Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis holds his first General Audience following his Apostolic Journey to Asia, a number of new appointments at the Vatican and a look ahead at upcoming Salt and Light events.
With the Synod of Bishops wrapped up this week was rather quiet at the Vatican. One surprise did arrive: the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will be visiting Turkey at the end of November.
He will fly to Ankara on November 28, where he will meet with government officials. From there he continues on to Istanbul where he will stop at the Haiga Sofia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (known as the “Blue Mosque”). While in Istanbul Pope Francis will take part in an ecumenical prayer service and celebrate a Divine Liturgy. In between he will meet privately with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
In a talk to the Orientale Lumen Foundation the pope said his visit to Turkey and his meeting there with Patriarch Bartholmew is a sign of hte profound ties that unite Rome and Constantinople, and the mutual desire to overcome the obstacles that separate the two churches.
Also this week the Vatican released the schedule of liturgical celebrations that the Pope Francis will take part in during the month of November:
November 1 – Solemnity of All Saints
Pope Francis will celebrate Mass at Rome’s Verano cemetery
November 2 – All Souls
Pope Francis will hold a prayer service in the Vatican Grottoes to remember all the faithful departed
Pope Francis will preside at a Mass to remember all the cardinals and bishops who died in the past year
November 23 – Solemnity of Christ the King
Pope Francis will celebrate Mass at 10:30 am in St. Peter’s square to canonize six new saints:
Giovanni Antonio Farina
Kuriakose Elias Chavara of the Holy Family
Ludovico da Casoria
Nicola da Longobardi
Eufrasia Eluvathingal of the Sacred Heart
Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis beatifies Paul VI, the closing of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, a look at the various documents and speeches coming out of the meetings, we talk to a number of bishops after the Synod and a Consistory is held to name two new saints as well as look at the problems in the Middle East.
Here’s what’s been going on in the church in Canada this week:
National events have been obscured by the Synod of Bishops in Rome. Archbishop Paul Andre Durocher of Gatineau is there representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has been posting to his blog “Sing and Walk” on a daily basis. Check it out for an insider’s explanation of the Synod.
In Edmonton, parishes are finding new and creative ways to reach out to kids.
In Ottawa, where the supreme court is debating over Canada’s “assisted suicide” or euthanasia laws, one expert says the opposition to euthanasia needs to be framed in non-religious terms if it is to win in court.
The first week of the Synod on the family has wrapped up in Rome. Participants have moved from general working sessions into small group sessions where they will go over the issues discussed “in aula” and work towards creating a unified document that can be presented to Pope Francis.
While there has been unity among the Synod participants on some issues, there remain divisions on the issues of sacraments for divorced and (civilly) remarried Catholics, homosexuals – specifically welcoming them in parishes, and the annulment process.
There seems to have been agreement among synod fathers that church doctrine on marriage and divorce cannot change, but a new pastoral approach is needed because people are suffering. As well, it was recognized that no two cases are the same and treating each case in the exact same way is not pastorally effective. Of course there are prelates who remain steadfastly opposed to any discussion about what could be done differently when it comes to this issue.
Other issues that came up with week: the knowledge and use of natural family planning. One French couple gave a witness talk speaking about the benefits of NFP, although it has had mixed results for them.
The synod also focused on the situation in the middle east. On Friday members of the synod issued a message of solidarity for all families suffering the effects of war and violence, especially those in Iraq and Syria.
Next week the synod participants will spend the bulk of the week working in small groups. They will have the opportunity to delve deeper into the various issues presented, and undoubtedly have face to face discussions with those members who hold different views on the issues.
We are days away from the opening of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishop on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the context of Evangelization, and the already things are heating up…most of that heat, however, is being generated by the media publishing interviews with prelates with opposing opinions on the same issues.
There are some real novelties, as far as synods go: all participants who are expected to speak during the synod were asked to submit the text of their talk in advance. Most of those texts are already in the Vatican’s hands.
In the past each participant was given 5 minutes to talk. This time they have 3 to 4 minutes, no more, and their intervention must focus on the discussion topic of the day. That itself is a new twist. Usually participants speak on whatever aspect of the synod topic they would like, with the end result being a hodge podge of topics being presented in each session.
