The final report has now been published, at least in Italian. The media have concentrated public attention on two issues: access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics, and pastoral care of homosexuals. I guess I'll have to share my thoughts on these two questions.
Of the two, the first was raised well before the Synod by Cardinal Kasper in a noted intervention before the world's cardinals last February. Rejected by other cardinals at the end of the summer, it kept the attention of numerous speakers during the Synod and, in fact, required a lot of energy. A proposd paragraph in the final report which presented the two approaches that were discussed (maintaining the present discipline or opening to change) as well as a related paragraph did not receive the required two thirds approval of the members, even though a solid majority supported them. The fact remains that these two approaches WERE discussed, and with much passion. Pope Francis decided that the whole text of the final report should be published, including the texts that did not receive the two thirds' vote. I imagine then that this discussion is far from finished, and that it will be taken up by the episcopal conferences of the world during the coming year as we prepare for the General Ordinary Synod in October 2015.
On the question of the pastoral accompaniment of homosexuals, a paragraph simply proposed recalling the Church's teaching that there is no equivalence between marriage and a homosexual relationship, while maintaining the dignity and the non-discrimination of homosexuals. This paragraph was also supported by the majority, without attaining the two-thirds bar. Why did some Bishops choose not to approve a text which only repeated the Church's received teaching? I have the impression many would have preferred a more open, positive language. Not finding it in this paragraph, they might have chosen to indicate their disapproval of it. However, it has also been published, and the reflexion will have to continue.
So let's set these two important questions aside for a moment. After all, the Synod's theme was not 'Communion for the divorced and remarried and the accompaniment of homosexuals', but rather 'The pastoral challenges of families in the context of new evangelization.' And on this theme, what do the other 58 paragraphs of the text have to say? What can we glean from the Synod's work? Has any ground been broken?
My answer? Absolutely! And particularly on one point. It has approved a very precise pastoral approach, one which is more attentive to the good in people than to their faults; one that speaks less of the sin to be avoided and more of the grace to be attained; one which is less centred on the faults of our society and more attuned to its possible openings to the Gospel message. It's not about being naive or polly-annish, but rather of counting on the Spirit of Jesus-Christ already present in the hears of human beings, even those who believe themselves to be far from God.
This approach is not new: many pastoral workers already have adopted it. However, this is the first time -- as far as I know -- that such a text gives it a blessing. Even more, it explains the biblical and doctrinal foundation for this approach, and invites all pastoral worker to embrace it.
This is indeed new. And it fills my heart with joy. In a certain sense, we have done for family life what the Second Vatican Council did for liturgy and ecumenism: give the green light to a style of ministry that is already emerging in the Church, assure its theological grounding, and invite the whole Church to make it its own. (Of course, those who don't like what Vatican II did for the liturgy and for ecumenism might not like what the Synod has done for family life... That's another discussion for another time.)
I don't know if the media will pay much attention to this issue. For me, however, and for many leaders in parishes and Christian communities, this is fundamental. And for this I give thanks to the Pope for having called us to this great work of the Church.