A deeper look at the Synod message Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

Just as the final documents of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops were being voted upon and final messages released, I was blessed with the opportunity of meeting with our Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) this past weekend.

This group, which is made up of laity and some priests from every corner of our 11-county diocese, is an invaluable help to me in my ministry to you, and their input on Saturday was tremendously useful.

I asked for the members of the DPC to give me their perceptions and thoughts on what they had read and heard of the Synod and its deliberations. Knowledge ranged from those who had read one or two headlines, or heard part of a local news story, to those who have voraciously read every blog and news story they could get their hands on. Some members of the DPC already had strong opinions on what they had read; while many others wanted to take a “wait and see,” approach.

In the end, however, I learned that there is not a strong general awareness of the Synod, but that on the part of those who are aware, the more “welcoming tone” being transmitted by the proceedings is a truly positive development. I certainly couldn’t disagree with that.

All the members -- even the most well-read -- expressed confusion, to greater and lesser degrees, over which documents of the Synod were actually authoritative, what the purpose of the “mid-term” report was (especially in so far as it was released and then changed), what the Synod was and wasn’t saying with regard to Church doctrine, and whether it was even saying anything at all.

All agreed that most of the reports from the secular media were unhelpful and uninformed with regards to the mission of the Church. I found all of the reactions reasonable enough. And I’ll try to share with you some of what I shared with the DPC.

Looking at the final message

For my part, it comes as no surprise whatsoever that the media is doing its very best to guide this Synod according to its own agenda and to magnify and even create disunity in the Church.

To me, it’s been difficult to watch the unashamed attempt to paint each and every discussion and statement in political terms. We should not pretend that there aren’t disagreements flowing from this Synod, there are. But we should certainly not bind the work of the Holy Spirit by the chains of human weakness and pettiness that weigh down the purely political realm.

Given its freedom from political language, it was therefore no surprise to me that the official final message of the Synod, which came out on Saturday, was widely ignored by the media. This document, the only one approved by the whole body of the Synod, is to serve as the starting point for the discussions of the coming year.

The message is a poetic and inspiring description of the beauty of marriage and family life. It speaks to all that family can be, with God’s grace, while acknowledging the challenges that face the attainment of that ideal.

In the midst of all the turmoil and confusion, I think it is absolutely important that we take a look at that final message.

We cannot forget that the whole purpose of this Synod is to consider the pastoral challenges of the family. In order for us to have a chance at addressing the pastoral challenges facing the family, we MUST have as our starting point the beauty of a marriage in Christ and the beauty of the family.

We must proclaim the “good news,” the “Gospel of the Family,” so that we can accept the challenges which lie before us. How can there be pastoral challenges facing the family, if “the family” has no meaning? If it means whatever you want it to mean?

Two sides of the discussion

And here we encounter the two major “sides” of this discussion which the Church will continue to undertake.

In the balance of truth and of mercy there are those who would say, “can we justify a certain compromise of the traditional teaching of the Church in order to show mercy?” and others who ask, “does the truth of the Church, taught from the beginning, limit our flexibility in how we show mercy?”

We must remember that the mercy of Christ is unlimited, but that it is always dispensed in accord with the truth.

Personally, I don’t know how one can draw the conclusion that the best way to show mercy in our day and age is to compromise the truth somewhat. But that is precisely what some of the Synod Fathers are proposing, and what is being considered.

Unfortunately there is a caricature of the Church that exists which insinuates that to say that mercy can only be exercised in service to the truth, is to say there is no mercy!

There are those who say basically, “the Church stands firmly and unbendingly for the truth, therefore there is no mercy for sinners.”

This is why we must consider how all of us can do a better job exercising mercy in the Church. The only remedy for countering a claim that there is no mercy is to do a better job putting on the face of mercy.

Exercising mercy

And herein lies the difficulty of this Synod and part of the reason why everything is so confusing. For, while the discussions of pastoral challenges to the family and of exercising mercy are taking place at the highest levels, the place where this mercy is actually exercised is at the level of the parish.

Thus, we’re considering how we live out mercy, but it’s being projected that the Church is considering weakening the truth.

Of course the most glaring example of this was in the section of the Synod’s midterm report which regarded persons with homosexual inclinations.

To me, it is obvious that there are positive elements in every human relationship, and it is obvious (not to mention the teaching of the Church) that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God, with their own unique gifts.

What the Church has always said, and continues to say, is that no individual person, in his or her identity, should be characterized simply by something they do or desire.

We must not be forced to treat persons as if their inherent value flows from that which they do or desire. Individuals are much, much larger than their homosexual tendencies; they are human beings and precious children of God, each with particular gifts and weaknesses -- just as are we all.

And so the question is, how do we welcome the person with a greater sense of mercy, while remaining clear that the person’s desires and actions may not be acceptable? How do we better make clear that the Church loves them and values them for who they are?

Confronting the challenges

And so, after a year of preparation and two weeks of discussion, here we are. The Church once again is entering into a time of meditation and of conversation on how we confront the challenges of the family in the light of the truth, always with mercy.

It’s true, the final message of the synod doesn’t address what we’re going to do about communion for the divorced and remarried; it doesn’t address the pastoral care of same-sex couples; it doesn’t address what we’re going to do about cohabitation. Those things have to be further considered.

What the Synod Fathers are saying is, “the one thing we all can agree on is the beauty of marriage and of the family of Christ. So, let’s put that firmly in the center and let’s spend the next year discussing how we can better deal with those other challenges.”

The natural law and the divine law on marriage and the family cannot change. In the end, the Synod Fathers were able to agree on that, and that’s not a vague statement.

And so, I am pleased with the more “welcoming tone” that is being reported by news media, and I hope that it translates to people accepting the welcome that has always existed, to hear the Good News and to be welcomed into a family which desires to see them as God sees them and to call them to the greatness for which He has created them.

And, especially over the coming year, I hope we can discuss ways of making that very invitation, always with mercy and in the truth, so that all may come to know Christ and His Church.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Let us pray for one another, for our Holy Father, and for all the leaders of the Church. Praised be Jesus Christ!