My Comments first: Below you can read Vatican Radios summary so far of the discussions of this preliminary Synod on the Family. Thus far this is only a discussion and no firm pastoral changes codified by the pope will take place until after next year's actual Synod on the Family makes pastoral recommendations to the Pope. But change is in store in terms of the Magisterium's tone and style of presenting the moral teachings of the Church and is in line with much of the pastoral theology I was thought in the 1970's which moves away from rigorous and rigidity to pastoral workers being like medical personnel treating people in a gradual way that leads to salvation, thus taking each "patient's" pulse and seeing what is possible and not possible at any given time.
Here is my take on the summary below my comments:
1. This will be a bombshell for some nations but not for western nations such as the USA which have already incorporated much of this pastoral approach since the 1970's.
2. It presumes that people don't instantly make regular their sinful situations but only gradually over time, what is called "graduality." Pope Benedict noted this when he spoke of a man with aides using a condom to product his partners (I think in the context of gay sex) and that this was a sign of moral growth this desire on one hand to not spread his disease while on the other hand in a sinful context.
3. It also presumes that we not be voyeurs in a voyeuristic culture. In the past most of us did not jump to conclusions or kept our conclusions to ourselves if we knew of same sex couples who were roommates. We were happy to leave it at that. All my life as a lay Catholic and now as a priest, I have known of these situations and I was happy to leave it at that and not think about their sex lives at home if there was one. Even in the pre-Vatican II Church we saw roommates receiving Holy Communion. People make these decisions and they will be judged at their personal judgment for any sins they committed and any pastoral solutions reached in the privacy of their conscience and hopefully in consultation with the Church's pastoral ministry.
4. What is novel from the Magisterium's point of view, at least even the discussion of it thus far, is that we see the bishops acknowledging that there can be good in sinful situations, such as Pope Benedict did with his condom comment. So a gay couple who might be actively gay are actually in love, not just sex hogs, and take care of one another, support one another and when one or the other is sick, they stand by each other. The same with some cohabitating couples and those in marriages not recognized by the Church. Shouldn't pastoral workers work with the good while acknowledging the sin too?
Here is the Vatican's Summary. It is a bit of a bombshell and yes there will be concern. But folks this is how it has been working in the USA now for more than 40 years. Nothing new here except that we are hearing it from the Vatican and in a somewhat open forum. For some Europeans and for Africans this will be a bombshell but not for most American Catholics:
Following the announcement the General Rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdő, presented the mid-term report outlining the main questions highlighted over the past week of General Congregations which will now be examined in by the bishops, fraternal delegates, auditors and experts in the ‘minor circles’ or small working groups.
Cardinal Erdő began by highlighting that the Synod Fathers spoke of how Jesus looked at men and women with love, accompanying them patiently and with mercy. He spoke of how Jesus Christ, "the Truth, became incarnate in human fragility not to condemn it, but to heal it”. Jesus – he said - taught marriage was indissoluble, but showed understanding of those who didn't live up to this ideal.
In the mid-term report the Synod Fathers speak of how it's the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. They appeal to the "law of graduality," as a reflection of the way God reached out to humanity and led His people forward step by step.
The need was noted for further reflection on whether sacramental fullness doesn't exclude the possibility of recognizing positive elements even in imperfect forms. For example, whether there are positive elements in irregular marriages. The Synod Fathers make the point that when a civil marriage is stable, shows deep affection and care for children, then the Church should work to accompany it toward Sacramentality.
Card. Erdő spoke of the need for a missionary conversion, that the Church cannot stop at an announcement that is merely theoretical, but must go beyond. Christian marriage has to be a vocational decision taken with the proper preparation in an itinerary of faith. This because the Gospel of the family is the response to the deepest expectations of a person.
In the report the Synod Fathers state that the Church is particularly called to recognize suffering of abandoned spouses and how children are the real victims of family breakups.
Many synod members expressed the need for reformed, simplified procedures for annulments . Card. Erdő spoke of how this annulment reform will require diocesan bishops to take on new responsibilities and perhaps delegate a specially trained priest.
Regarding divorced and divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, the report speaks of the need for "courageous pastoral choices” and “new pastoral paths”. The report calls for case-by-case discernment according to law of graduality, particularly regarding access to the Sacraments. Card. Erdő said dialogue on this topic will continue in local Churches over the coming year and responses will be brought to next years Synod.
The report noted that the question of cohabitation might indicate commitment-phobia, but also a choice that is taken "while waiting for a secure existence” such as a steady job and income.
The question of homosexuality was then addressed, with a call to serious reflection. The Synod Fathers noted that homosexual persons have gifts and talents to offer the Christian community and that pastoral outreach to them is an important educative challenge.
In the report, the Synod Fathers also reaffirm that same-sex unions cannot be considered equal to matrimony. And it is unacceptable 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.
Finally, stating that openness to new life is essential part of married love, the Synod Fathers affirm the message of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae regarding the need to respect dignity of person in moral evaluation of methods of birth control.
Concluding his presentation of the mid-term report, Card. Erdő said that in imitating Jesus' merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters marked by wounded and lost love.
Find the full text of the Midterm Report at Vatican Radio by pressing HERE.