The 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family has wrapped up its work and the bishops have voted on a final document to be given to Pope Francis. In the past three weeks, 270 cardinals, archbishops, and priests from around the world, joined by lay observers, have discussed and debated a host of issues, including letting divorced and civilly remarried couples return to Communion, using less harsh language in reference to gays and lesbians as well as couples living together outside of marriage, preparing couples better for the challenges of married life, and supporting them more during marriage.
The vote totals below don’t add up 270 because five prelates did not attend the voting, and others abstained from various sections.)
Divorced and civilly remarried Catholics
Section 84. The first section on the divorced and remarried was adopted by a vote of 187-72.
While not advocating that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should receive Communion, the bishops nonetheless declared that the Church should figure out whether they can be included in any elements of Church life from which they are now excluded.
They also said that they should be more integrated into the life of the Church and not made to feel that they have been excommunicated — not only for their sake, but for the sake of their children.
“They are baptized, they are brothers and sisters, and the Holy Spirit pours out gifts and charisms on them for the good of all,” the bishops wrote. “….taking care of these people is not a weakness in its own faith and its witness as to the indissolubility of marriage; indeed, the Church expresses its own charity through this care.”
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Section 85. The second section on the divorced and remarried was adopted by a vote of 178 to 80.
When deciding how much to integrate remarried Catholics into Church life, the bishops said consideration must be given to the fact that both parties in a divorce may not be equally to blame, and that the fallout from a divorce may not be the same in all cases.
The Church should follow the “complex criterion” set out by Pope Saint John Paul II in understanding the difference between Catholics who tried to save their first marriage but were abandoned, and those who destroyed the marriage “through a grave fault.”
Some Catholics, they pointed out, remarried for the sake of their children. But they should ask themselves how they treated their kids when their marriage started breaking apart, how hard they tried to reconcile, how their second marriage has affected their family, and whether they are truly setting a good example for young couples contemplating marriage.
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Section 86. The second section on the divorced and remarried was adopted by a vote of 190 to 64.
How to figure out how divorced/remarried Catholics can participate more fully in the Church? They should have an “internal forum,” or private conversation, with their priest, who will help them understand their situation and what steps they can take.
Over the years, advocates of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion often have suggested that permission could be given through the “internal forum,” meaning a private exchange with a priest or a bishop, so the reference to the internal forum could be read as encouraging that view, likely explaining why it drew among the highest number of “no” votes of any section of the report.
As written, however, it’s not entirely clear that receiving Communion is the form of “fuller participation in the life of the Church” to which the paragraph refers.
Gays and lesbians
Section 76. The section on homosexual unions was approved by a vote of 221-37.
The bishops strongly rejected the notion of same-sex marriages, declaring that they are not “even remotely analogous” to straight unions. But they also reiterated Church teaching that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, must be treated with dignity and respect and not subjected to “unjust discrimination.”
They said local churches shouldn’t be pressured on the question of same-sex marriage, nor should international aid organizations make the acceptance of gay unions a condition of their financial help to poor nations.
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Section 70. The section on unmarried couples living together was approved by a vote of 231-47.
The bishops acknowledged that some couples live together for financial reasons, sometimes while waiting for a more stable job and steady income, because “getting married is perceived as a luxury,” and many eventually ask for a church wedding. Others simply reject “the values of marriage and family.”
Whatever the situation, the Church should approach it constructively, and look to turn it into an opportunity to point couples to “the fullness of marriage and the family.”
Section 27. The section on women was approved by a vote of 251 to 9.
Women the world over face discrimination, the bishops declared, and their dignity must be defended and promoted. Sometimes motherhood is penalized; in some places, sterility is punished.
Women too often are victims of violence, especially within their own families, the bishops said, adding that sometimes this violence is in the form of abortion or forced sterilization. They also decried the use of artificial insemination and surrogacy.
The bishops called on husbands to assume a larger share of family responsibilities, and suggested that “the desire for a child at any cost has not resulted in happier or stronger family relations, but in many cases has actually exacerbated the inequality between women and men.”
Finally, they called on the Church itself to involve more women in decision-making and in the leadership of some Church institutions.