The Relatio does not represent the formal position of the Catholic Church nor does it in any way impact church teaching or the official doctrine of the church. Nonetheless, the tone of the Relatio has made so much news and appears to have been so misunderstood (and/or spun) by the media that today the Vatican has been forced to issue the following clarification with emphasis added by us:
The General Secretariat of the Synod, in response to reactions and discussions following the publication of the Relatio post disceptationem, and the fact that often a value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature, reiterates that it is a working document, which summarises the interventions and debate of the first week, and is now being offered for discussion by the members of the Synod gathered in the Small Groups, in accordance with the Regulations of the Synod.
The work of the Small Groups will be presented to the Assembly in the General Congregation next Thursday morning.
During the eleventh General Congregation the “Relatio post disceptationem” was read by the General Rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdo.As you can see, the Vatican has now clarified the original document summary and has taken care to reiterate traditional church doctrine.
Immediately after, there followed a period of free discussion among the Synod Fathers. In general, the “Relatio post disceptationem” was appreciated for its capacity to photograph well the interventions that have been offered during this last week, capturing the spirit of the Assembly and highlighting acceptance and welcome as the principle theme of the works. The document, it was said, reveals the Church’s love for the family faithful to Christ, but also her capacity to be close to humanity in every moment of life, to understand that, behind the pastoral challenges, there are many people who suffer. The Synod, it was emphasised, should have the watchful gaze of the shepherd who devotes his life to his sheep, without a priori judgement.
Furthermore, to allow this Report to bring together various points of view to provide a basis for the work of the Small Groups, certain additional reflections were suggested: for example, while the Church must welcome those in difficulty, it would be useful to speak more widely about those families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, thanking them and encouraging them for the witness they offer.
From the Synod it emerged more clearly that indissoluble, happy marriage, faithful for ever, is beautiful, possible and present in society, therefore avoiding a near-exclusive focus on imperfect family situations.
Other reflections involved giving more emphasis to the theme of women, their protection and their importance for the transmission of life and faith; to include consideration of the figure of grandparents within the family unit; more specific reference to the family as a “domestic Church” and the parish as a “family of families”, and to the Holy Family, an essential model for reference. In this respect, it was also suggested that the family and missionary role in proclaiming the Gospel in the world be further promoted.
It is necessary to clarify and explore more deeply the theme of “gradualness”, that may give rise to confusion. With regard to access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried persons, for instance, it was said that it is difficult to accept exceptions unless in reality they become a common rule.
It was also noted that the word “sin” is almost absent from the Relatio. The prophetic tone of Jesus’ words was also mentioned, to avoid the risk of conformity to the mentality of today’s world.
In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with the just produced, so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.
Other insights regarded the need to emphasise the importance of the sacrament of Baptism, essential for fully understanding the sacramental nature of marriage and also its character as a “ministry” in the announcement of the Gospel.
With regard to procedures for the streamlining of cases of nullity, some questions were raised regarding the proposal to entrust greater competence to the diocesan bishop, which may prove to be too great a burden, while the need for deeper and more detailed reflection was indicated in relation to cases of polygamy – especially for those who convert and wish to partake in the sacraments – and the spread of pornography, especially on the internet, which poses a real risk to family unity. Finally, in relation to openness to life on the part of couples, it is necessary to face in more detail and more decisively not only abortion, but also that of surrogacy.
The church has clearly taken a step back from the Realtio and signaled caution to those who would read things into the document that are not there.
This is a wise move -- but more may be necessary before this is over. The process will be neither quick nor simple.