In February 2014, Bishop Lynch published the results of a Vatican survey on the family. Unlike the vast majority of the US bishops, Bishop Lynch had opened up the survey to broad participation by the faithful of our dioceses. More than 7,000 people responded to the survey’s questions about matters that are important to family life in our modern day. I reported on the Bishop’s summary of our responses earlier in the year, but a short summary would perhaps be helpful.
In part, the people of our diocese responded:
- There was very strong support for the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman.
- The Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.
- An adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
- Something needs to be done to reconcile and welcome back the divorced and remarried beyond the present annulment process.
On Sunday morning October 5th, Pope Francis opened an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. His opening remarks to the gathered bishops was about Synod assemblies: they “are meant… to help God realize his dream, his loving plan for his people.” The Pope emphasized the potential for this entire synod process to be a major turning point for the Church, when he told them that “the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.” He made clear to them that over the two weeks of meetings the bishops could help realize “God’s dream” for his people or “thwart that dream.”
While on Pilgrimage in Italy last month, by happy circumstance I was able to have breakfast with our Minister General of the OFM Order, Mike Perry, someone I have known since my days in Kenya. Fr. Mike hoped that at the end of the Synod there would be transparency, conversations would not be prematurely closed off or decided too quickly, there would be honest dialogue, and the response would be pastoral. I think Fr. Mike would be happy with the results so far.
Since the close of the Synod, Catholic news, internet, and general newspapers have been filled with what happened, didn’t happen, and how to understand it. I would defer to folks far more insightful than me about the manner in which all this will play out. The “relatio” (or report) published at the close of the Synod, serves as a starting point for a larger Synod gathering in October 2015. Just as Bishop Lynch operated with great transparency, the relatio was also presented with great transparency, including even sections that did not win the necessary votes for complete approval. Pope Francis asked to have all of the paragraphs presented in the “final” report, even those that failed to win the majority needed for full passage (a two-thirds majority). Among the paragraphs not receiving adequate votes where two; one dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics, the other with LGBT Catholics. Additionally, the Pope asked that the voting results be shown alongside all the paragraphs, which were voted on separately. This is a transparency unheralded in episcopal, curial, and papal deliberations.
In his closing address, Pope Francis asked the bishops to continue the dialogue without being trapped by a “hostile inflexibility” to the movement of the Spirit of compassion or a “deceptive mercy [that] binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them.” The Pope also reminded them that in the end it was the “Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque [church]” – calling them to go forward with a heart transparent to the workings of the Spirit.
Perhaps the “victory” all perspectives can claim is a victory for transparency