Stress on unchanged doctrine as Vatican synod on family opens

Synod president claims church stance on communion for remarried misunderstood

Pope Francis attends the synod on the family at St Peter’s basilica in the Vatican yesterday. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis attends the synod on the family at St Peter’s basilica in the Vatican yesterday. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images


The climate was one of no change on yesterday’s opening day of the Vatican’s Synod on the Family.

Lest anyone be under the illusion that this second family synod in 12 months was about to witness radical doctrinal change, the synod’s president, French Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, spelled it out at the opening news conference.

“Let me just say something to you about your difficult situation. If you have come to Rome with the idea that you are going to witness a spectacular change in church doctrine, you are going to be disappointed.

“Nor do you need a synod to work that out. All you have to do is listen to the pope’s homilies on the family, week after week at his Wednesday public audiences.”

So strong was the “no change here” line from the Archbishop of Paris that the synod’s special secretary, Msgr Bruno Forte, felt obliged to say later that “the synod has not come together to say nothing”.

Rather, he pointed out, this is “not so much a doctrinal synod as a pastoral synod”.

Communion for the remarried

With regard to the “hot button” issue of communion for the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Vingt-Trois suggested there had been serious misunderstandings. The “reformist” changes in church practice, proposed by “liberal” German Cardinal Walter Kasper, did not in any way imply an “indifferent” or wide scale opening up of “access” to communion, he said.

Asked to respond to a claim by former Irish President Mary MacAleese in Rome last weekend that it was absurd that 300 ageing celibates would come together to discuss the family and issues related to bringing up children, Cardinal Vingt-Trois said: “We’re all members of a family, we live in a framework of natural solidarity with men and women, people who are our relatives, our brothers and sisters, our nephews and nieces, our cousins.

“But we’re not excluded from the family because we are celibates, we are still members of a family.”

Msgr Forte said the synod aimed at promoting “the gospel of the family as the core of pastoral vision”, not least in the context of increasing unions that were not marriages.

He said the style of the synod required “a great openness” and noted Pope Francis had again spoken of “courage, humility, trust and prayer” as key elements of the synod.

“We should not blind our eyes before others, but should be open to the actions of the Holy Spirit in prayer and humility before God and courage before the world,” Msgr Forte said.

The synod’s general rapporteur and primate of Hungary Cardinal Peter Erdo said: “The global distrust of institutions in general is a fundamental issue” for discussion at the synod and referred to the speech by Pope Francis at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg last November where he warned against the dangers of individualism.

“Our vocation is to live in the community of the family,” he said.