Study day on synod did not aim to change doctrine, spokesman says

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

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The presidents of the bishops' conferences of Germany, France and Switzerland decided their preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the family could benefit from listening to theologians, biblical scholars and canon lawyers from all three countries, said the spokesman for the German bishops.

"It was a real fruitful discussion and very broad and that was important; it was not just about the hot topics" of divorce and homosexuality, Matthias Kopp, the spokesman, told Catholic News Service on Wednesday.

The three bishops organized a study day Monday in Rome, bringing together bishops and scholars, a couple of Vatican officials and a few journalists to discuss issues likely to be raised at the synod Oct. 4-25.

The presidents of the three conferences -- German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, French Archbishop Georges Pontier and Swiss Bishop Markus Buchel -- meet in January every year, Kopp said. At their meeting five months ago, they decided that as part of their synod preparation, they should "reflect together and bring together experts not just from one country."

Presentations at the study day, held at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, included an in-depth look at church law on the family -- not just on annulments -- and on biblical visions of the family, he said.

Responding to claims by some media not invited to attend, Kopp said, "I reject the thesis that the bishops have an agenda to change church teaching."

In a press statement after the meeting, the bishops said they wanted to "enrich thinking about the biblical and theological foundations of the themes [of the synod] and clarify the issues at the heart of the current debates on marriage and family."

The meeting was not a conference, but a session designed for exploration, study and discussion, Kopp said. Although a handful of journalists were invited to attend and write about the study day -- including by quoting participants -- they were asked not to identify who said what.

The French Catholic agency I.Media said much of the discussion "focused on welcoming the divorced and remarried in the church, in light of the Scriptures, but also morality."

Among the points made by individual participants, the agency said, were: Church teaching and discipline are not immovable, but develop over time; "a second marriage can be an authentic union"; the indissolubility of marriage is an ideal or "utopia" to strive for; that God may be present in a stable and faithful homosexual union, but the union is not a marriage; that the church must find a language that is less "blunt" or harsh to speak about people in situations that do not measure up to the Gospel ideal.

Afterward, I.Media interviewed a participant, Anne-Marie Pelletier, a French biblical scholar who won the Ratzinger Prize in 2014; the prize is awarded by Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, which was founded in 2010 to promote the writings of the retired pope.

The discussion, she said, was not "the repetition of conventional wisdom, but we pointed to what are very real problems for the life of the church in modern society with the idea that we could be a credible voice -- one faithful to Christ -- only if we first take the time to listen."

Each participant strives to be faithful to Christ, to the church and to the Gospel, Pelletier said. But they also believe that "to stay true to tradition we must say things differently."

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