A dramatic Vatican Synod of Bishops on the family ended Oct. 18 with what Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis called a “compromise document,” reflecting a spirited internal debate over the preceding two weeks over several major issues pertaining to the family and sexual morality.
Although each of the document’s 62 paragraphs was endorsed by a majority of the roughly 190 bishops present, the two most controversial points — concerning a greater welcome for gays and lesbians, and Communion for Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church — fell short of the two-thirds threshold that is generally taken at Vatican meetings to reflect consensus.
Another two paragraphs suggesting there are positive elements in relationships that fall short of the Catholic ideal, such as couples living together outside of marriage, also attracted a large number of dissenting votes.
It’s difficult to know in each case how many of the “no” votes came from conservative prelates objecting to even a slight opening, and how many came from progressives protesting what they saw as a retreat from bolder language contained in an interim report released Oct. 13.
Because this document is a guide to reflection ahead of a larger synod on the family set for 2015, nothing in it was either “accepted” or “rejected” by the bishops.
However, the division revealed in the voting on these key paragraphs offers a strong indication of where the fault lines were at this meeting — and, perhaps, where they’ll be next time.
The following are translated excerpts from those paragraphs, along with the vote totals for each. [Note: Since bishops could abstain from voting on particular paragraphs, the total number of votes in each case may not always be the same.]
Divorce and Remarriage
Paragraph 52: “Some fathers insisted in favor of the present discipline, on the basis of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the church and its teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Others expressed themselves [in favor] of a non-generalized welcome to the Eucharistic table, in some situations and under very precise conditions, above all when it’s a matter of irreversible cases bound by moral obligations towards children … An eventual access to the sacraments would have to be preceded by a penitential path under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop. The question still needs further study, taking account of the distinction between an objective situation of sin and attenuating circumstances …”
Paragraph 55: “Some families live the experience of having persons with a homosexual orientation. In that regard it was asked what pastoral attention is appropriate facing this situation, referring to what the church teaches: ‘There does not exist any basis for assimilating or making analogies, however remote, between homosexual unions and the design of God for marriage and the family.’ Nonetheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy. ‘In their regard, every trace of unjust discrimination is to be avoided.’ (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ‘Considerations regarding Projects of Legal Recognition of Unions among Homosexual Persons,’ 4).”
Positive Values in ‘Irregular’ Unions
Paragraph 41: “While it continues to announce and promote Christian matrimony, the synod also encourages pastoral discernment of the situations of many who do not live this reality. It is important to enter into pastoral dialogue with such persons in order to identify the elements of their life that can lead to a greater opening to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness. Pastors must identify elements that can favor evangelization and human and spiritual growth. A new sensibility of contemporary pastoral care consists in collecting the positive elements in civil marriage and, given the necessary distinctions, in living together.”
Paragraph 25: “In order for a pastoral approach to persons who have contracted civil matrimony, who are divorced and remarried, or who simply live together, it’s up to the Church to reveal to them the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and to help them reach the fullness of God’s plan for them. Following the gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every person … the church turns with love towards those who participate in its life in an incomplete way, recognizing that the grace of God also works in their lives giving them the courage to do good, to take loving care of one another and to be of service to the community in which they live and work.”