By Elise Harris
The document set to guide this year’s synod discussions on the family touches on hot-button issues such as homosexuality and divorced and remarried couples, stressing that mercy is something every family needs from the Church.
“For the Church it’s about starting from the concrete situations of families of today, all are in need of mercy, beginning with those who suffer most,” the document reads.
Published June 23, the document said that although mercy doesn’t break with the essential truths Church teaching is founded on, it could be communicated better, particularly in regards to irregular family situations such as separations, mixed marriages and divorce.
The Church’s role, it says, is to accompany families as Christ did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
“We must give our journey the healthy pace of proximity, with a respectful gaze full of compassion, but which at the same time is healthy, free and encourages one to mature in the Christian life,” the document reads, quoting a speech of Pope Francis.
“To be close to families as a companion on the journey means, for the Church, to assume a wise and diverse attitude…the Church adopts, in an affectionate sharing, the joys and hopes, sorrows and anguishes of every family.”
The working document, or “Instrumentum Laboris,” has been compiled by the Vatican department in charge of organizing the synod to guide this October’s discussions. Divided into three parts, it builds on the final report of last October’s synod, also incorporating suggestions from Church entities like bishops’ conferences and even individuals who freely sent their opinions.
The final instrumentum was reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before its publication, according to a source familiar with the document.
The first part, titled “Listening to the challenges of the family,” focuses mainly on themes surrounding last year’s synod. The second, “Discernment of the family vocation,” and third, “The mission of the family today,” address the themes to be discussed during this year’s discussion.
Set to take place Oct. 4-25, this year’s ordinary synod will reflect on the theme “Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the family” will gather more than 200 Bishops and representatives from all over the world. The conclusions of the gathering will be used by Pope Francis to draft his first Post-Synodal Exhortation, which can be expected in 2016.
Last year’s synod spoke of the need to communicate the Church’s message of mercy more clearly to divorced couples and individuals with homosexual tendencies. This year’s document affirms the need, saying that persons in these situations shouldn’t feel excluded from the Church.
At the beginning of this year’s instrumentum the synod fathers emphasized the indissolubility of marriage, which is a sacrament that has been designed to reflect the love of the Trinity.
“Jesus himself, referring the primitive design of the human couple, reaffirmed the indissolubility of marriage between man and woman, while saying ‘for the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to denounce your wives, but in the beginning it was not so.’”
Marriage indissolubility “is not intended as a ‘yoke’ imposed on men but rather as a gift to the persons united in marriage,” it read.
However, it also stressed the need to express the Church’s mercy in a stronger way to couples who have been divorced and civilly remarried.
Integrating couples in these situations into the life of the Church requires “an attentive discernment and an accompaniment of great respect, avoiding any language or attitude which makes them feel discriminated against and which promotes their participation in the life of the community,” the document says.
To care for such couples “is not a weakening of faith and witness of the indissolubility of marriage for the Christian community, but rather it is precisely in this care that charity is expressed.”
The document stressed that an unsuccessful marriage is “a defeat for everyone,” and that after becoming aware of one’s own responsibility, each person needs to regain confidence and hope. Everyone, it says, “needs to give and receive mercy.”
Also addressed is the debate surrounding access to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, which was one of the most debated issues of last year’s gathering.
In the document it is noted that various opinions have been expressed by synod fathers on the topic, including suggestions to keep the current practice. Others have asked that each individual case be examined, and that couples in special circumstances be allowed to receive the Eucharist after completing a journey of penance and reconciliation guided by the local bishop.
The document emphasizes that the question is still being discussed, and that particular emphasis should be given to the distinction between “objective situations of sin and extenuating circumstances.”
It is also noted that the Church’s message of mercy extends to men and women with homosexual tendencies.
Although “there is no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or establish analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family,” persons with homosexual tendencies, the document says, “ought to be welcomed with respect and delicacy.”
It reiterated that “each person, regardless of their sexual orientation, must be respected in their dignity and welcomed with sensitivity and delicacy, both in the Church and in society.”
However, the document condemned as “unacceptable” the fact that the Church is often pressured by international organizations to support laws allowing same sex “marriage” as a condition for giving financial assistance to poor countries.
Other themes addressed in the document and up for discussion during the October gathering are the pastoral concerns and care for civilly married or cohabiting couples, and the streamlining of the marriage annulment process, which many synod fathers have asked to be “more accessible” and possibly free of cost.
Also addressed was the possibility of globally unified pastoral guidelines for the care of divorced persons, the lack of which has raised “confusion and division” and produced “a burning pain in those who live a failed marriage, (and) who at times feel unfairly judged,” the document said.
The increasing fear of young people to get married, the betterment of the marriage preparation process and the accompaniment of couples in the first years after marriage were also addressed.