Pope will have last word

Synod on the Family

 

For those Catholics who hoped the Synod on the Family in Rome might usher in change where the church’s approach to women and gay people, as well as the divorced and civilly remarried were concerned, its report last Saturday was dispiriting. For those of a more traditional outlook it was welcome relief which, for now, indicates that the barque of Peter remains on the path laid for it by the late Pope St John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

However, this is something of an uneasy position as conservative Catholics, including bishops who took part in the synod, retain feelings of deepening anxiety where the papacy is concerned. They await with some trepidation a follow-on apostolic exhortation in which Pope Francis, who is not bound by the outcome of the synod, will set out his agenda.

During five weeks of deliberation, the bishops addressed topics related to the family such as domestic violence, poverty, interfaith marriages, widows and also migrants and those persecuted for their religion. Their final report spoke of women’s “involvement in decision-making”, stood firm in opposition to same-sex marriage, and urged cohabiting couples to seek “the fullness of marriage and the family”. Some saw change in relation to access to the sacraments for the divorced and civilly remarried. But that interpretation is already contested by conservatives.

The achievement of the synod, however, was its success as a more inclusive way of working. It began with questionnaires sent to families worldwide and concluded with many meetings of 13 language-based small discussion groups of bishops this month. The open debate on real issues, as encouraged by Pope Francis, required new methodology to find agreement without settling for division or the lowest common denominator.

Fifty years on from the establishment of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Paul VI, it appears – finally – to be moving towards shared governance of the church with the pope; such collegiality as was envisaged by the Second Vatican Council. Time, and Pope Francis, will confirm whether this is so.

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