as something that is “taught” to people, and a greater understanding that the church learns through the experience of the sacramental marriages of its faithful.
The synod heard Friday evening from seven “fraternal delegates” from non-Catholic Christian communities. Orthodox Metropolitan Athenagoras, representing the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, described how the Orthodox Church in some cases accepts a second marriage following a divorce. Such acceptance takes place after careful spiritual direction in specific cases, which aims first of all to save the first marriage. “If that is truly not possible, one can envisage a remarriage,” he said. For from being considered the ideal, he said, the Orthodox view this a pastoral concession in order to give a person a new chance to correct a mistake. It also takes into account the Orthodox tradition of encouraging frequent reception of Communion in order to promote purification among the faithful.
The Orthodox representative also spoke about contraceptive birth control, saying the Orthodox Church generally leaves it to couples to choose the method of birth regulation. He quoted the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras who responded to Humanae Vitae by saying the church should promote love and fidelity among married couples, and that “if a man and a woman really love each other, I do not need to enter their bedroom, all they do is holy.”
Anglican Bishop Paul Butler told the synod that while his church is still wrestling with the question of same-sex marriage, its teaching remains that marriage is between a man and a woman and is intended to be for life. At the same time, he said, Anglican pastors minister to same sex families, as well as cohabitating couples and single parents. “This demands listening, understanding, compassion and care rather than condemnation,” he said.