End of Week One and Small Group Reports

Tomorrow marks the end of week one of the Synod here in Rome.  At the news conference today, we were told that the small groups have wrapped up their work with Part 1 of the Instrumentum laboris (IL), their name for their work document, and have moved on to Part 2.  We will hear tomorrow what they have talked about so far on Part 2.  We also received the small group summary reports today.  I was not terribly impressed with what the English groups reported but it is early.  In working with Part I, they were making mostly comments, edits and amendments to the language of the IL.  The IL is not a carved in stone document so this part of the process is to fine-tune it.   As one bishop commented, it is meant to be “martyred”.  Remember, the IL is the document that comes out of the work of the last Synod combined with the results of that lovely worded survey that we received last spring along with consultation from experts and comments from episcopal conferences.  It is a work of a committee appointed by the pope and the Synod office itself.  Here are a few comments about what I read in the reports and heard in the news conference.  I am concerned that there are some hefty efforts being made to undermine the entire Synod.  I am sure you can guess what American bishop is most involved. He keeps questioning the language of the IL almost like a drum beat, saying it is too negative, too “westernized”, was not translated accurately. ( Oh, by the way, by his own admission, he is not fluent in Italian so how would he know this?  Who is baiting him with the notion that it is mistranslated?  I would suspect one in particular who likes lace and long red capes.)  He has added to that now the fact that the pope appointed the committee that will draft the final document for this year’s meeting, instead of the Synod Fathers electing the committee.  He seems to be hinting around and has fostered an amendment from his small group to have only a single author for the final document.  You will read in my notes following that Fr. Lombardi is making an effort to shoot this notion down by claiming the precedent of a committee appointed by the pope as was done last year.  He also described the complexities involved in taking all the comments from 13 small groups and formulating a systematic document from that.  In addition, he has reminded them they will have two days to comment on the draft of the final document, even being able to make comments on it into the night before it is finalized as the committee writing it stays up all night to do so.  Another niggling situation is this notion that the small group process is “confusion”.  If you remember, this same bishop claimed that PF was sowing confusion with the Synod process from last year.  Here is a great article by Fr. Jim Martin on this “confusion” and what he sees in how PF has organized this whole
Roman Fall Party:  Click here.  I agree with him.  Having studied the pope’s Jesuit formation as I have, I can see it exactly now that Martin has pointed this out.  And the kind of confusion that the small groups are seemingly feeling doesn’t bother him one bit.  He says that is family for you.  I think the intensity is going to build over the next two weeks.  Apparently, many are seeing week three as the crucial week.  I will have to monitor that final week from home as I will leave Rome on the 21st.  Following are my notes from today’s presser.


Synod 2015

Press Conference

October 9, 2015


Please note: although the words and responses of the various entities seem verbatim, they are a “summary” of what I heard them say.  Do not assume everything here is exactly as it was said.  I do my best to take accurate notes but these news conferences are very fast paced…rr


Panel members:

Fr. Lombardi, Vatican Spokesperson

Crd. Tagle, Philippines

Ab. Sierra, Madrid

Ab Kurtz, US


Lombardi: Today is different because we have the small group reports.  They provide some proposals to the Instrumentum laboris that are the expression and summary of the small groups. (Note: the IL they are working with is derived from the work of the last Synod, October 2014, with the addition of material from the survey sent out to all dioceses to distribute to the people.  Some dioceses did distribute it, many did not….rr).  Also, the Holy Father made a short contribution this morning.  He invited all to pray for the Middle East.


Work in the small groups has moved to Part 2 of the IL.  Tomorrow we will discuss the work on Part 2 as far as it has gone at that point.


With respect to the questions made to me with regard to the language of the IL.  Also in regards to having one person write the final report either one approved by the pope or elected.  Precedent was set last year with the appointment of the 9-person committee.  The work of incorporating all the proposals coming from the small groups is complex in getting it into a systematic report.  It requires more people.  Last year the committee was made of 9 people, this year it is 10 and almost the same people.  With specific reference to the moment in which they can make proposals, there will be time to do this on the final report.  Also remarks of the Synod fathers can be made during the night when the committee works on the draft of the final report.


The Secretary General made a report with respect to the general contributions from the debate.  (I think he is referring to Erdo’s opening remarks which were quite “no change” in tone….rr).  This is not envisaged in the rules of the Synod.  It is almost impossible to make a summary of the contributions of the other Synod Fathers who have made remarks.  (I think he is referring to the many Interventions, the 3-minute allotted time for speeches that each has.  Up to this date, there have been quite a few of these interventions….rr)


I will turn the floor over to introductory remarks from the rest of the panel members:


Tagle:  (He sits on the governing council of the Synod….rr)  I heard reports from the secretaries of the thirty small groups.  I have participated in 6 Synods.  Small groups are important because we get to hear from the important work of these groups.  I heard the freedom and respect to the Church and family.  There was respect for diversity but this did not destroy unity.  I am happy to note that as the Synod progresses, we won’t turn a blind eye to the challenges brought out last year but also celebrate the goodness of the family.  There is a positive and collaboratory tone.


Sierra:  This is my first time at a Synod.  The fact of being here and speaking to such important issues to human life and the way we are doing so and taking part is interesting.  The intensity and love, attention and freedom of expression is very evident.  The various contributions raise interesting aspects.  There is a desire to show that the original structure of life is family and the Church has noted that Jesus was born into a family.  The small group discussion is like a school of fine art where we see the strokes of the development of thought.


