Yesterday afternoon, the third day of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family saw contributions about difficult pastoral situations. Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, who chaired this, 6th session of the Synod, said that these are situations there is a “need to be accompanied by the Church, since the people involved in them live experiences of deep wounds to their own humanity, to their relationship with others and with God.” Here, the Church is called to learn the art of accompanying, as Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium (§169) that “this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.”
Cardinal Assis then proceeded to listing the various “difficult pastoral situations” that are mentioned in the Instrumentum Laboris, including cohabitation, civil unions, separation, divorce and same-sex union, and goes on to insisting that:
“Far from locking ourselves into a legalist perspective, we would like to immerse ourselves into the depths of these difficult situations, to welcome all those who are involved in them and so that the Church may be the paternal home where there is room for everyone, with their strenuous lives.”The notes on the following discussion, shared by the Vatican's press office, then show a reiteration of Cardinal Assis' words, saying that:
“the Church is not a customs [checkpoint], but rather the house of the Father, and must therefore offer patient accompaniment to all people, including those who find themselves in difficult pastoral situations. The true Catholic Church encompasses healthy families and families in crisis, and therefore in her daily effort of sanctification must not show indifference in relation to weakness, as patience implies actively helping the weakest.”Applying the above to the divorced and remarried, the Synod Fathers called for an approach rooted in mercy:
“It was strongly emphasised that an attitude of respect must be adopted in relation to divorced and remarried persons, as they often live in situations of unease or social injustice, suffer in silence and in many cases seek a gradual path to fuller participation in ecclesial life. Pastoral care must not therefore be repressive, but full of mercy.”A discussion of the need to streamline processes of declaring the nullity of a marriage and of polygamy followed, after which the Synod Fathers shared experiences and “best practices” of care for divorced and remarried people in the form of “listening groups”:
“It was remarked that it is important to carefully avoid moral judgement or speaking of a “permanent state of sin”, seeking instead to enable understanding that not being admitted to the sacrament of the Eucharist does not entirely eliminate the possibility of grace in Christ and is due rather to the objective situation of remaining bound by a previous and indissoluble sacramental bond. In this respect, the importance of spiritual communion was emphasised repeatedly. It was also commented that there are evident limits to these proposals and that certainly there are no “easy” solutions to the problem.”This model of “listening groups” and, more generally, of listening, was also emphasised with regard to homosexual people.
Like all the sessions of the Synod, this morning's, 7th one also started with a testimony by a married couple. Arturo and Hermelinda As Zamberline from Brazil also spoke about the importance of a Christian understanding of sexuality and its role as an expression of love between husband and wife:
“The sexual act is rightful, loved and blessed by God, and the pleasure derived from it contributes to the joy of living and the healthy development of personality. It is the expression of love, which in the beginning may be passion, but which should gradually become more human. Couples who make love are expressing with their bodies what is in their hearts. To reach harmony, it is necessary to develop one's desire and even a wholesome eroticism. It is necessary to stay passionate and attentive to each other.The notes on the following discussions then start by reporting a re-affirmation of the doctrine on marriage, emphasising:
How sexuality is lived is very important so that humans become ever more human. Father Caffarel [Founder of the Teams of Our Lady, whose members the Zamberlines are] proposes a fascinating journey: from sexuality to love. The couple is where the three functions of sexuality are expressed: its relational function, its pleasurable function and its reproductive function. The couple grows by combining these three dimensions in a balanced way.
Sexuality is lived in relation with others and with God. It's called become a language of love, communion and life.”
“the indissoluble nature of marriage, without compromise, based on the fact that the sacramental bond is an objective reality, the work of Christ in the Church. Such a value must be defended and cared for through adequate pre-matrimonial catechesis, so that engaged couples are fully aware of the sacramental character of the bond and its vocational nature.”This was immediately followed by reiterating that “Pastoral care must not be exclusive, of an “all or nothing” type but must instead be merciful, as the mystery of the Church is a mystery of consolation.” A re-statement of the position with regard to same-sex unions then followed: “while emphasising the impossibility of recognising same sex marriage, the need for a respectful and non-discriminatory approach with regard to homosexuals was in any case underlined.”
The first part of the mooring session concluded with a return to the importance of language:
“so that the Church may involve believers, non-believers and all persons of good will to identify models of family life that promote the full development of the human person and societal wellbeing. It was suggested that the family should be spoken of using a “grammar of simplicity” that reaches the heart of the faithful.”The theme of the second part of the morning session was openness to life, where:
“responsible parenthood was considered, emphasising that the gift of life (and the virtue of chastity) are basic values in Christian marriage, and underlining the seriousness of the crime of abortion. At the same time, mention was made of the numerous crises experienced by many families, for instance in certain Asian contexts, such as infanticide, violence towards women and human trafficking. The need to highlight the concept of justice among the fundamental virtues of the family was underlined.”During the press conference at lunchtime, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of of Gatineau, Quebec, made the following, very illuminating observation:
“In the Church there is a method of thinking and of reasoning that tends to start from principles and lead to conclusions [...] the deductive method. And what's happening within this Synod is we are seeing a more inductive way of reflecting. Starting from the true situations of people and trying to figure out what's going on there. In a sense, finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source, a place of theological reflection. Maybe a funny way of saying this is that we are learning to use the Harvard “case study” method in reflecting theologically on the lives of people. And we are only starting to learn how to do this as Church leaders. This is going to take time to learn and together to come to find, as we reflect on this, what is the way God is showing. In this sense, many voices are saying there is no kind of line that we will apply to all conditions because each person is a human person. Jesus did not meet general cases; Jesus met individuals. And he addressed individuals. And, so, for us it is to reflect on how do we do this as a Church, within the Church.”