ROME — During a recent Vatican summit, the top official at the Synod of Bishops stirred controversy by reportedly telling participants they should not be “shocked” by theologians questioning Church teaching on matters such as marriage and family life.
Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri also reportedly said that if the aim of the synod is simply to repeat established Church teaching and discipline, then it would be “senseless” to hold it.
An anti-abortion group called Voice of the Family issued a statement Jan. 25 objecting that Baldisseri’s comments “further undermined church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage” and created “confusion.”
To date, Baldisseri has not responded.
The comments were not in Baldisseri’s prepared text for the Jan. 22-24 meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, but reportedly came in a Q&A session with participants.
The meeting was part of the run-up to the next Synod of Bishops in October, where hot-button matters such as homosexuality, couples living together outside of marriage, and Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics are expected to be on the table.
In his prepared remarks, Baldisseri, who serves as secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, said families that follow “the path indicated by Christ” are called to help those who do not enjoy the “fullness of Christian marriage.”
He also called for Catholic lay movements to suggest possible solutions to sensitive issues concerning the family.
Addressing 500 members of more than 80 lay movements from 28 countries and all the continents who were gathered in Rome for a Vatican-sponsored workshop, Baldisseri invited them to deepen the family’s vocation and mission, while considering the situation of the faithful who, living irregular marital situations, wish to participate more fully in the life of the Church.
He noted that the bishops participating in the synod have repeatedly stressed that Catholic families graced by the sacrament of marriage are called to be active subjects of family ministry.
According to Baldisseri, families have to explore the results of the Extraordinary Synod and contribute in the search for pastoral courageous choices, in particular in caring for wounded families.
Last October, the first of two Synods of Bishops on the Family was held in Rome; the second and final one will take place the same month this year. Pope Francis called for what’s known as an Extraordinary Synod to define the status quaestionis (current situation) and to collect the bishops’ experiences and proposals.
“It’s necessary that we keep in mind the situations of those faithful who, while living irregular marriage situations, wish to participate more fully in the life of the church and are willing to engage seriously in a progressive path,” Baldisseri said.
He stressed that, even though the members of the synod kept in mind the concrete situations of different people, they had also clearly reaffirmed the elements of the sacrament of marriage: indissolubility, unity, loyalty, and procreativity (meaning openness to life and thus rejecting contraception).
One way to contribute to the discussion, Baldisseri said, is by answering a questionnaire sent out by the synod’s secretary to dioceses around the world and to send it to Rome through local bishops’ conferences.
“We believe that this period between the two synods is the most important,” Baldisseri said.
Speaking with Italian news agency ANSA on Thursday, the cardinal also said that while they wait for bishops’ conferences to reply to the questionnaire, “there are study groups at different levels here in Rome that will tackle the most sensitive issues, above all those that did not achieve the qualified majority.”
Of the 62 articles of the Synod’s final document, two didn’t get a two-thirds vote — one on being more welcoming toward gays and lesbians, and the other on divorce and remarriage.
A document setting the table for the discussion in the synod, called an instrumentum laboris, is expected to be released in June.