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Sleeper agenda item hidden in the Synod document?

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Two progressive heavyweights, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago talks with German Cardinal Walter Kasper as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican on 5 October. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring.
Two progressive heavyweights, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago talks with German Cardinal Walter Kasper as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican on 5 October. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring.

Letters from the Synod: Volume 9 – 8 October

Reports and Commentary, from Rome and around the world, on the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

Edited by Xavier Rynne II


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…being thoughts on Synod 2015 from various observers

An unexploded bomb in the instrumentum laboris?


With the Synod on the Family well underway in Rome, considerable attention has been given (and not only in the media) to the “Kasper Proposal” to admit the divorced and civilly-remarried to Holy Communion.

No doubt discussion on this will continue, although Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want the Kapser Proposal to be the dominant issue, the principal focus of attention, at Synod 2015. But Kasper’s is not the only proposal-with-consequences. For buried within the Synod’s working document, the Instrumentum Laboris (IL), is another bombshell proposal with consequences just as radical – a proposal that, to date, has gotten little if any sustained attention.

It’s found in the IL’s section on mixed marriages, at #128, and it’s something quite new, in that it did not appear in the final document of Synod 2014 and does not seem to have been a significant feature of last year’s discussion.

The proposal seems to have been added to the IL (and thus to the Synod’s agenda) by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri or his staff in the secretariat for the Synod. And it is not a reach to suggest that this was done at the behest of some German bishops, who have been quietly pressing the proposal (indeed, implementing it) for years.

At first glance, IL #128 looks innocent enough, rather like an incremental extension of the circumstances in which members of other ecclesial bodies might receive the Eucharist in a Catholic rite:

“Some suggest that mixed marriages might be considered as cases of ‘grave necessity,’ in which it is possible that a baptised person who is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, yet shares the Church’s faith in the Eucharist, be allowed to receive the Eucharist, when their pastors are not available and taking into account the criteria of the ecclesial community to which they belong (cf John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia 45-46; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 25 March 1993, 122-128).”

Yet if one checks the references and examines the proposal carefully, this seemingly innocuous suggestion imports a revolutionary principle into the Synod’s basic working document.

On the surface, the proposal looks like the provisions that currently govern the reception of Holy Communion in Catholic rites by members of Orthodox churches. But because current Church law already provides for the Orthodox, the chief beneficiaries of the new proposal would be Protestants. In sum, the proposal is that Protestants who profess a faith in the Eucharist and who are in “mixed marriages” (that is, who are married to Catholics) be admitted to Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass on a routine basis, even at a daily Mass, simply because they are married to a Catholic. (The condition that their own pastor must not be “available” is added, but in practice this would likely be interpreted quite loosely.)

Adoption of this proposal would work a monumental change, not only in the Church’s discipline for Holy Communion, but in the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is not just a sign or instrument of social inclusion.  It is a profound spiritual reality, with profound – indeed, divine – spiritual effects.  (Like all the sacraments, it effects or brings about what it signifies.)

A core dimension of that reality is ecclesial communion, or unity. Reception of the Eucharist signifies that one is in full communion with Christ’s visible body, the Church (and with the Pope and bishops who are Christ’s vicars), even as it brings about that communion and strengthens that unity.

This is perennial Catholic Eucharistic theology, a towering theme running from St Paul through the Church Fathers, the medieval scholastics, and the writings of prominent twentieth-century theologians like Fr Henri de Lubac SJ. It was also a central element of St John Paul II’s encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

Receiving the Eucharist is (or should be) a deeply significant spiritual act that signifies, as part of its intrinsic meaning, that “I am in full communion with, and obedient to, Christ, and to this visible community.”

If the Church routinely admits to Holy Communion those who are not in full communion with her, the fundamental link between the Eucharist and ecclesial communion will be ruptured – with severe consequences for the doctrine of the Eucharist itself.

