Synod expresses differing thoughts on mercy, marriage indissolubility

This story appears in the Family Synod 2015 feature series. View the full series.

by Joshua J. McElwee

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The worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops on family has reportedly begun discussing two of the issues expected to be among the most debated by the prelates: the role of mercy towards those not following church teaching and the church's vision on the indissolubility of marriage.

According to reports from several Vatican spokespersons at a briefing Saturday, those issues have come up at length during the open sessions of the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops Friday and Saturday.

Romilda Ferrauto, a Vatican Radio journalist who is assisting the Vatican Press Office with French-language media, said Saturday that the bishops are broadly presenting two schools of thought.

One of those schools is to think that before judging others "you must judge yourself, because we are always people that accuse others of weaknesses while we are not able to see our own," said Ferrauto.

The other is to speak clearly about negative aspects of modern life, she said.

"The church will be credible only if it is clear ... and if the faith of Jesus is shown as truth and if the prophetic truth of the indissolubility of marriage is presented," said Ferrauto, quoting one of the bishops speaking during the synod sessions.

Ferrauto was one of five spokespersons briefing journalists on the synod discussions Saturday. While the synod has attracted wide attention for its expected deliberations on a host of issues, its sessions are closed to the press.

The Vatican press office is instead offering daily briefings on the proceedings.

Also speaking Saturday were two synod participants: Fr. Javier Alvarez-Ossorio, the superior general of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart; and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, an Indian prelate who heads that country's bishops' conference and the Syro-Malankara Catholic church.

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the head of the press office, said Saturday that 75 prelates had spoken at the synod's open sessions Friday and Saturday. Lombardi and the other spokespersons gave an overview of different themes discussed.

While those themes were quite diverse, the issues of mercy and indissolubility of marriage surfaced many times. Both have a role in discussions the synod is known to be having regarding the church's practice towards Catholics who remarry after a divorce without first obtaining annulments.

Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, who assists the press office with English-language media, said one synod prelate had said: "Mercy cannot be encountered unless it is measured against an eternal law."

"One must seek truth in order to experience mercy," Rosica quoted that prelate. "And the church must seek truth when confronting the theme of marriage. Means giving people a challenge; it is not covering reality with giftwrap."

Another synod prelate, Rosica related, had said: "Unless we acknowledge openly people's situations, we will not be able to address those situations clearly."

"Mercy towards sinners is not a form of weakness, nor an abandonment of church teaching," Rosica quoted that prelate.

"We have to learn how to speak the truth in love in many situations, because in many situations people are completely powerless over what has befallen them," he said. "And our communities of faith have to be communities that welcome people."

Rosica also mentioned Saturday that one synod prelate had put forward a new possibility for the functioning of the Synod of Bishops, suggesting that it might in the future become a two or three year process that begins with some sort of continental gathering of bishops to allow them to discuss particular issues before coming to Rome.

That synod prelate, Rosica said, indicated that such a process "would involve a real study and analysis on what goes on in that particular continent to allow people to have a wider perspective on the issues."

Responding to an NCR question about that possibility, Thottunkal said he thought such a process would work "very well so that the fruits of the synod will be more tangible and more comprehensive."

The synod is meeting again Saturday afternoon before taking a break on Sunday. The bishops will reconvene in their 13 small discussion groups Monday and Tuesday before meeting again in open session Wednesday.

The Vatican released a list of the names of the 75 prelates that had spoken in the synod sessions Friday and Saturday. Those included:

  • Rwanda Bishop Antoine Kambanda;
  • Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer;
  • U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl;
  • Canadian Archbishop Richard Smith;
  • Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano;
  • German Cardinal Gerhard Muller;
  • Japanese Archbishop Joseph Takami, and;
  • British Bishop Peter Doyle.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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