VATICAN CITY — The latest discussions coming out of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family are continuing to focus on the challenges today’s families face.
This morning the auditors — almost all of them lay couples or individuals — took the floor to explain the pastoral situations they face and the approaches they take in their work to help families. Today’s briefing also covered talks by the synod fathers from yesterday afternoon.
Here are a few highlights of the latest that’s unfolding:
The church needs to show its concern for children who are living in broken families, one bishop told the assembly.
One idea is to set up “support groups,” so kids — so often the victims in difficult family situations — can get additional help. Kids who find care and support in the church also can be a bridge for getting the parents back to the church, some said.
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the English press briefer, said the same bishop wanted to see this focused pastoral care extended to all children, emphasizing that kids of same-sex couples shouldn’t be denied the sacraments because of their parents’ irregular situation.
One “new element” that emerged in discussions was the idea of a “penitential journey” for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told journalists this topic received “detailed and intense” discussion.
One synod father offered a model of how couples would have to reflect on a number of questions, like the impact their divorce has on the children and spouse, and how the damage and errors could be repaired.
It’s not “a simple solution,” but it would be part of a wider, longer journey of reconciliation to bring the couple back to the church.
Talks continued on the need to streamline the process of verifying the nullity of some marriages. Now with the new commission Pope Francis has created for this task, synod fathers expressed hopes some agreement could be reached on a simple and uniform procedure for the whole church.
Synod participants also wanted to see more lay judges, especially women, working on marriage tribunals.
People also recognized that engaged couples often see the marriage preparation course as “an imposition” or “a duty” to put up with so there ends up being no real learning or appreciation for the teachings.
Courses then become too brief and are spending too much time on “social and juridical” matters rather than the religious and spiritual side of the vocation of marriage. Marriage should have the same lengthy and intense preparation and follow-up care as religious vocations have, according to today’s briefing.
Attention again turned to the unfair pressure Western countries put on African nations by giving economic aid only when a recipient country promises to promote abortion, contraception and same-sex unions — things that go against not just church teaching, but traditional cultures as well, assembly members said.
“Our poverty doesn’t mean we have no dignity,” Father Rosica quoted one synod participant as saying.
Jocelyne Khoueiry, a synod expert who spoke to reporters at today’s news conference, said everyone agrees that the indissolubility of marriage is sacred and must not be changed. However, two different approaches for protecting this truth have emerged, she said.
The ideal situation is for the church to use God and his mercy as its guide and “integrate the truth of marriage” without compromise while being close to those who are suffering, she said.
The synod assembly put out a message of support for all families who are affected by the world’s conflicts, especially families from Iraq and Syria.
Thanking the world community for the assistance they’ve shown so far, “we invite people of good will to offer the necessary aid and help to the innocent victims of the barbarity underway,” the synod fathers wrote.
And lastly, it’s the final blow to Latin at the synod.
After Pope Francis switched the synod’s official language from Latin to Italian, Father Lombardi now said the small working groups — that have now been set up and are divided up by language — would not have a Latin group. Miseret Latin lovers!