What is more, existing Church law and regulations make clear that a non-Catholic can only receive Holy Communion if properly disposed to do so.  That means having made a sacramental confession.  The proposal makes no mention of this.

In fact, the existing rules expressly link access to the Eucharist with the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick, and provide for this kind of Eucharistic sharing only in rare cases of grave necessity (e.g. someone dying in a hospital who manifests a Catholic faith in the sacraments and asks for them, even though he or she has not yet been received into the Church – and who then receives the sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist as viaticum).

The proposal at IL #128 suggests a change in Catholic doctrine as monumental as the original Kasper Proposal to admit the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion after their undertaking a “penitential path.”

Protestants in mixed marriages would be admitted to Holy Communion, even though they have not received absolution for any sins committed after baptism.

All of the doctrinal and pastoral dangers of inviting to Holy Communion those who are not disposed to receive it – and St Paul’s warning against this is solemn and grave (1 Corinthians 11:27-30) – are present in this proposal just as much as in Kasper’s.

The IL texts suggests that being in a mixed marriage is a case of “grave necessity” permitting Protestants to receive the Eucharist.  That simply is not the case.  The gravity pulls in precisely the other direction.

We don’t propose cohabitation as a strategy for building a good marriage.  You don’t start off with the most profound act of communion in the hope that the commitment will someday follow. All too often, the result is not commitment, but its opposite, paired with the loss of the any sense of the sacredness of the act itself.

This unexploded bomb should be defused when the Synod fathers take up Part III of the Instrumentum Laboris – and it would be no bad thing for more than a few Synod fathers to flag it, and dissect it, beforehand, perhaps in the Synod’s general assemblies.

Xavier Rynne II


The synod, the martyrs, and the peripheries

On the evening of 6 October, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York hosted a reception/discussion in the roof garden of the Residenza Paolo VI, just behind the left “arm” of the Bernini colonnade that enclosed St Peter’s Square.

Like other Synods (and certainly like Vatican II), much of the most interesting conversation at these exercises in collegiality takes place off-campus, so to speak, and the cardinal’s hope was to facilitate a more informal discussion that would then rebound into the formal sessions of the Synod and the Synod discussion groups.

The 6 October discussion was led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, whom Cardinal Dolan invited to reminisce with brother bishops about the 1980 Synod on the Family.

Archbishop Martin, who attended that Synod as a junior Vatican official involved in family (and, for his pains, got himself appointed to numerous, subsquent international conferences where the UN and its various agencies were working to deconstruct marriage and the family), was full of interesting stories about Synod-1980 and its relationship to Synod 2015.

Synod 1980 had been, originally, Paul VI’s idea, and was intended as a way to jolt the Church out of its post-Humanae Vitae doldrums. But Pope Paul died before the Synod could be organised; John Paul I approved the idea but had no chance to implement it during his 33-day pontificate. So getting this done was left to John Paul II, who, with the aid of Canadian Cardinal Edward Gagnon SS, took up Paul VI’s inspiration and re-oriented it, away from a broad discussion of the problems of marriage and the family in the world (sound familiar?) and toward a global ecclesial reflection on the family as it lives out the roles proper to every Christian: the roles of priest (worshipping in truth), prophet (teaching and living in truth), and king (serving in truth).

Archbishop Martin noted that Synod 1980 had more lay auditors than any Synod before or since – appropriately enough, given the subject matter – and that the day of family witness held in the Vatican audience hall right before the Synod had opened the minds of many Synod fathers to the possibility that, yes, Christian marriage and family life were a live, and lively, possibility in the late modern world.

The Dubliner suggested that the concerns being expressed by North Atlantic Synod fathers in 1980 about the impact on the family of the sexual revolution, gender ideologies, and secularisation were precisely the concerns being raised by African prelates at Synod 2015 – the unspoken question being why European bishops were looking askance, today, at the concerns that their predecessors had raised thirty-five years ago.

