Following the conclusion of the Third Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, myriad news sources have scrambled to dissect, interpret and clarify the circumstances and results of the gathering of bishops. The Synod, comprised of 253 men and women of the Universal Church, met at the Vatican from Oct. 5-19. It famously analyzed and discussed controversial issues such as homosexuality and the annulment process, thereby attracting media attention and polarizing some “conservative” and “liberal” portions of the Catholic Church.
The Church classifies an “Extraordinary” Synod as such because it addresses “matters which require a speedy solution and demand immediate attention for the good of the entire Church,” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. The Synod on the Family focused on “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” The meeting included not only bishops but 14 married couples to provide a familiar perspective to discussion.
The Synod on the Family marks a change in the Church on several levels. Rev. Richard Malloy, S.J. points to an overall change in tone.
“Synods are usually like an open house. People get up and talk about how great the Church is and all that it’s done,” Malloy said. “This one was more like a faculty meeting. People pointed out problems and viewpoints and argued about them.”
Bishops and laypeople alike drew attention to and discussed issues which affect the Church as a whole and her individual members. At the opening of the Synod, Pope Francis called the participants to speak freely and prayed for the gift of openness. At the closing, Francis celebrated the quality of the dialogue that characterized the Synod.
“I have seen and I have heard — with joy and appreciation — speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia [openness],” Francis said, according to America Magazine.
Transparency also differentiated this Synod from previous gatherings and discussions of the Church. Over the course of the Synod’s two-week duration, Francis and other representatives held daily press briefings, which included no shortage of inquisitive reporters and newscasters. Bishops interacted candidly and frankly with representatives from the press, which led to many surprising comments including Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s assertion that church practice could “obviously” change. The Synod published several documents, including notes, an interim report of the transpiring action at the midpoint and, most significantly, a concluding relatio.
The relatio, published at the conclusion of the Synod, included all 64 paragraphs (or issues) discussed, including those that did not meet the two-thirds majority necessary for a full passage. In addition, the publication included the voting results. One of these paragraphs included the issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Two discussed LGBT members of the Catholic community. Had the publication included only approved portions, these divisive issues would be excluded, but as it is, they are possible topics for the next portion of the discussion.
Bishops will participate in a continuation of the discussion in October 2015. This Synod achieved its goal of introducing issues which the participants will reflect and pray upon throughout the next year. As a part of the process, Philadelphia will host the “World Meeting of Families,” during which Pope Francis may participate in and facilitate a continuation of the familial issues already raised.