Blog Post

Synod Diary: Denials, Affirmations, and Promises

Originally posted in The Catholic World Report

The circuli minori release their reports, and eyes turn toward the synod’s final document.

Cardinals Scola and Kasper talk after event marking 50th anniversary of Synod of Bishops at Vatican

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Italy, talks with German Cardinal Walter Kasper after an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Oct. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican journalists were greeted this morning in the Vatican press office with an emphatic denial that Pope Francis has a benign brain tumor. The report, from the Italian national newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale, contained titillating details, such as a hushed helicopter ride from Vatican City to Tuscany where a Japanese surgeon is reported to have met with the Holy Father. A second denial was published on the Vatican website.

Today we received copies of the interventions made by the auditors of the Synod on the Family. Auditors participate in the Synod discussions and offer interventions, but they do not vote. Overwhelmingly, auditors affirm the beauty of ordinary Catholic families, quietly striving to live holy, dedicated lives.

Brazilian auditors Dr.and Mrs. De Rezende spoke of ordinary families who become Apostolic Families through spiritual formation and dedicated priests. They urged the Synod Fathers to “support saintly priests so that families can do what families do best: to be apostolic by...sharing their faith with other families.” The president of the Nigerian National Catholic Women Organization, Mrs. Agnes Offiong Erogunaye,  spoke of the “calamity” of Boko Haram and the invaluable service offered by the “tenderness” of the Church in Nigeria. She expressed her gratitude for the teachings of the Church that uphold the role of women in families and in society, with particular emphasis on Mulieris Dignitatem, based on the model of the Blessed Mother. Mrs. Erogunaye proposed that the Synod Fathers “re-emphasize through catechesis what the family is, its role, and its importance.”

There is something surreal about reading the statements of Mrs. Toma and Mr. Odeesho from the parish of San Giorgio in Baghdad, representing “the fighting Iraqi Christian family.” They described “fierce assaults” that burst upon their communities: “The Christians of Nineveh plain found themselves on the roadside; leaving homes, job, memories…simply everything.” They spoke movingly of the relationship between persecution and spiritual strength. One cannot learn of this degree of sacrifice without some shame, recalling how the synod media reports have been nearly silent on their plight.

Mr. and Mrs. Pulikowska of Poland identified themselves as representing “normal families.” These families “believe in God” and have the responsibility “to defend those who suffer and die in the name of Christ and oppose ideologies which try to destroy our marriages, families, and children.” They asked Synod Fathers to encourage the values of fidelity between spouses and responsible parenting, and to remember abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and young people who live chastely.

When the new round of reports from the circuli minori arrived, a new hum began in the Sala Stampa—these reports are a major indicator of which direction the synod wind is blowing. English group “A”is led by Cardinal Pell of Australia and Archbishop Kurtz of the United States. Their group entered an expected strong defense of the core teaching on marriage and family. One addition is their call for stable couples to “accompany” distressed couples and families within “the communal life of the Church.” This effectively relocates the theme of “accompaniment” so that not only pastors but healthy families provide aid to those in difficult circumstances.

Circle “A” also anchored faithful Catholic families to the culture with an evangelical mission. “The Christian family has a responsibility to inform culture with the Good News.” There was mention of religious freedom, better marriage preparation, and “sex education based on an authentically Christian understanding of marriage.” Spelled out were modesty, chastity, self-control, but most importantly, the primary role of parents in sex education was underscored. Near the conclusion, Humanae Vitae is robustly affirmed. English Circle “A” included this last thought—that the participants “hope that the final document will unify and not divide…”

Reporters, intent on dissecting the circuli minori to discern the direction the synod is developing, perhaps did not hear the piped-in catechesis of Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audience. The Holy Father was extolling the beauty of promises freely made in love, and freely kept:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the family, we spoke last week about the promises we make to our children by bringing them into the world. Today we consider the promise of love and fidelity made between husbands and wives, which is the basis of all family life. This promise is called into question nowadays, and seen as somehow opposed to personal freedom. Yet the truth is that our freedom is shaped and sustained by our fidelity to the choices and commitments we make throughout life. Fidelity grows through our daily efforts to keep our word; indeed, fidelity to our promises is a supreme expression of our dignity as human beings. There is no greater “school” to teach us such fidelity than marriage and the family, which are, in God’s plan, a blessing for our world. Saint Paul tells us that the love which grounds the family points to the bond of love between Christ and the Church. In these days of the Synod on the Family, let us pray that the Church will uphold and strengthen the promise of the family, with creativity and with unfailing trust in that faithful love by which the Lord fulfills his every promise.

Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and speaker whose articles and commentaries on politics, religion, and culture appear in a variety of publications. She is a frequent guest on the Women of Grace® television program on EWTN. . She was appointed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Advisory Council (NAC), 2010-2014 and served as member of the NAC Executive Committee in 2011.  Mrs. Anderson is co-author with Robin Bernhoft of Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions, published in 2005 by Catholic Answers.

Follow her on Twitter @maryjoanderson3.