As the second week of the synod draws to a close, it remains to be seen what the final product from the global meeting of bishops will be. The Synod on the Family, which gathers bishops from around the world for a three-week meeting in Rome, builds upon a previous gathering last year. The final document from last year, known as the Instrumentum Laboris, serves as this year’s starting point. However, nearly all of the bishops’ small groups this year have asked for a substantial re-writing of the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris. As a result, it is not yet clear what the final report from this year’s meeting will say. Once the synod fathers present their final report to Pope Francis, the Holy Father will have the option of issuing a post-synodal exhortation, though no decision has yet been made. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, who is one of the Synod delegates personally appointed by Pope Francis, included the request for a post-synodal document among the 40 key points he highlighted from the small group reports. “The final document will have some limitations. A Holy Father’s post-synodal exhortation could be imagined,” Fr. Spadaro wrote in his notes. The drafting committee for the Synod’s final report met Oct. 14, in order to harmonize all the ‘modi’ (amendments) the groups proposed for the working document. At the moment, it is still unclear what the final report will look like: it is possible that it will be an amended version of the starting document, or it could be primarily a brand new text. However, 11 out of 13 small groups advanced requests for a substantial re-writing of the second part of the working document, titled “The Family and the Socio-Economic Context.” Almost all of the small groups asked that the document include more abundant references to the Holy Scriptures. One of them went further, and formally asked for a magisterial document about the Church’s teaching on the family. Small group English A directly advanced this request for a post-synodal exhortation, recognizing “the limitations of a document that will be approved at the conclusion of this Synod.” The small group known as French A said that the second part of the working document “is not firmly enough grounded on the Holy Scriptures,” and asked for a more in-depth description of the Divine Pedagogy. The group also asked that the document will “speak more broadly of fidelity and indissolubility as a gift and a call, rather than as a duty.” The same concerns were expressed by the small group French B. The bishops of this group wished that the text of the working document would “make more use of the language of Biblical theology;” they unanimously observed that the “first part of the first chapter needs a deep revision and a complete rewriting,” and for this purpose “amendments are not appropriate.” Furthermore, the group requested that the final text be “the clearest and simplest possible,” avoiding “ambiguities that would be of detriment for the understanding of the vocation and mission of the family.” The group French C asked for a “more unified approach” that would avoid “false oppositions,” like those “between theology and pastoral care, between the fullness of the vocation and the wound, between truth and mercy.” For this reason, the group wrote a full new paragraph, in order to give “a framework” which helps to read through the other paragraphs. English group B discussed the need for Divine Pedagogy as a lens to understand “our ministry as mirroring God’s patience and mercy,” while the group English C stressed “the need to present the indissolubility of marriage as a gift from God rather than a burden,” and “to draw more deeply and richly from the Scripture, not just citing Biblical text, but in presenting the Bible as a matrix for Christian married and family life.” The group English D identified the lack of a definition of marriage as “a serious defect,” which “causes ambiguity throughout the text.” Italian group A made a call to “fill the text of the working documents on the presentation of doctrine with the spiritual and Holy Spirit dimension.” The Italian B small group suggested a substantial re-writing of the text. The group’s report recounts that the bishops asked to cut some paragraphs, and to adjust others with the purpose of creating “a more cohesive and incisive text.” The group also noticed “the lack of references to God’s Word and the complete lack of reference to the Church’s tradition.” However, the group was conscious that the Synod’s final report might have some limits. “(T)here is the need on one side to ask for a magisterial document on the issue, and on the other side to make further pastoral verifications” on marriage and family, it said. The group Italian C provided a wide, theological reflection on the text, and asked that “the Synod would return to the springing source of the message of Jesus” and to its “ability to accompany the stages of the family life.” All of these concerns will be analyzed by the drafting committee for the final report. Composed by ten people personally appointed by the Pope, the drafting committee is called to harmonize all the amendments presented — at the moment, the text has received some 700 amendments — in a new text that will be submitted for the Synod’s approval.
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