VATICAN CITY - The first week of the Synod of Bishops on the
family ended with near unanimous calls to be more positive in
describing family life today and to show more appreciation
for Catholic families living close to the church's ideals.
But there were also widespread questions among synod
participants about the work they are expected to produce.
After listening to speeches and working in small groups Oct.
5-8, synod participants listened to the small group reports
"At times our work has seemed more muddled than methodical,"
wrote Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge on behalf of the
synod's English Group C. "Our hope is that focus, if not
perfect clarity, will emerge as the synod unfolds and we
become more assured about both task and method."
During a press briefing Oct. 9, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
of Manila, Philippines, one of the synod presidents, told
reporters that changes in the synod's method created some
confusion, especially for members who have attended past
synods and were accustomed to drawing up a list of
propositions to give to the pope. Instead, they have been
asked to amend the synod's working document.
The speeches in the synod hall the first week and the
discussions in the small groups focused on the first chapter
of the working document; all the small group reports offered
suggestions for improving the text while some criticized it
harshly, saying much of the text was "flawed," "inadequate,
especially in its theology," and too Western-centric.
But the working document is meant to be analyzed and ripped
apart, Cardinal Tagle told reporters.
"In fact it is called a martyred document," the cardinal
said. "It must be ready to be martyred, to be shot. Otherwise
there is no point in calling 300 people (to Rome) just to
say, 'Yes, this is it.'"
The working document includes input from so many different
people that the main aim in drafting it was to get everyone's
opinion in and not to produce "a synthetic, cohesive treatise
on the vocation and mission of the family," said Cardinal
Tagle, who helped draft the text.
The criticism, therefore, was expected and is "very much
welcome," he added.
Almost all the groups insisted whatever document the synod
produced at the end would need to be clear, simple and
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters at
the briefing that his small group called for a text using
understandable words that "inspired and attract."
"If marriage is a vocation, which we believe it is, we can't
promote vocations by talking first about its problems," said
the report of English Group D, chaired by Cardinal Thomas C.
Collins of Toronto with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of
Philadelphia serving as secretary.
Several groups also insisted the document should include more
quotations from Scripture, a clearer reaffirmation of church
teaching and, according to one Italian group, ample citations
from early church theologians.
Cardinal Tagle said even though the text would be rooted in
the Bible, the language used should be "more edifying or
encouraging," and less verbose. There was a recognition that
a final document would have to avoid so-called
"church-speak," especially if it was going to speak to young
people whose formation might not be so sophisticated, he
said. But because it is a work in progress, "We will see what
Another Italian group, Group A, said its members want a
document using "formulas that from the beginning leave no
doubt that the only model of family that corresponds to
church doctrine is that founded on the marriage of one man
and one woman."
Like the other groups, French Group C insisted the synod find
the right language and tone to speak of the family. "There is
a danger in talking about 'family' in the abstract, as a
reality that is external to us," the members said. But, in
fact, the families the bishops are talking about include the
families formed by the bishops' own parents, their brothers
and sisters, cousins and nieces and nephews.
The bishops, the French group wrote, also are people of faith
and pastors; faith in Jesus and concern for people in their
family lives must be clear in what the synod produces.
French Group A said the synod's text "must adopt a tone that
promotes dialogue with our contemporaries."
At the same time, the group reported, "we are aware that
these next two weeks will not be enough" to complete
thoroughly the work the synod has been asked to do.
English Group C agreed. "To address the many issues that we
have discussed will take more than the first week or even the
three weeks of the synod. A longer journey stretches before
us, just as an earlier journey has led us to this point - not
just from late 2013 when Pope Francis announced the journey
of the two synods but from the Second Vatican Council and all
that led to it."
Several groups also urged the synod to discuss "gender
theory," which argues that male and female characteristics
are not biologically determined but are malleable social
Italian Group A said the synod must point out "the risks of
gender ideology as well as its negative impact on educational
programs in many countries."
French Group C explained that sociologists and philosophers
developed gender theories in an attempt "to analyze certain
human and social phenomena to enrich our understanding of the
world. But when these theories become absolute, they tend to
produce a single thought system that tries to sweep away
everything in its path. In seeking to impose a point of view
that denies the relationship between gender and the sexual
being that we are in our bodies," it denies what is "most
noble and humanizing" in the family , parenting and human