One new practice that is not going over well with journalists is the way those talks will be made available to the outside world: they won’t. There will be a press briefing every day of the Synod, as there has been in the past. This time, however, journalists will not receive the full text of all the day’s interventions at that briefing. Instead the Vatican’s spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi and his assistants (which include the CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Fr. Thomas Rosica) will give journalists an overview of what was discussed and the key points that were made during the day. Journalists will not know who made which comments.
While some are saying this is a step backwards for Vatican transparency, synod officials hope the privacy created by this new method will allow bishops to have an open, honest conversation about the topics on the docket, similar to what happens during the General Congregation meetings before a conclave.
This could lead to one unwanted side-effect: some Vaticanists will inevitably get play by play accounts of what happened inside the synod hall from their Episcopal friends and other long-established sources. We will probably see this information published in exclusive reports that cannot be confirmed or denied without violating the rules the Vatican has established for this synod. The same problem is faced before every conclave. The content of the pre-conclave meetings is not released by the Vatican, but some cardinals end up sharing details with journalist friends, resulting in all kinds of interesting headlines. The most outlandish reports generally get a dryly worded denial by Fr. Lombardi.
Each day of the synod will have a specific topic assigned to it. The schedule of topics has already been released:
Monday October 6
God’s design for marriage and the family
The awareness and acceptance of Church documents on marriage and the family
Tuesday October 7
The Gospel of the family and natural law
The family and the vocation of each person in Christ
Family Ministry: the various proposals in action
Wednesday October 8
Pastoral challenges to the family
The crisis of faith and the family / critical situations inside the family
External pressures on the family / some specific situations
Difficult pastoral situations
Family situations/ regarding same sex unions
Thursday October 9
Pastoral challenges regarding openness to life
The Church and the family in the face of the crisis of education
General education challenges / Christian education in difficult family situations
From Friday October 10 onward, Synod participants will meet in small groups and begin working on the final document to be presented to Pope Francis.
Salt + Light will provide comprehensive coverage of the Synod. Tune in at 7pm ET / 4pm PT for Inside the Synod, which will feature daily synod updates and interviews. Vatican Connections will air every Friday evening at the usual time to continue our Synod coverage.
Most priests are not adequately prepared to deal with difficult pastoral situations, according to Vatican officials studying the pastoral challenges to the family.
This was one of the topics included in the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, for the upcoming Synod on the family. The document was the result of a consultation process, which involved sending questionnaires to bishops conferences around the world.
Although the intent was to have as many faithful as possible respond to the survey, it did not receive the same distribution in all parts of the world. The end result, however, appears to be a comprehensive picture of the current openness to the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, sexuality, and related issues.
The questionnaire appears to have revealed a fundamental problem: lack of education on the part of both lay people, and priests.
The working document cites a lack of knowledge of church teaching as the fundamental challenge in several areas. Most Catholics have not read any of the Vatican II documents, or post-Vatican II encyclicals related to marriage and the family. Marriage preparation classes are often perfunctory, a “missed opportunity” for evangelization, and many divorced Catholics do not seek an annulment because they assume their first marriage was valid. Similarly, Natural Family Planning is touted as ineffective, but few people actually know what that method of family planning entails.
When it comes to difficult pastoral situations, like same sex unions, there are few concrete guidelines for priests to follow. This leads to a wide range of responses from priests, not all of which are effective. The working document states that priests themselves asked for the formulation of pastoral guidelines for these situations.
Challenges to family go beyond education, however. Poverty and unemployment are cited as two factors that can breakdown of a marriage, or move young people to cohabitate instead of marrying. “The Church is called to offer real support for decent jobs, just wages and a fiscal policy favouring the family as well as programmes of assistance to families and children,” according to the synod of bishops.
While the content of the working document is, in many cases, exactly what the faithful have been saying amongst themselves for years, this is the first time those views and assessments are being stated openly in a Vatican document.
The Vatican has not yet named the experts who will participate in the Synod.
A late breaking development from Rome regarding clerical sex abuse:
Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, has been found guilty of sex abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The sentence: laicization. He will no longer be able to minister as a priest. The former nuncio has two months to appeal the decision.
The Vatican Gendarme is still conducting a criminal investigation. The Vatican said on Friday that the archbishop has been able to move freely until now. Given the findings of the CDF, “appropriate measures” will be taken to ensure he cannot flee before the criminal investigation is completed.
