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Gays, Divorced, and Remarried in the Synod on the Family

Fr. Jerome R. Secillano, MPA

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The Synod of Bishops’ ending last Oct. 25 was sort of anti-climactic. The contentious issues which consumed many of the participants were left without definitive answers much to the consternation of those hoping for clarity in so far as their status in the Church is concerned.

Except for the recognition of gay or homosexual unions, which the Synod fathers emphatically thumbed down by a vote of 221-37 but not without reiterating that those with homosexual tendencies be respected in their dignity and not be discriminated (Relatio, par. 76), the relatio synodi (synod report) spoke mostly about recognizing the circumstances and understanding the context of these controversial marriage issues as they happen to couples and the pastoral approaches needed to lead couples to a fuller participation in the life of the church.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, a columnist of America Magazine said, “The report is an agreement in ambiguity”. Meaning, the report made sure that the contentions of both liberals and traditionalists were accommodated at the expense of a more precise statement on where the divorced and remarried stand on the issues.
Those who crafted the report should be commended though for their ability to weave through the discordant voices in the Synod resulting in a more objective and balanced declaration of the participants’ stand. According to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal czar, “There was tension between doctrine and pastoral approach, but it is the task of the synod to see these two aspects together. Every Catholic bishop, in his person, is a teacher of the faith and also shepherd of the flock”.

Faithful to this task, the group, composed of ten prelates chosen from the Synod fathers, carefully wrote upholding Church’s teachings on the matter and in a sign of liberality acknowledged the need “for the divorced and civilly remarried, who are baptized, to be more integrated into the Christian communities in the diverse ways possible, avoiding every occasion of scandal. They must not feel excommunicated, but they can live and mature as living members of the Church, feeling it to be a mother who always welcomes them, taking care of them with affection and encouraging them in the path of life and the Gospel” (Relatio, par. 84).

To effect this approach, the report said, “The path of accompaniment and discernment orient these faithful to an awareness in conscience of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what places an obstacle to the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on the steps that can favor that participation and make it grow” (Relatio, par. 86).

Though less than what the divorced and remarried were perhaps expecting, the Synodal report opened a window of opportunity for the former to finally achieve what they hope for. The report added, “Moreover, it cannot be denied that in some circumstances “the guilt and responsibility of an action can be diminished or annulled” (Code of Canon Law, 1735), because of different conditions. As a consequence, the judgment on an objective situation must not lead to a judgment on “subjective guilt” (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, declaration of June 24, 2000, n.2a). Therefore, while upholding the general norm, it is necessary to recognize that the responsibility for certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases” (Relatio, par. 85).

An objective reading of the foregoing tells us that on a case to case basis, with proper discernment and examination of conscience through the help of a priest or bishop in the internal forum and for as long as it may not create scandal, the divorced and remarried may possibly have a fuller participation in the life of the church. The problem is it is not clear whether this “fuller participation” also includes receiving communion.

The vague declaration of the Synod report should not dampen though the expectations of those batting for a more inclusive church. The fact that the document recognized the different circumstances and contexts of each marital case may already be considered a significant step toward that direction. Whereas before, it was easy for the Church to say that the divorced and remarried should not receive Holy Communion or those in de facto unions (cohabitation) were living in sin. With this document, especially if ratified and adopted by the Pope, clergymen, and the laity alike will now be more compassionate and understanding when dealing with these people. But how to translate these compassion and understanding into concrete actions will, of course, continue to be a work in progress.

What the Synod achieved was not a radical change in doctrines, for simply there were none, but a consideration, affirmation, and acceptance of the many issues that threaten the family. These issues cannot simply be ignored anymore and the Synod fathers prompted by mercy and charity took themselves to task to make the church more effective in addressing them.

This Synod of Bishops reiterated once more the beauty of the family. The Synod fathers also realized that to preserve its beauty requires more than just being fixated with the Church’s narcissistic tendencies by simply adhering to her laws and regulations. Pope Francis said of the Synod, “It was about listening to the voices of families and pastors, and seeing reality through God’s eyes to offer hope and encouragement in a world of growing crisis and pessimism”.

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