The Catholic Church may have opened wider its doors for people having troubles with relationships with their families, but not yet for homosexuals, especially same-sex couples.
The final report which marked the end of the two-week assembly of the bishops of the Catholic Church last week suggested “patient dialogue and accompaniment” for separated, divorced or remarried couples, and single-parent families. However, though the Church expressed support for homosexuals, a lot of questions still surround the sanctity of same-sex marriages.
The document, entitled “Relatio Synodi of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops” with the theme “The pastoral challenges on the family in the context of evangelization” (the original text is in Italian), was released on October 18 and would be reviewed for a year until the next Synod, or the summit of the world’s Catholic bishops, in 2015.
The Vatican released two versions of the document and were voted by the bishops, but both did not achieve the consensus, that was two-thirds of the assembly. Veteran Vatican writer John Allen added in his story both documents however “generated significant ‘no’ votes,” with the first draft garnering 118 yes and 62 no votes, and the other 104-74.
Evangelization by, for the family
The Relatio stressed the “urgent need” to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel for the family and by the family.
The document said that evangelization must not be “purely theoretical and uncoupled from the real problems of the people.” “It should never be forgotten that crisis of faith can lead to a crisis of marriage and the family, and as a result, the transmission of the same faith from parents to children is interrupted.”
The document also stressed that “Christian marriage is a vocation that welcomes one with adequate preparation in a journey of faith, with a mature discernment.”
Hence, the Church said that the process of Christian marriage must involve: formations especially for new couples by Church people, fellow couples and families in their respective communities; and upholding the significance of receiving the Sacraments (especially Baptism, the Eucharist, Matrimony and Penance) in maintaining strong family relationships.
The document also suggested the need for “radical renewal of the pastoral practice in the light of the Gospel of the family.” It means more frequent renewal in the formation of priests, deacons, catechists and other pastoral workers through greater involvement of families in their respective parishes.
The Relatio also suggested that further “pastoral discernment” on the situation of couples who are married through civil rites or in cohabitation (live-in partners in the Filipino context) must be exercised “in a constructive manner.”
“It is important to enter into dialogue with these people in order to highlight the elements of their lives that can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness. Pastors need to identify elements that can promote evangelization and the human and spiritual growth. A new awareness of the pastoral care today is to grasp the positive elements present in civil marriages and, in due differences in institutional households.”
The same approach is also proposed for so-called “wounded families”, or those whose couples got either: separated; divorced and not remarried; divorced and remarried; and single-parent families. Hence, the bishops advised that family formation programs must be strengthened, and must look into different factors, whether personal, cultural or socio-political.
The Relatio however stressed the need for Church people to listen, and to be respectful and compassionate with families facing these situations, thus avoiding discrimination. It noted in particular children who would be affected by these instances would be the “innocent victims”.
According to the Relatio, “Hence the need for a ministry of reconciliation and mediation through specialized counseling centers to be established in the diocese.”
The report also said that most bishops “stressed the need to make it more affordable and agile, possibly totally free, the procedures for the recognition of annulment cases.” Some bishops even proposed that as soon as the Church would declare annulment of a couple because their union did not meet some criteria for its validity, either of the couple would be given a second chance for a church marriage.
It also said that issues surrounding mixed marriages (intercultural or interfaith) and the access to the Sacraments of people confronted with the said situations would be reviewed further.
Church on homosexuality
On the other hand, the Relatio defended the Church’s stand that compared to marriage between man and woman, same-sex marriage has “no foundation whatsoever” to establish it. However, it stressed that “men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity,” “should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination.”
The document also said, “it is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer the pressures in this matter and that international bodies to condition financial aid to poor countries, the introduction of laws that establish the ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.”
This watered-down version of the Relatio on homosexuality was perceived to be different from the first draft, which was released on October 13. According to another Vatican writer John Thavis, the first version had a “strikingly more open language,” which just asked if the Church could accept and appreciate the gay sexual orientation, and spoke of “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” in some gay relationships.
The first draft also noted that special attention must be given by the Church to children of same-sex couples.
Adoption, family planning
Also, the Relatio addressed the need to support adoption of children and to promote natural family planning as part of the evangelization efforts. The Church’s firm stand on natural family planning is anchored on Pope Paul VI’sencyclical Humanae Vitae which “stresses the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth regulation.” Also, adoption of children was described in the Relatio as a “specific form of family apostolate,” saying further “it is an opportunity to be witness to the faith and to restore dignity.”
‘Truth and mercy’
The two versions of the Relatio were created through debates and group discussions among Cardinals who gathered in Rome for the Synod. Some of the discussions were done inside and were documented, while others were held outside the halls, or through interviews.
According to a report, Italian layman Francesco Miano, one of the synod participants, described the main fault line as running between truth and mercy — with one camp insisting on clarity about Church teaching, and another outreach to constituencies that don’t fully live it, including gays, the divorced, and people living together outside of marriage.
For instance, as for same-sex couples, the recommendations in general suggest a merciful and welcoming approach while maintaining a clear distinction between a gay union and a marriage.
A group led by Italian Cardinal Fernando Filioni, who heads the Vatican’s powerful missionary department, concluded that “same sex unions can’t be equated to those between a man and a woman.”
A French-speaking group lead by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said that while discrimination against gays and lesbians should be denounced, “that doesn’t mean the church should legitimize homosexual practices and, even less, recognize so-called homosexual ‘marriage.’”
A second French group, led by Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, made a similar point, saying that to “pastorally accompany a person doesn’t mean to validate either a form of sexuality or a style of life.”
However, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany somehow opposed the ideas and said, “Take the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives… How can I say that this has no value?”
Despite such heated exchange of ideas, Pope Francis in his speech at the end of the Synod on October 18, thanked the bishops for their “active and fruitful participation”, adding that the assembly became a “journey of consolations and of desolations, tensions and temptations.”
He described such temptations as: “to transform stones into bread, and transform bread into stone to cast it against sinners, the weak, and the sick”; “to come down from the Cross, please the people and not stay there in order to fulfill the will of God”; and “to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing!”
“I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage,” Pope Francis said.
“Now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families,” he added, reminding the bishops.