ROME — When the Synod of Bishops on the family ends Sunday after an intense two-week debate, attention will likely be focused on how the summit’s big battles are resolved — how much of an opening to same-sex unions remains, and what line is adopted on allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
As the curtain comes down, however, it’s worth remembering that this was a synod on the family, and some participants are worried that several important issues facing family life have been almost afterthoughts: the role of the elderly, for instance, as well as single parenthood, education, sexual abuse, and migration.
In the cornerstone document of the summit, called the Instrumentum Laboris, which was written based on responses to a questionnaire sent out last year by Pope Francis to bishops’ conferences around the world, these issues were part of the mix.
None of them, however, is mentioned in a midterm document released Monday by a drafting committee within the synod. Though that text had no definitive status, it was designed to represent what was said by the prelates during the first week of discussions.
During the second week, the almost 200 bishops, most of whom are presidents of their national bishops’ conferences, were divided into 10 small groups to debate the interim report, suggesting amendments and proposing topics that were left out.
A summary of these discussions was distributed Thursday, and once again, key words such as poverty, elderly, and migration were absent.
Granted, these were both working documents, and these issues might still come up in the conclusions of the synod that will be published after they are voted on Saturday.
So far, however, all signs suggest that many problems raised by laity before the event haven’t really found an echo inside the synod hall.
That neglect has been a concern for many, particularly some of the 12 married couples and other lay experts from around the world who participated in the discussions to provide the prelates a hands-on experience of the challenges they face.
Zelmira Bottini de Rey of Buenos Aires told Crux that some issues were barely present in the documents released by the Vatican so far, but trusts that many of the concerns raised in the small groups will mean that a broader spectrum of issues will be included in the final document.
“Issues such as the abundance of single-parent homes, the role of the extended family and the grandparents, pastoral care of women and families that underwent an abortion have been mentioned in the discussions, but need further attention, precisely so the Church can evangelize from these realities,” she said.
“Hopefully, the final document will be more balanced,” Bottini said.
Ilva Myriam Hoyos Castañeda, a lay expert from Colombia, was invited to talk to the bishops about poverty, childhood, and education.
During a press conference in Rome Friday, she said that these issues were brought up in the small groups repeatedly, with the lay experts making various recommendations that were considered and passed by the bishops.
“We insisted on the need of having these problems included in the final document [because] they affect families all over the world,” she said.
War and immigration
Another topic that hasn’t been thoroughly discussed by the synod, even though it was in the pre-summit document, are the effects of war and immigration on families.
Talking to Catholic News Service Oct. 6, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines said he wanted the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried couples to be debated openly and with goodwill.
But he said his hope was that the bishops would consider the impact of poverty and migration on families and other issues that help or hinder family life.
“One dramatic effect of poverty is migration. De facto, there is separation of couples and separation of parents from their children, but not because they could not stand each, not because there is a breakdown in communication, not because of conflicts,” Tagle said.
According to the United Nations Immigration Agency, by the end of the year, 700,000 people will have asked for asylum in the industrialized countries.
In 2012, the US Department of Homeland Security declared that the United States had more than 11 million illegal immigrants.
During a press conference Oct. 11, Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin admitted that the prelates hadn’t come up with any ideas on what to do about this issue.
Another issue that was virtually forgotten by the two working documents is the elderly, one of the few aspects of the family life Pope Francis has spoken about in the past 3 months.
Pope Francis has mentioned the elderly during some of his daily Masses, when addressing church officials or diplomats, and during his trip to Rio de Janeiro, denouncing a “throwaway culture” attitude toward older people.
On Sept. 28, he headed a celebration of the elderly in the Vatican where he said, “Violence against the elderly is as inhuman as that against children.”
Clergy sexual abuse, the source of suffering and disruption for many families, has been barely discussed, according to Ireland’s Martin.
Martin is seen as a leading reformer on the clerical sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in many parts of the world.
When asked if that topic has come up in the synod, Martin said that a number of bishops “have mentioned it in passing, how it’s made things more difficult for the Church in the task of evangelization on marriage and the family.”
“Obviously in certain countries, the scandals have had an impact on the effectiveness of the Church’s catechism on marriage and the family,” Martin said.
The final report
The final document of the Synod of Bishops is being written by Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő, general relator of the summit; Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte, the synod’s special secretary, and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Vatican’s office for the synod of bishops. It is expected to be presented early next week.
Eight other synod members, with at least one representative from each continent, were additionally assigned to the document’s drafting committee, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl.
The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops that is now coming to an end was called by Pope Francis to lay the groundwork for a year-long discussion to be held by local churches around the world.
The bishops will meet again in October, 2015 to discuss the family and to present a more definitive document to the pontiff. It will up to Francis to decide what to do with the advice.