What Is the Synod Saying?
The synod will last two weeks and has already completed its first week. The document released yesterday is an interim report on the first week of the meetings. It is not a teaching document, but rather an outline to be used by the synod discussion groups moving forward.
The official report will be issued after the synod, and we must understand that even this will just be a set of recommendations. Nothing in doctrine or otherwise will change as a result, even though some of the recommendations may sound like that is the case. It is advisory. Period.
Some in the media and in the Church have created a few misconceptions about what the bishops have actually said. This is why we must examine their own words. The first question deals with divorced and remarried Catholics. The interim report states:
Jesus Himself, referring to the primordial plan for the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between man and woman, while understanding that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt 19:8). In this way, He shows how divine condescension always accompanies the path of humanity, directing it towards its new beginning, not without passing through the cross.
Further, the report says:
Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages, and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.
In the same way the situation of the divorced who have remarried demands a careful discernment and an accompaniment full of respect, avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against. For the Christian community looking after them is not a weakening of its faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but rather it expresses precisely its charity in its caring.
In other words, it is clear that the synod does not approve of the remarriage of Catholics, which is of course a doctrine of the Church, but rather it expresses the need for us as individuals to always and in every case treat human persons with charity, even if their lives are broken and shattered by a previous divorce.
The document, however, does NOT say that such individuals are welcome to receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist.
On the subject of homosexuality, the document is again quite clear in what the synod does and does not support. Under the headline “Welcoming homosexual persons” the document states:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: It appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.
Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
The document reiterates two fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church which are biblical in nature. The first is that we always and in every case love the sinner but hate the sin. This doctrinal teaching of the Church is not changing. And those who have treated homosexual persons in vile and uncharitable ways are called to rethink the negativity in favor of imitating Christ.
The second teaching of the Church that this interim report repeats is that the “union” of homosexual couples is not in accord with Catholic teaching. However, the document makes clear, once again, that even in such cases, charitable and thoughtful treatment of the human persons involved must be rendered to them. After all, we must treat others as Christ would have treated them. This is our duty as faithful Catholics.
As the synod moves forward into the second week, let us pray for the bishops and the Holy Father. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to open their eyes so that they may teach with love and doctrinal authenticity.