Reflections on the Extraordinary Synod on the Family: An Extraordinary Time in our Church
The first phase of the Synod on the Family process is now complete, and it has been the subject of enormous world-wide attention and analysis. It has been just days since the end of this gathering, and while there is much dust still to settle, here are some of my initial reflections.
- The Synod matters. As the largest Christian denomination in the world, the leading provider of global health care, and the sponsor of the largest single educational network, the Roman Catholic Church impacts billions of people, both Catholics and non-Catholics. Policy decisions, theological framing of relationships, and indeed the words used about people and relationships by Synod participants, have significant ramifications in people’s lives. The eyes of the world are watching for a reason.
- The Church is not of one mind. We’ve all known this for many years, but differences of opinion among the heads of the world’s bishops conferences were on display as never before.
- Pope Francis welcomes open debate. This is an important development in our Church, where doctrinal adherence has been a primary value. We are a big Church, and differences of opinion, emphasis of perspective are part of our vibrancy. Creative, respectful conflict can bring us to new places and help define common values. Will we find common ground? Not if we remain locked into rigid roles. Discussion and debate may help shift the questions. This could also prove important to people who have been reluctant to voice questions or dissenting opinions for fear of reprisal. If the Pope is willing to hear a range of opinions, should that not be welcome at all levels of the Church?
- There are questions about current teaching. Even among bishops and cardinals who rose to their positions under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, there are those who disagree with, or at least question, current teaching, about LGBT people and other members of our Church. The Synod’s midterm report and the closeness of some of the votes on the final report indicate significant discomfort with current stances, and recognition of the pastoral harm being done.
- LGBT concerns are a major focus of discussion in the Church. The number of Catholics who have come out as LGBT has made us visible and helped create awareness of the challenges we face as members of our Church. Our families and friends have joined us in raising concerns about the current state of policy and pastoral care. This discussion is sure to continue in the year leading to the next phase of the Synod.
- The people of the Church continue to lead the leadership. Catholics have been living with the gap between teaching and reality in family relationships for decades, if not centuries. Most families and parishes are aware that within their membership are LGBT people, people who have divorced and remarried, cohabitating couples, couples who use birth control, single parents, and many more families that do not look like the one upheld as ideal. These people and families are embraced and cherished.
Discussion, debate, and dialogue will surely continue. We have 11 ½ months until the second (final?) phase of the Synod commences in Rome. During that time, we will continue to witness to the grace of our lives and relationships, and to work for full inclusion and welcome in our Church.