October 9, 2015


The Synod on the Family begins

And so the Synod on the Family has begun, only a week after the World Meeting of Families ended in Philadelphia. (Doesn’t Pope Francis ever get a chance to rest?)

The three prelates who hosted Pope Francis in Washington (Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl), New York (Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan) and Philadelphia (Archbishop Charles J. Chaput) are also U.S. delegates to the synod. The others are Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB vice president; Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles; and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio.

Pope Francis’ concern for the family couldn’t be more evident: attendance at two meetings of the Synod of Bishops devoted to the family, and traveling to the United States for the World Meeting of Families. He also spoke about the importance of the family during his weekly audiences leading up to his trip to the United States.

He continued that theme during his audience on Sept. 30, saying that the family, which is “the fruitful covenant between a man and a woman,” is the answer to the great challenges of our world.

He noted that the family can play a major role in a sustainable, integral ecology because the human couple, “united and fertile, placed by God in the world’s garden in order to cultivate it and safeguard it, displays the two fundamental principles human civilization is based upon—communion and fruitfulness.”

The pope always tries to be positive in his teachings about the family because he is convinced, and it seems obvious that he’s right, that those teachings are the best for society, if only more people in our society would follow them.

Thus, back when he said he would attend the World Meeting of Families, he wrote, “The mission of the Christian family, today as yesterday, is that of proclaiming to the world, by the power of the sacrament of marriage, the love of God. From this very proclamation, a living family is born and built, one which sets the hearth of love at the center of its human and spiritual dynamism.”

Though he tries to be positive, he recognizes that humans do not always live up to the ideals taught by the Church. That’s where his ideas of mercy and forgiveness come in, and those ideas will likely be emphasized at the synod.

He was asked about that on the plane that returned him from Philadelphia to Rome. Specifically, he was asked about his decisions to speed up declarations of nullity of marriages, and if this isn’t “a de facto creation of a so-called ‘Catholic divorce’.”

In answering, the pope made it clear that there is no such thing as “Catholic divorce.” “That doesn’t exist,” he said. Either it was a marriage or it wasn’t. “It is not divorce because marriage is indissoluble when it is a sacrament. And this the Church cannot change. It’s doctrine. It’s an indissoluble sacrament.”

That’s the pope’s answer to any delegates to the synod who might want to change that doctrine. Therefore, if there’s any possibility of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, it would have to involve changing the rules of who can receive Communion.

The present teaching of the Church is that all those who have committed—but not received the sacrament of reconciliation for—serious sin are forbidden to receive Communion. That includes the divorced and remarried, those who are living together outside of marriage, and those who don’t attend Mass every weekend and holy day of obligation, along with many other kinds of mortal sins.

That teaching of attending Mass seems to be ignored widely by many today. Whether or not the synod specifically deals with this reality remains to be seen.

The pope acknowledged that the synod must deal with many problems: “For example, young people don’t get married. They don’t want to get married. It’s a pastoral problem for the Church. Another problem: the affective maturity for a marriage. Another problem: faith. ‘Do I believe that this is forever? Yes, yes, yes, I believe.’ But do you believe it?”

He identified preparation for marriage as a major problem. He said that, to become a priest, there’s a preparation for eight years, but not for marriage. “Something isn’t right. It’s something the synod has to deal with: how to do preparation for marriage.”

—John F. Fink

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