And in a closing, poignant reminiscence, Archbishop Martin took his listeners back to 13 May, 1981: the day that John Paul II established the Pontifical Council for the Family; the day that Mehmet Ali Agca shot the Pope John Paul II his front yard, St Peter’s Square.

As the pope was being driven in his jeep out into the Square, he saw then-Father Martin standing in front of the Vatican’s Collegio Teutonico, where Martin lived. John Paul pointed to Martin and seemed to say something to his secretary, Mons Stanislaw Dziwisz; a few minutes later, the shots from Agca’s Browning 9mm semi-automatic rang out.

Some time later, Father Martin was talking to Mons Dziwisz and asked him, “What did the Pope say that day when he pointed to me?” Dziwisz replied, “He said, ‘What’s that Irishman doing in front of the German College?’”

In the pre- and post-discussion conversation, a number of the bishops present spoke of what they perceived to be some of the fault-lines being revealed in the early days of the Synod. As one put it, “There’s a significant difference between what we hear from the suffering Church and what we hear from the comfortable Church” – the suffering churches in this case being those in the Middle East and Ukraine; some of the bishops who remarked on this likely had in mind the powerful intervention made in the Synod general assembly earlier in the day by Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Another fault line noted was the difference between what was being said in the Synod general assemblies by residential diocesan bishops, on the one hand, and by superiors of religious orders, on the other – the latter being far more theoretical and less well-grounded in pastoral reality, in this bishop’s view.

Hearing these remarks through the filter of Archbishop Martin’s reflections on 13 May, 1981, what struck me powerfully was this business of the suffering Church – what Pope Francis might call the Church on the “peripheries.”

Yes, it’s true that the Synod might well pay far more attention than it has done thus far to healthy, holy Catholic families. And yes, Synod discussion of those in irregular marriages or irregular relationships does touch the “peripheries,” as it should. And yes, the Synod has paid at least some attention (thanks to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia) to the plight of abandoned spouses, who are far more numerous on the “peripheries” than other groups that garner far more attention.

But what about the Church under assault? What about the suffering Church, the Church of martyrdom? What is its place in Synod 2015?

There is probably not a single family in Ukraine that has not been personally touched by the mayhem and bloodshed let loose in that country by the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Russian-led assault on eastern Ukraine – where the casualty figures are far, far higher than one would know from the occasional reports that make it into the western media. Ukraine has terrible economic problems and grave political problems – but above all, Ukraine is in the midst of a major humanitarian crisis that strikes hard at families.

What does Synod 2015 have to say to, or about, all of that?

And then there is the Middle East. ISIS fanatics have made martyrdom – death inflicted in “hatred of the faith” – an almost-daily feature of life wherever the write of the self-styled “Caliphate” runs.  Two August incidents of particular awfulness may stand for all the rest.

In a Syrian village in August, ISIS murderers cut off the fingertips of a 12-year old Christian boy in front of his Christian missionary father, urging them to renounce the Christianity they had embraced.

When both refused, they were crucified along with two others, the bodies being left on the crosses for two days and tagged with placards reading “infidel.” At about the same time, ISIS “fighters” publicly raped two women in front of a crowd when they refused to apostasise.

The women and six men were then beheaded while they prayed for their murderers and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

These are not tales from Butler’s Lives of the Saints and this isn’t first-century Rome or third-century Carthage. This is today, and this is Syria, and everywhere else the black flag of Islamic State flies.

These are the “peripheries” in their most extreme form, and if it is to follow Pope Francis’s call to go into the peripheries, the Synod should find some way to express solidarity with suffering, bleeding, and dying local churches throughout the world.

“Pastoral accompaniment” of those in difficult circumstances in comfortable societies is a noble aspiration, and we may hope that the Synod finds ways to meet that goal that link truth and mercy in calls to conversion. But at the same time, the Synod should find time to voice its revulsion at the barbarism of ISIS and the aggression of Russia, in solidarity with local churches on the most dangerous and lethal of 21st Century peripheries.  In doing so, it would remind the entire Church that the witness of the martyrs and saints lifts us all up and calls up to live our Christian commitment more fully.