This week we look at the preparations for the Extraordinary Synod on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family. CNS brings us an interview with Cardinal Peter Erdo, the Relator General for the Synod. We look at the pope’s agenda, what Cardinal Dziwisz says about the Roman Curia, and we give you an in depth look at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
Nov. 8, 2013
By Sebastian Gomes
It seems that no event or program of the Vatican or the Pope can occur without the question of continuity being raised. With Tuesday’s release of the Preparatory Document for next October’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization, already there has been considerable discussion around questions of continuity. Is this preparatory document different from previous preparatory documents? How are they different? How much of the difference is coming directly from Pope Francis? What does this mean for future Synods and collegiality in general?
These are very legitimate questions in the context of the pontificate of Pope Francis. While he has continually advocated the practice of discernment and warned against an ultra-efficiency model that would turn the church into an NGO, he himself has moved strategically and decisively in matters of bureaucratic reform, especially regarding the Vatican bank and the Office of the Synod of Bishops. He has made it clear that he is operating from an explicit mandate, given to the successor of Pope Benedict XVI by the Cardinals during the congregation meetings leading up to the conclave.
The varying reactions to these and other “changes” in the Catholic Church today are striking in this regard: they expose a kind of collective perception that the institutional church is a static entity. Whether you think change is good or not, experience has probably taught you that the Catholic Church does not change. In one sense, this perception is accurate. For example, in the centuries leading up to the Second Vatican Council one of the mantras of the hierarchy, especially in the church’s response to modernism, was “always the same.” But in another sense, this perception is false. When Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops near the end of Vatican II, he likened it to a “human institution,” that, “can be improved upon with the passing of time.” (Apostolica Sollicitudo) The only honest answer seems to be that the church does and doesn’t change. So far, Pope Francis’ pontificate has served as a tangible reminder of this.
That leaves us with the question of what exactly is different at this initial stage of a forthcoming Synod. Three bishops spoke at the press conference yesterday. Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops acknowledged that the process is moving quickly, and all the more so because of the structural, methodological and functional reforms that Francis is pushing. This Synod will run differently from previous Synods.
The Relator General for the Synod, Cardinal Péter Erdo made the important point that this Extraordinary Synod will act as a bridge between the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization and the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family. Linking Synods is nothing new, except for the fact that no Apostolic Exhortation was written after the New Evangelization Synod last fall (Pope Benedict resigned before writing it and Pope Francis has said he will not write it). If there was a kind of strategic and thematic bridge between previous Synods, as there was between the Eucharist in 2005 and the Word of God in 2008, the bridge between these Synods, whatever it looks like, will look different.
A very significant reflection came from Archbishop Bruno Forte who will serve as Special Secretary for the Synod. He highlighted the pastoral nature of the theme: the Family. This is clearly seen in the Preparatory Document, which offers a series of reflection questions to the particular churches around the world. They are extremely pastoral and practical in nature. For example, in the section entitled “The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization,” a question reads: “What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?” Such questions open the Synod up to the lives and experiences of the people on the ground. We can assume that whatever results from the Synod, it will have very practical application. That is new.
At the end of the Synod on the New Evangelization in 2012, the bishops wrote a pastoral message to the People of God in which they reflected on the current crises of marriage and family life. After reiterating the importance of family life in the church and society, the bishops addressed those living in irregular, often difficult family situations:
To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the Church loves them, too, that the Church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the Church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist. May our Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation. (Message, 7)
This type of language is reflective of the pastoral approach about which Archbishop Forte spoke. It is powerful language that contains a hint of the Franciscan spirit that has subsequently taken the world by storm over the past seven months. With the very pastoral and practical emphases Francis has given to the Synod of Bishops, we might expect more language of this kind in the coming years, and more importantly, strategies for living it at the ground level.
At a press conference in Rome this morning, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri formally presented the preparatory document for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization. Archbishop Baldisseri, the head of the Synod of Bishops, said the family is an area that the church will work on for the next two years. Next year’s extraordinary Synod will be the first of two synods looking at the pastoral care of families.
The Extraordinary Synod scheduled for 2014 will focus on getting a clear picture of the situation families find themselves in today. An Ordinary Synod scheduled for 2015 will focus on finding new approaches to ministering to families.
To prepare for the Extraordinary Synod, the Vatican sent the preparatory document to Bishops Conferences around the world, along with a list of questions. The bishops were asked to circulate the preparatory document and the questions to priests and parishioners. Bishops Conferences must submit their findings to the Vatican by the end of January 2014.
Photo Courtesy of CNS