THE Synod of Bishops in Rome is not like the General Synod of the Church of England. In Rome, there are far fewer people in wigs, and far more wearing cassocks. In Rome, everyone has an allocated seat, in which he remains for the whole session.
At the Synod of Bishops, everyone spoke only once, and each speech was limited to three minutes. It was clear that not every bishop was used to speaking openly and honestly with his colleagues. As the process unfolded over the three weeks, this changed, and the small groups were much valued.
All the bishops sat in cinema-style seats in the main hall, listening to 247 three-minute speeches. Inevitably, many of the speeches had been written before the event, and many bishops used most of the time thanking the Pope, and asking whether he would visit them, or do something about their part of the world.
The “Fraternal Delegates”, or ecumenical guests, were well treated, warmly welcomed, and made part of the whole process. I had my three minutes, and we joined fully in the small-group processes.
At the end of the second week there was an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops. The final speech of this was given by Pope Francis, who spoke of synods’ being here to stay: walking together (being synod) was the way the Church was.
He also spoke of decentralisation: that the Church should be an inverted pyramid with the Pope at the bottom. He mentioned that synods had something useful to say to the ecumenical process.
At the end of the Synod, the text was voted through, paragraph by paragraph. There is much in the final text about vital issues such as poverty, domestic violence, abuse in families, and migration, but, inevitably, the focus was on Catholics who have married after divorce (see the paragraphs right), and questions around homosexuality.
There are, of course, huge differences with our own Communion, but, as the Primates gather in January, I think there are lessons to learn: the importance of being together, the need to attend carefully to each other, and the vital significance of walking together.
The Rt Revd Tim Thornton is the Bishop of Truro.
He was an Anglican Fraternal Delegate at the Synod of Bishops in Rome this month.
From the final text of the Synod of Bishops
Discernment and integration
84. THE baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried should be more integrated into Christian communities in the various ways possible, avoiding every occasion of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral accompaniment, so that they know not only that they belong to the Body of Christ which is the Church, but that they may have a joyous and fruitful experience of this. They are baptized, they are brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit pours into them gifts and charisms for the good of everyone.
Their participation can be expressed in various ecclesial services: it is therefore necessary what are the various forms of exclusion currently practised in the liturgical, pastoral, educational, and institutional areas can be overcome. They must not only not feel excommunicated, but they can live and mature as living members of the Church, feeling that she is a mother who always welcomes them, takes care of them with affection and encourages them in the walk of the life of the gospel.
This integration is also necessary for the care of Christian formation of their children, who must be considered the most important. For the Christian community, taking care of these people is not a weakening of its own faith and witness regarding the indissolubility of marriage: indeed, the Church expresses her charity precisely in this care.
85. ST JOHN PAUL II offered overall criteria which remain the basis for the evaluation of these situations: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.” (Familiaris Consortio, 84).
It is therefore the task of pastors to accompany interested persons on the way of discernment in keeping with the teaching of the Church and the guidance of Bishops. In this process it will be useful to make an examination of conscience through times of reflection and penitence.
The divorced and remarried should ask themselves how they behaved toward their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; if there were attempts at reconciliation; how is the situation with the abandoned partner; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; what example it offers to young people who must prepare for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen the trust in the mercy of God which is never denied to anyone.
Furthermore, it cannot be denied that in some circumstances “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (CCC 1735) for reasons of various conditions. Consequently, the judgment of an objective situation should not lead to a judgment about the “subjective imputability” (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration of 24 June 2000, 2a).
In specific circumstances people find great difficulty in acting a different way. Therefore, while upholding a general norm, it is necessary to recognize that the responsibility regarding certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking account of the rightly formed conscience of persons, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of the acts carried out are not necessarily the same in all cases.