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center 



Timothy P. Broglio (b 1951) has served as archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Service, USA, since 2008. A graduate of Boston College, where he earned a degree in classics, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1977 after studies in Rome, where he earned a degree in theology; he then spent two years in parish work in his native Cleveland – a period he describes as “the best years of my life.”

Returning to Rome for training in the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and work in the diplomatic service of the Holy See, he earned a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University before undertaking work in the nunciatures in Ivory Coast and Paraguay.

He later served in the Secretariat of State of the Holy See before being named Nuncio to the Dominican Republic and Apostolic Delegate to Puerto Rico; the principal consecrator at his episcopal ordination on 19 March, 2001, was Pope St John Paul II.

After seven years in the Caribbean, he was appointed to lead the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, by Pope Benedict XVI. And in that role he has travelled constantly around the world to meet and work with his widely-scattered flock, which includes all Catholics in the US armed forces and all Catholics at American diplomatic posts abroad.

His answers to the questions posed by Letters from the Synod follow. XR2 


How has the contemporary crisis of chastity, marriage, and the family presented itself in your work as Nuncio to the Dominican Republic and in your position as Archbishop for the Military Services-USA? What are the “signs of the times” here?

During my service as Nuncio in the Dominican Republic (2001-08), the local bishops often addressed the crisis in marriage.  Their goal was to convince the largely Catholic population of that beautiful tropical island of the value of a life-time sacramental commitment.

It seems that an unwillingness to ratify a matrimonial commitment, civilly or religiously, was one enduring element of pre-Columbian culture that continued to shape life and society in the DR, even after five hundred years of evangelisation.  Consequently, a male-dominated society already disinclined to commit itself found itself particularly vulnerable to the assault, from North America or Spain, of such contemporary notions as “free love” and trial marriage, which weakened support for the family.

The situation is somewhat different in my current ministry with the military and veterans, but today’s culture, and the mentality that culture engenders, do not support enduring values, including the value of permanence.

Most people would be surprised to learn that failed relationships are one of the two principal causes of suicide in the military. The separations caused by over fifteen years of war have also intensified the challenge of keeping the military family intact.

Generally married at a younger age, husbands and wives in the service are not given the support they need when the culture teaches false ideas of marriage, family, and human sexuality.

The tempo of military service also challenges healthy family life.  Deployments, military operations and responsibilities, and the demands made on children’s schedules each take their toll on family cohesiveness. A conscious effort is required to resist or at least moderate these pressures.

In the US military, artificial birth-control is readily made available to anyone who asks: a practice that promotes promiscuity rather than fidelity. While adultery is punishable under the Universal Code of Military Justice, fornication is not.

Many military families home school their children, both to lessen the effects of constant transfers and to have more control over the curriculum their children study.  Children of military families are already forced to grow up faster than their peers, due to their exposure to other cultures, constant moves, and the absence of one parent or the other because of deployment.

What pastoral initiatives and strategies have you found most effective in dealing with these challenges?

In the Dominican Republic, the bishops constantly invited couples to regularize their matrimonial situation.  In the course of his annual  pastoral visit,  one bishop would made a public comparison between the number of de facto couples and those in sacramental marriages, praising those parishes where there had been a positive change and urge others to keep trying.

The “marriage retreat” is one of the most popular initiatives in the contemporary US military: held over a weekend, these retreats feature presentations by experts in various aspects of married life, including communication and finances, and are almost run by the base chapel.  Recently, however, there have been difficulties when these retreat weekends are opened to same-gendered couples.  That not only makes it impossible for many chaplains to participate (Catholics included); it also makes many of the other couples uneasy and reluctant to attend.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, has recognized this reality and, through the Military Council of Catholic Women, has sponsored a few family retreats – especially in overseas locations, where English-language resources are not immediately available.  These moments of prayer, instruction, and exercise have been very positive.  Childcare is always included.  Speakers stress communication skills, spousal and familial prayer, and the example of the saints.  The ability to showcase the about-to-be canonised, saintly parents of the Little Flower, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, will be a very positive addition to these retreats.

