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.