Opinion: A Yes Nod to
The Synod of Bishops on the Family had hardly concluded last Sunday, and
both “conservative” and “liberal” camps raced to express their
dissatisfaction over its balanced outcome. But this rejection from both
camps is probably a good sign. It literally captures the Church being a
“sign of contradiction” – that is a good thing.
Vatican II was also rejected by liberals and conservatives. Conservatives
rejected it outright. The liberals’ rejection of Vatican II came in the form
of abusing and perverting it.
But that Vatican II was a gift to the Church and came at just the moment it
was needed in history is a no-brainer. It has been affirmed as such by popes
who are saints or saintly, beginning with Saint John XXIII all the way to
Pope Francis himself. We lay people only need to remember that it was
through Vatican II that the universal call to holiness took real traction.
If not for Vatican II, we would still be languishing in our status as second
class citizens for sainthood.
So the controversy surrounding the results of the Synod on the Family is not
new, not surprising, and should not be cause for concern. The important
thing is that the Synod, as Vatican II, has confirmed the perennial
teachings of the Church, this time on marriage and family. Moreover, through
this Synod, the Church has shown to the world, yet more deeply, a truth she
has always taught and practiced from the beginning: the primacy of mercy.
Mercy, as Pope Francis suggests in the document that established the Year of
Mercy, begins with the “opening of our heart.” And indeed, this Synod has
fearlessly manifested this openness of the Church’s heart that began with
Vatican II. In the words of Vatican Radio, more than breaking new
theological grounds, the Synod showcased the Church’s “new, more inclusive
way of working, which began with the questionnaires sent out to families
around the world and concluded with the intense small group discussions
inside the Synod Hall.”
Lest that last sentence give the jitters to some faithful, here’s the
antidote: the word “inclusive” there was understood in a very Catholic way
by the Synod Fathers. The upshot is that the phrases with the most unanimity
in the final document on the Synod focused on the Synod Father’s union with
the Pope, on reaffirming the family as “school of humanity” and “foundation
of society,” the importance of grandparents in the family, and the necessity
of sacraments in marriage. In others words, “inclusivity” begins with being
“rooted within” the very Church Magisterium articulated by Pope Francis in
the months leading up to the Synod.
Yet even the most contested phrases (84 – 86), which centers on the divorced
and the remarried are hardly a source of concern. Indeed, they only
highlight even further that the Church really is a Mother of Mercy; and
this, despite and perhaps, precisely by, being faithful to her own
These paragraphs emphasize that the divorced and the remarried “are
baptized, they are brothers and sisters…” and thus, “must be more integrated
into the Christian communities in the diverse ways possible, avoiding every
occasion of scandal.” As well, “it's therefore the responsibility of pastors
to accompany the persons concerned on a path of discernment according to the
teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.”
But it’s not as if the paragraphs are just handing out Kleenex for drying
tears. Instead, they hold up the divorced and the remarried to a serious
degree of responsibility by asking them to make an examination of conscience
on "how they behaved toward their children when the marriage entered into
crisis; … what the situation is for the abandoned partner; … what example
this offers to the youth who must prepare for marriage." This is tough love,
a characteristic of all good parents.
One sentence, in my opinion, shone above all: “For the Christian community,
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.” This is “caritas in veritate” (charity
in truth) in all its splendor.
If one asked how the final document achieved this level of charity, the
answer would be within the Synod itself. A venerable professor of my
university, who was present in the Synod proceedings as a consultor, told me
that he was particularly impressed at the charity that he saw among the
bishops. One anecdote he narrated illustrates this. “A Brazilian bishop made
a proposal that did not get sufficient votes. When an Argentinian bishop’s
better proposal was then accepted, he said to the former, ‘If you want I can
integrate your idea with mine.’”
Equally moving, as well, he said, was the reminder (later incorporated) from
bishops who had suffered much under communist rule “to speak of the mystery
of the Cross as the basis and source of all Christian life in families” for
through it “difficulties and sufferings in family life are transformed into
acts of love.” He even added that a Jesuit provost who was in the
Philippines for some years spoke to him of the joy we have in our country, a
joy rooted in the family.
So for all the reported “inside stories” of machinations and strife, we now
know there are also untold stories of joy and hope. Perhaps, then, amidst
the suggestions that the Synod of Bishops only left the Church in confusion,
there is reason to believe, instead, that it happened was quite a good
Robert Z. Cortes is a Filipino PhD student in Social Institutional
Communication at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, Rome. He has an
M.A. in Ed. Leadership from Columbia University, N.Y.