The gift of papal silence

by Anne E. Patrick


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Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has been very generous with his words. There have been addresses, homilies, conversations, phone calls, interviews and writings, including an apostolic exhortation on "The Joy of the Gospel" (Evangelii Gaudium). Still, the pope has been silent or very reticent on certain questions.

Meanwhile, many wonder whether the special Synod of Bishops that met in October will lead to changes in pastoral practice concerning marriage and the family and whether women will ever be eligible for ordination and decision-making in the church. Such people may find it helpful to recall what communications expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson said when St. John Paul II visited the United States in 1987. In response to a newscaster's question, "Does papal teaching ever change?" Jamieson declared: "Yes, papal teaching does change. But only after there has been a period of papal silence on the question."

A new approach to synods

In planning the 2014 synod, Pope Francis showed strong leadership concerning the process of the meeting but did not disclose his desires regarding specific results. Using a model he experienced in the Latin American bishops' conference, he invited 174 members of the hierarchy and 54 nonvoting observers and experts (25 of whom were women) to discuss "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization." He expected discussions to yield a report contributing to a follow-up synod this October, after which he will release an "apostolic exhortation" on these matters.

A preliminary report issued during the 2014 synod expressed a new tone of openness, and the final report maintained this tone to a lesser extent and gave evidence of disagreements among the bishops. Showing how he values transparency, Pope Francis asked for publication of the entire report, including the record of how many synod members approved or disagreed with each paragraph. Thus, the final report contains paragraphs about gay people and the availability of sacraments to divorced and remarried Catholics, subjects that had not received the two-thirds majority support awarded the rest of the document. This leaves the topics on the table for future consideration.

Read the full story at Global Sisters Report.

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