Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary
The Synod on the Family in October 2015 had as its focus “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.” Meeting in Rome for a second time in as many years, and following consultation with members of the Church around the world, Bishops came together to consider the challenges facing families and make recommendations for ways to help couples and families live out their vocations.
The final report to the Pope of the Synod on the Family calls for all Catholics to reach out to couples and families and to attempt to understand and help with their needs and struggles. The church’s teaching on the importance and lifelong nature of marriage between a man and a woman has not changed. However, when people are divorced and remarried or living together without being married, the Catholic community should not reject or abandon them or their children. Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the Church are not supposed to receive communion. However, the Synod has said that people in this situation should work closely with their pastors to examine their conscience and their relationship with God. In other words, priests and all Catholics should look on these situations from a pastoral standpoint. How do we walk with them? How do we encourage them?
The Synod recommended that divorced and remarried Catholics should be included in the life of the Church as much as possible, even as lectors, catechists, and godparents. Homosexuals should also be welcomed and treated with equal respect and dignity. Pope Francis encouraged the synod to take this approach which focused more on the person’s own conscience as opposed to focusing exclusively on Church law. What is often hard for us to understand is how it is that someone can be doing something that is objectively wrong,like living together without being married, and yet there may be internal reasons of conscience that keep them in this situation. For example, the couple involved may have come from homes in which there was violence or great unhappiness and the thought of marriage for them means repeating what they suffered as children. Sometimes they see marriage as “only a piece of paper.” Yet these couples often show a great deal of commitment and unconditional love for each other and create a happy home.
Some critics are upset that the synod did not condemn people who are not following the rules, arguing that if you are not harsh with them you are approving the wrong things that they are doing. The pastoral approach recommended by the Pope and long tradition of the Church upholds the ideal of how we should live while helping people to see what God is doing in their lives and where He is leading them.
Two reports provide some highlights:
English translation of the final report: Synod 15 – Final Report of the Synod of Bishops to the Holy Father Francis – 24.10.2015