Francis at opening service of synod © Cristian Gennari
Synod opens in St. Peter's Basilica © Giuseppe Lami
At the Vatican, the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family has begun its deliberations. Some 270 bishops, cardinals and religious superiors gathered Monday morning for their first session in the synod auditorium.
Pope Francis, in his brief opening address, warned participants not to confuse the synod with a parliament. It is not a matter of building consensus through negotiation, but of opening up to the work of the Holy Spirit, he said. He called the synod fathers to "apostolic courage, Gospel humility and trusting prayer".
Sunday's opening service
The synod participants entered St. Peter's Basilica with serious faces on Sunday. And in the invocation of the saints for their assistance, many a cardinal and bishop was probably even more fervent than usual in the matter at hand. That's because Pope Francis opened what is likely to be the most-watched assembly of bishops since the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago with a church service: The Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family. For three weeks, about 270 bishops from all over the world are debating in the Vatican; on the agenda are also hot ies such as the church's treatment of remarried divorcees and homosexuals. The synod is seen by many as a gauge of the church's ability to reform. There were heated debates in the run-up.
Appeal for mercy
The pope opened the bishops' meeting with an appeal for mercy and a commitment to the indissolubility of marriage. In doing so, he echoed the expectations of reformist forces, but at the same time strengthened those who see changes in Church moral teaching as a threat to the indissolubility of marriage. The Gospel of the day offered a perfect opportunity to do so. It was Jesus' words about marriage: "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder."
This sentence plays a big role in the debate about the admission of remarried divorcees to communion, which is not allowed so far. The Synod of Bishops should explore the possibility of opening up this ie. The opponents justify their negative attitude not least with this biblical quotation. Advocates of allowing marriage on a case-by-case basis argue that Jesus did not mean to establish a universal principle of law.
Pope avoids taking sides
The pope does not address the theological controversy in his homily. The goal of marriage, they said, is not just to live together forever, "but to love one another forever". Jesus' word on indissolubility is a call to overcome "every form of individualism and legalism," the pope said. Behind such attitudes lies a "petty egoism" and a fear of accepting the real meaning of the couple and human sexuality in God's plan. With this, the pope skillfully avoids any partisanship.
Already on Saturday, Francis had given the first guidelines for the Synod of Bishops during a prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square. "The criterion for the interpretation of everything" must always be Jesus, he said. Pope urged compassion and warned against being "unnecessarily strict". He called on the participants of the synod to engage in dialogue. They must be able to "listen and exchange with each other".
The synod members have more time for intensive discussion than ever before. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the synod, said Friday that the debates would be held more extensively in small groups than in the past. Here's how the synod should become more "dynamic," he said. The speaking time in the plenary session is limited to three minutes; there are no time restrictions for the small groups.
Outing in the run-up
Homosexuality has recently been the main topic in the media. First, the African Cardinal of the Curia, Robert Sarah, made headlines when he declared that same-sex couples were a "step backward for civilization". The debate was further fueled by a video showing the pope embracing a homosexual couple in Washington. The Vatican denied speculation that Francis had wanted to send a church-political signal with it. The highlight on Saturday was the outing of a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as a homosexual in a much-publicized newspaper interview.
According to the working paper, this synod should not be about homosexual couples at all, but above all about how to deal with homosexuals in the families concerned. On this Monday, the beginning of the official deliberations, the analysis of the situation of the family is then also in the 21. Century in the foreground. And from a Catholic point of view, "rainbow families" with homosexual parents are not part of this.