ROME — Much has been said during the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family about finding “new language” when it comes to the family; that is, rephrasing Church teaching so that it’s more positive and inclusive. But the argument often has been couched in general terms.
On Monday, one prelate got down to brass tacks, saying that traditional Catholic terms that need to be rethought include:
- The “indissolubility” of marriage
- The “intrinsically disordered” nature of homosexual acts
- Calling divorce and civil remarriage “adultery”
- The old maxim of “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, said that even though each of these phrases transmits “something very important,” they tend to come off as “Church language” that doesn’t always communicate well in contemporary culture.
In the case of the Church calling homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered” and homosexuality itself “objectively disordered,” for instance, he said that way of putting things leads to a “sense of alienation.”
“Can the synod find a language that is in fact positive, less alienating, less excluding?” Coleridge asked.
Speaking to journalists at a Vatican news conference on Monday, Coleridge said that the synod will make no doctrinal changes, but said he expects it’ll leave room for “pastoral creativity.”
On “love the sinner, hate the sin,” Coleridge said the formula has “served us well for a long time.” Today, however, he said many people don’t make that distinction, and there’s a need to find a new way of phrasing the point.
As for adultery, Coleridge argued that “to say that every divorce and remarriage situation is adulterous is perhaps too sweeping.”
On the other hand, Coleridge also said he doesn’t believe there’s strong support inside the synod for the proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion on a case-by-case basis.
The number of synod participants who support it, Coleridge said, “may have dwindled” from last year.
Also at the press conference was Fouad Twal, the Church’s Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who said that issues such as homosexuality, divorce, and cohabitation aren’t at the center of the synod.
“If anything, [they’re] at the bottom,” he said.
The patriarch also said that the bishops have only now begun to discuss these things in their 13 small working groups.
“We know that the problems are many, and we’re conscious of our limits,” Twal said.
Countries in the Middle East, particularly Jordan and Palestine, have many problems, he said, and they are far different from those of the United States and other western nations.
“We don’t even have civil marriage, only a religious one,” he explained. “We have so many other problems.”
Coleridge agreed, recognizing that divorce, homosexuality, and cohabitation are “burning issues” only in certain parts of world, something he learned in his own working group, where he has synod participants that come not only from the West, but also from Africa and Asia.
Italian Bishop Enrico Solmi, also at the press conference, said the bishops aren’t indifferent to difficult situations. He cited an example given by one bishop during the synod’s general assembly last week: That of a young boy who, on the day of his First Communion, broke his host in three and shared it with his divorced and civilly remarried parents, who are barred from receiving the sacrament.
“I must say that this story touched me,” Solmi said. “But from the perspective of my conviction, it hasn’t changed. Communion is present in many forms and ways within the Church.”
Solmi also said he hopes to see the synod becoming “a strong sign for our society and our countries that systematically forget the family.”
“I hope that synod is not merely cosmetic, but that it affects the life of the Church, putting the family back in its rightful place,” he said.