VATICAN CITY — As members, experts and observers at the Synod of Bishops on the family meet in small groups to discuss the midterm report and make suggestions — some major, some minor — for improving it, three group leaders met the press.
Jesuit Father Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the groups are formulating “a systematic reaction to the relatio post disceptationem (the midterm report) in such a way as to provide material for the drafting of the relatio sinodi,” which is scheduled to be voted upon Saturday and form the basis for preparing for the world Synod of Bishops on the family next year.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., said his group had finished its work this morning; a Vatican official said a couple other groups also finished — and so get the afternoon and evening off.
Archbishop Kurtz, Spanish Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, each said their groups insisted on improving the relatio by highlighting the beauty and the powerful witness provided by strong Catholic families who are living in accordance with church teaching.
They also insisted their groups are trying to preserve and strengthen the relatio’s missionary approach and emphasis, which consists in reaching out to all families, listening to them, affirming those qualities that are good and accompanying them in growing toward holiness.
Asked whether they were swayed by negative reaction to the relatio, particularly reaction from organized groups fearing the relatio’s language marked a watering down of church teaching, the three claimed no.
Cardinal Sistach said, “We are all working with great freedom,” speaking from the heart, listening to one another as Pope Francis had encouraged them and praying for guidance. “We are seeking the will of God, not the will of any groups.”
However, he said, his group is making some changes in every section of the relatio. In addition to adding stronger language about the beauty of marriage, he said, his group wants to see an affirmation of “the Gospel of life,” since the human person is born into a family, should be protected and raised within a family and is watched over by the family until natural death.
Archbishop Fisichella said his group is asking for the inclusion of something mentioned in the synod hall, but not in the relatio: a request that couples seeking an annulment are not charged money for the process in order to ensure that, “when speaking of a sacrament, there is not the minimum suspicion” that money is the aim of the process. A second addition, he said, is recognition that couples who adopt a child are, in fact, making an act of love and charity.
Asked if their groups are making any mention of “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 teaching on married love affirming the church’s ban on artificial contraception, the three synod members said yes, but the problem was how to educate Catholic consciences and how to encourage more of them to learn about natural family planning.
The synod members also were asked if with all the freedom to speak and the humility of listening to others the tradition of disputatio – a disciplined, but not always sweet debate — had disappeared. Fortunately, no, Archbishop Fisichella said. Listening to about 200 four-minute speeches, disputes are “an element of growth” and are an important antidote to the discussion being “insanely boring.”