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‘Avoid simply applying doctrine,’ Vatican urges bishops preparing for 2015 family synod

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The Vatican is urging bishops preparing to attend next year’s Synod on the Family to take their cue from October’s Extraordinary Synod and avoid reflections that are “based simply on an application of doctrine.”

In the guideline document, known as the Lineamenta, issued this week by the Synod’s General Secretariat, local Church leaders are told that such an approach “would not respect the conclusions of the Extraordinary Synodal Assembly and would lead their reflection far from the path already indicated.”

The document has been met with concern by many displeased with the direction of this fall’s Synod. Critics have noted that the Lineamenta includes three paragraphs on “irregular” sexual relationships that were rejected by Synod fathers in October.

The document includes the full text of the Synod’s final Relatio, together with a list of 61 questions. According to an accompanying communiqué from the General Secretariat, the questions are intended to “facilitate the reception of the [final Relatio] and examine the themes treated in it.”

The Lineamenta says that bishops are “to be guided by the pastoral approach initiated at the Extraordinary Synod which is grounded in Vatican II and the Magisterium of Pope Francis.”

“Every effort should be made not to begin anew, but to continue on the path undertaken in the Extraordinary Synod as a point of departure,” it adds.

The period of reflection over the next year, is “a matter of re-thinking ‘with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty, the role and the dignity of the family.’”

The version of the final Relatio included in last week’s Lineamenta includes paragraphs on homosexuality, extra-marital cohabitation, and Communion for the divorced-and-remarried that failed to gain the approval of the Synod fathers in October. Despite the reported instructions of the pope, these sections are republished without any notes indicating that they had failed to achieve the required 2/3 majority vote.

The paragraphs, re-numbered in the Lineamenta as 51, 52, and 54, are as follows:

51. The possibility for the divorced and remarried to accede to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist was considered. Several Synod Fathers insisted in favor of the current discipline, in consideration of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church and her teaching on indissoluble marriage. Others expressed themselves in favor of a non-generalized welcoming to the eucharistic table, in certain particular situations and in very specific circumstances, especially in cases that are irreversible and linked to moral obligations towards children who would [otherwise] be subjected to unjust suffering. The eventual access to the sacraments should be preceded by a penitential path under the responsibility of the diocesan Bishop. The matter should still be deepened, taking into consideration the distinction between an objective situation of sin and attenuating circumstances, considering that the "Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified" by several "psychological or social factors." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735)]

52. Some synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons or those living together can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion. Others raised the question as to why, then, they cannot have access to sacramental Communion. As a result, the synod fathers requested that further theological study in the matter with a view to making clear the distinctive features of the two forms and their connection with the theology of marriage.

54. Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with Church teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.” Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.)

In a previous publication of the Relatio by the Vatican, these sections included in parentheses the note, “This paragraph did not reach the required 2/3 of the Fathers,” with the numbers voting for and against them. These notes have been removed in the Lineamenta.

In the weeks following the close of the highly contentious Synod, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a prominent member of the German “liberal” contingent at the Synod who is also a member of Pope Francis’ inner circle, confirmed that it had been the pope who had personally ordered these sections retained in the final Relatio.

Marx, who also serves as the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, said, “I especially asked the pope about that, and the pope said he wanted all the points published together with all the voting results. He wanted everyone in the church to see where we stood.” He added, “This pope has pushed the doors open and the voting results at the end of the synod will not change that.”

However, one Synod father who has attended many such meetings in the past said that retaining sections in a synod’s final Relatio that had been rejected by the bishops’ vote is unprecedented. Such paragraphs in former synods would simply be dropped and never seen again in any subsequent documents, the prelate said.

While it quotes official teaching documents on the inadmissability of the Church approving or accepting same-sex relationships, the Synod’s Relatio crucially omits a discussion of the nature of homosexuality itself. It disregards the paragraphs contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church clarifying that “an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex” is “disordered” by its nature.

The Catechism says that, based on Scripture, the Church regards “homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” adding that they are “intrinsically disordered,” being “contrary to the natural law.”

“They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Lineamenta’s 61 questions for reflection are laid out to correspond with the paragraph numbers of the re-published Relatio. In the case of the three rejected paragraphs, the questions carry on as though these sections are a normal part of the text, again with no note mentioning their rejection by the Synod fathers.

For paragraphs 51 and 52 on admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion, Question 37 asks how the procedures for annulment can be “made more accessible, streamlined and possibly without expense?”

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Question 38 asks, “With regard to the divorced and remarried, pastoral practice concerning the sacraments needs to be further studied, including assessment of the Orthodox practice and taking into account ‘the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances.’”

On homosexuality, the question is number 40, which asks, “How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies?”

“What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate?” it continues. “While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel? How can God’s will be proposed to them in their situation?”

The pro-family Catholic group Voice of the Family said they are “greatly concerned” about the Lineamenta raising questions “that have already been answered by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.”

The document “turns these paragraphs about the divorced and ‘remarried’ into questions to be discussed,” said Maria Madise, who was in Rome during the 2014 Synod and followed it closely.

“Such an approach,” she said, “will cause unnecessary and fruitless confusion about Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.”

Another issue of concern, Madise added, “is that this latest document speaks of ‘sacramental pastoral care’ instead of just ‘pastoral care,’ giving further indication that reception of the Most Holy Eucharist by unrepentant adulterers is clearly the agenda.”

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