It’s also crucial to try to provide reinforcements for teaching and living the virtue of chastity, especially in the face of the avalanche of available pornography. I have recommended on-line resources and programs to our military chaplains, but many of these are costly for the people entrusted to my pastoral care.  The archdiocese has also promoted programs that teach the Theology of the Body developed by St. John Paul II in his weekly general audience catecheses.

Finally, I promulgated a curriculum, Forming Disciples for the New Evangelisation, available in English and Spanish, to address the tremendous lacunae we find in the catechetical preparation of young people. The curriculum has goals for each year from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade and is designed in a spiral fashion.

An archdiocesan curriculum was particularly important for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, which serves 1.8 million Catholics across the globe. The mobility of the population that I’m privileged to serve makes it imperative that the same curriculum is in place everywhere.  When a family moves, the children should be able to readily plug into the religious education program in effect in the installation to which the family has been transferred.

The curriculum also has an on-line assessment to be completed with the family.  The assessment tool is designed both to measure the level of faith formation and to offer resources (Biblical readings and articles in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) for further study or explanation.

How could the Synod’s work have the most positive effect on your own ministry?

This General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has provoked great expectations and much interest.  Clear statements from the Synod about the fundamental teaching of Jesus Christ on the family would be most helpful in my ministry.

My faithful live in a world of very high standards.  They are expected to meet those standards, and they train constantly to be at their best. Training to assure the best physical condition is constant; but exercises to meet both regular responsibilities and extraordinary situations are also part of the experience of Catholics in the military. No one in uniform expects to hear that a goal is merely an ideal, or that an expectation does not have to be met.

The Church canonizes saints not for their benefit, but for ours.  The saints are  examples.  How appropriate that the Little Flower’s parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, will be canonized in these weeks.  The Synod should encourage heroes and invite us to sanctity.  The men and women I serve would understand that.

Certainly, clear teaching about the richness of life in Christ, the virtue of chastity as an expectation for all believers, the sanctity and grace of sacramental marriage, and the importance of sacrifice would resound in the hearts of those I serve.

As a successor of the apostles, I know that the Book of the Gospels was held over my head during the ordination rite to fill me with that Word and to be a dramatic reminder that I am sent to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As believers, we are on a pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God.  My role as shepherd is to lead those in my care to that Kingdom; they can find the kingdoms of this world on their own.

“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel:” that was St. Paul’s cry (1 Corinthians 9:16). Jesus’s words about scandal, that it would be better for the one who gives it to be “thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung around his neck” (Mark 9:42), should fill every Synod father with a healthy reverence for his task.  If the final message of the Synod or the eventual Apostolic Exhortation contain nebulous statements, or attempt to dilute sound doctrine, the faithful will only be confused and hindered on their journey.  Pastoral solicitude always begins with the truth and leads women and men to embrace that truth.  I wait anxiously for the Synod to echo the Lord’s invitation to all of us:  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).



…being other items of interest

It is not frequently suggested that the Catholic Church’s classic teaching on marriage is an impossible ideal, or at the very least a terribly challenging standard to uphold; the correlative claim is that lowering the bar of expectation is the prudent and compassionate path of “pastoral accompaniment.” These themes, as suggested yesterday, are prominent in Synod 2015’s discussions.

A remarkably candid, humble, and moving article in the Web edition of the journal First Things (one of the partner-publications in the Letters from the Synod project) suggests precisely the opposite: that the Church’s teaching is a marriage-builder and marriage-saver, for although the “ideal” – the truth – that Christ and the Church teach is indeed high and challenging, skillful pastors can and do fashion that teaching and its expectations into an essential part of true pastoral care. We’re pleased to link to it here and ask readers to share it widely. XR2






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