As members of the Synod of Bishops concluded work on the second of three chapters in their working document, they continued to call for a tone and for language that is clear, simple and encourages people to see it is possible to live the vocation of marriage and family life.
At the same time, most of the synod’s 13 working groups — formed according to language — asked for a greater use of Scripture in the synod’s text, including examples of holy couples and Jesus’s interactions with a variety of family members such as parents who asked him to heal their children.
Two groups said the working document, which they are amending and planning to give to Pope Francis, does not contain a concise definition of marriage. “This is a serious defect,” said English Group D, led by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto.
The focus of small group work on October 10-13 was the section of the working document entitled, The Discernment of the Family Vocation, which included a summary of the biblical vision of the family, ways families strengthen their faith and the role the family plays within the church.
At least two groups said the Church needed an in-depth treatise on the Christian understanding of marriage and family life. French Group A, led by Canadian Cardinal Gerald LaCroix of Quebec, said such a document would be impossible for the synod to draft in three weeks, so the synod’s task should be to offer reflections on “the most salient and urgent aspects” of Catholic teaching.
Spanish Group A, led by Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, said sometimes it appears that the Catholic Church has a theology of marriage, but not of the family and “it also seems that we limit ourselves to repeating obvious things, but lack key, driving ideas.”
English Group A, led by Australian Cardinal George Pell, said the Church benefited from past synods through the apostolic exhortations the Pope would write afterward; synod officials have said it is not known whether Pope Francis will write one based on this synod. Whatever comes out of the synod, the group said, should use “streamlined, attractive language” while having as its primary concern “the clarity of well-grounded explanations of church teaching.”
French Group A asked the 10-member committee appointed to draft the synod’s final document to take care not to continually “interrupt” the text with references to the indissolubility of marriage “as if that were our only concern.”
On the theme of indissolubility, most of the groups insisted the text must present the lifelong marriage bond as the blessing that it is and not as a burden.
The chapter, said French Group C, led by Bishop Maurice Piat of Port Louis, Mauritius, should help people listen to what the Church teaches about the family in the light of Scripture. “We believe that this word meets the deepest longings of the human heart thirsting for love and mercy,” and it can bring healing.
English Group B, chaired by British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, suggested that in presenting the “divine pedagogy” or the revelation of God’s plan for the family, the document “begin with Genesis, which already provides a definition of marriage as a unique union between a man and a woman, so total and intimate that because of it a man must leave his father and mother in order to be united with his wife. This account of the creation of marriage presents also the three basic characteristics of marriage as it was in the beginning — monogamy, permanence and equality of the sexes.”
The group said that the Church can understand its ministry “as mirroring God’s patience and mercy” only by understanding God’s original plan for marriage and family life and how he continually attempted to bring people back to it.
Spanish Group A said it is important to acknowledge the gradual way “God communicates the grace of the covenant” to each person and community through “correcting, accompanying and forgiving.”
Speaking to reporters later, Cardinal Nichols said the relationship between mercy and justice is a theme attracting special attention.
Using Pope Francis’ document declaring the year of mercy, he said, helps avoid “the temptation which has been around all this year … that somehow there is a conflict between justice and mercy and that somehow mercy always as it were replaces justice.”
It is “a profound misunderstanding” of mercy to tell people, “It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s fine,” the cardinal said.
The relationship of mercy and justice also was the first topic dealt with in the German Group’s report to the synod assembly. “Mercy and truth, grace and justice are not in opposition because God is love and his is the mercy with which we are made just,” the group’s report said.
The German group includes Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, a theologian known for his work on mercy and for his suggestion that the synod find a way to allow some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion even without an annulment of their sacramental marriage.
“It’s important to remember who is in that group,” Cardinal Nichols told reporters, “and I think it’s important for you to know that every resolution of that group and this report were accepted unanimously in that group. There was no tension or division of opinion in that German-speaking group.”
Several groups urged a stronger mention of marriage as a vocation like priesthood and consecrated life and an acknowledgment that strong families are the “seedbed” of strong vocations to all three.
Spanish Group B, led by Mexican Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, said its members “felt that there are significant absences or few references in this part (of the document) on issues like chastity and virginity, holiness and spirituality of the family.”