The synod’s small groups released their conclusions regarding the meeting’s mid-term report on Thursday, calling for clarification of several phrases and a more positive look at the family in light of scripture. Among other topics, three common and primary themes appeared to be of more immediate concern to the synod fathers: the absence of any reference to the Gospel of the Family, and more widely to Gospel references, in the text; the need to emphasize positive examples of Christian families; and the request to remove, or at least clarify, the principle of graduality, which they said may lead to confusion. Synod fathers were divided into 10 groups which worked in four different languages: there were three Italian-speaking groups, three English, two Spanish, and two French. The texts of the small groups' conclusions were released Oct. 16. One of the first things called for in almost all of the groups was a new introduction to the original relatio, in which the family would be placed “within the context of the great gift of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the grace of God freely given through the sacraments,” as the first English group, moderated by Cardinal Raymond Burke, put it. The groups asked that a greater theological and anthropological foundation be given at the beginning, which is needed in order to address the more serious issues that would be mentioned later. “We have addressed these issues within the context of Scripture and the remarkably rich Magisterium of the Church,” the first English-speaking group wrote, saying they want the final Synod document to speak of human life, marriage and family life “as we know it to be revealed to us by God through reason and faith, both aided by the grace of God.” References clearly stressing the centrality of the Word of God and the beauty of the Gospel of Marriage must be the focal point for the entire final report, they said. Groups also expressed the need to present a more positive vision of the family in the final relatio, with the third English-speaking group, chaired by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, saying, “we strongly felt that the tone of the entire document should express our confidence in marriage.” The original document placed “too much emphasis on the problems facing the family,” the second English-speaking group, headed by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, said. They stressed the need “to provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope.” Although a synod reflecting on pastoral challenges to the family naturally denotes talking about situations of brokenness and pain, “we should not fall into the trap of thinking, or in some way conveying that marriage and family are a failure, no longer appropriate to our times,” they continued. The group spoke of how the final document could draw significant richness from the testimonies of the lay couples who gave their testimonies, saying that as it stands, “a young person reading the relatio would, if anything, become even less enthusiastic about undertaking the challenging vocation of Christian matrimony.” The final document, they noted, ought to be directed to the youth in particular, in order to help them better understand and be attracted to the Christian vision of marriage and family life in a world full of contradictions. Greater emphasis should be given, they said, to those families who “despite many challenges and even failures, strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation within the Church and society.” Also up for clarification what the original relatio’s reference to the “law of graduality,” often referred to as “gradualism,” which connotes a change that comes about gradually. With a near unanimous vote saying that the original use of the term was not defined clearly enough, the first Italian group, headed by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, explained that after reading the original relatio, synod fathers were not able to find “an adequate and shared interpretation” of the phrase. Used in the context it was, the phrase was “elusive,” and had the danger of implying that “(the) difficulties of married life would lead to a lowering of the full meaning of the vocation of marriage itself.” The first English-speaking group stressed in their conclusions that if used in the final report, the term should be clarified to ensure the reader knows that it does not speak of the graduality “of doctrine on faith and morals, but rather the gradual moral growth of the individual in their actions.” The third English-speaking small group also said that “Gradualness should not make insipid the challenge of the Gospel to conversion, to ‘go and sin no more’, as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery.” Rather, “The aim of recognizing gradualness should be to draw people closer to Christ,” they observed, explaining that truth and mercy are not mutually exclusive terms, and that by proclaiming the truth the Church also proclaims “the most profound mercy” of reconciliation and unity with God. Other themes brought up by synod fathers in their reports were the need to improve relations with the Orthodox churches, to promote the role and dignity of women, as well as the need to clarify parts of the relatio referring to attitudes the Church should have toward those with same-sex attraction and divorced and remarried Catholics. While clarifying that persons living a homosexual lifestyle are not living according to Church doctrine, synod fathers emphasized that they need to be welcomed “without judgment or condemnation,” and that there needs to be a more inviting language developed that establishes they have a place in the Church. Most of the small groups did not recommend open communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, but recommended that the Church examine “possible paths of repentance and discernment by which, in particular circumstances, a divorced and remarried person might participate in the sacraments,” as one group put it. However it was strongly emphasized that such persons be encouraged to remain a part of the Church through prayer, attending Mass, the practice of virtue, and participation in their communities. Several references were also made to Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae vitae,” on the regulation of birth. It was also highly recommended by several groups to include a stronger reference to Mary and to the Holy Family of Nazareth in the conclusion of the relatio. The Blessed Mother “because of her unique role in the Holy Family of Nazareth and at the wedding feast of Cana, continues to play an important role in the Church,” one English group wrote. In an Oct. 17 press conference, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said that the synod's final report will be prepared, and then voted upon on Saturday morning. He emphasized, however, that it is unlikely the synod's final relatio will be released by Saturday evening.
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