Kurtz:  There is a richness of dialogue in the same room with representatives from all continents.  There is strong unity in Christ.  There are a couple of common threads:

–The small groups are not diminishing the challenges

–The Synod is beginning to allow confidence in Jesus to be both the first and last word of the

Synod.  The Holy Father talks of the God who entered humanity in a family that truly had an

open heart.

–The small groups are off to a good start.  The idea to move quickly into the small groups was a

good idea.

–Instead of talking of the negative, it is better to talk of “light and shadows”.  It doesn’t diminish

the challenges but acknowledges the seeds of renewal present in families.

–I am not concerned that the final document will be overly westernized but enriched by the

experience of real families.

–Regarding families that migrate, my small group emphasized the need for governments and

the Church to welcome and help them.

–People with disabilities and special needs can bring forth new ideas on the family and how to

help them.




  1. From John Allen: One thing we have heard consistently is a desire for new language.  We haven’t hear specifics.  Could you give us a concrete example of language you don’t like and how you would use different language to say the same thing?


Kurtz:  I will be especially listening in week 3.  The word “inspires” is important.  In part one, there is little that inspires.  Simple and understandable words that inspire will attract.  Section 3 will allow me to be specific.


Tagle:  Part of the experience of the small groups is that even though we speak the same language, you understand different meanings to the same word.  It needs a sensitivity to words.  Words come from the world.  Young people, for example, don’t like “church speak”, “church talk”.  It doesn’t connect with them.  Simple less verbose language might be a project.


Sierra: I think that there is a language of God and of the heart.  The Church should get out of formal language and enter into daily life of families, which is a marvelous experience.  When they enter into the life of Jesus, they can be surprised that they can understand him.  Use the language of Jesus to reach them.


  1. (From a French reporter) There is talk of the confusion created by small groups.  The language used is confusing.  The French groups asked for a magisterial group.  They are asking for catechesis and evangelization.  You people don’t know what family is.  (This journalist went on quite a bit but never really asked a question….rr)


Lombardi:  Ask a question!  It seems you have 3 questions in your statement.


Tagle: A new method is being tried which has caused some confusion but confusion is good otherwise you are not in real life.  It is good to go to small groups after having heard 300 interventions.  There is ample time to share context and opinions on a focused part of the IL.  The other point of confusion in the small groups is around what to give to the Holy Father.  He may or may not use the proposals.  The first Synods called did not end in a papal exhortation but were allowed to produce the final document.  Only when Paul VI produced Evangelii nuntiandi did a papal exhortation come about.


Kurtz: I knew that the Synod Fathers and delegates had to exercise patience.  Now journalists need to be patient to await the final conclusion.  Bu,t it is important to hear and to listen to various voices.  It is healthy and achieves clarity.


Sierra:  I don’t know what may happen in the future, but the fact that we are in a lively meeting is that we are in a reality we all share.  We need to look for real messages and messengers, exceptional messages.  On the other hand, what we are discussing will be given to the Holy Father in a spirit of freedom of expression.  This is formidable.





  1. I wish to ask if what we received in the report (of the small groups??…rr) there was an expression of good will. I realize that all remarks in the small groups are taken into account.  There is concern that the committee to do the final report was appointed by the Holy Father and not selected.  There is therefore concern that the final report will not be acceptable to the Synod Fathers.

Kurtz:  the final document will be available for two days before the final vote and we can comment on it.  We are giving our best amendments and are guided by the Holy Spirit.  This will give us further opportunities to respond.  This is a healthy development.

Tagle: Let me explain the relationship between the Extraordinary Synod of October 2014 and the Ordinary Synod this year.  The Relatio synodi, the final document from last year, is the basis of the Instrumentum laboris that the small groups are working with.  So, they are giving further edits to the IL.  The small groups will be free to express themselves up to the last minute.  Will the revised IL we come up with be the final document or will the Holy Father come up with something else?  I don’t know the answer to that.

  1. How valid is the Instrumentum laboris to all of you when there is so much criticism? Were the complaints about the over westernization from the developing world or the developed world?


Kurtz: The IL is meant to be tentative and “martyred” otherwise there is no point in calling together 300 people just to say “Yes” to it.  It is necessary to scrutinize it.  It was proposed by a committee and after much consultation.  It is not meant to be a set and cohesive treatise.


Tagle:  I think part of the concern is what is the ultimate use of the document but that is in the hands of the Holy Father.  The notion of a single author needs to be addressed.  There is an amendment to do so.  Need to sense out whether to come up with a single writer approach or a narrative approach.  Regarding it being overly westernized, we are hearing this from the non-western voices.  Global understanding of the richness of the world needs to be noted.


Sierra:  The IL really leads us to express interesting ideas that leads to other interesting ideas.  It can’t just appeal to the west.  The issues and problems are similar.  There is a convergence of ideas.  The system used in this group is not typical of just one country.  For example, there is a need to share protection of the environment.  Laudato si and families insist on this.  We must reaffirm this and provide for thought.


  1. With respect to the Spanish-speaking countries. We have been told the Latin American Fathers underlined the expression of “gender economy”.  Have you compared this to other small groups?


Sierra:  In some respects on this and on other expressions of gender ideology that affect the failings in the family, other small groups have addressed this.  It is necessary to have a new definition that protects the family that is the original structure of life.  Not only in the American continent, but gender ideology is working its way through the world.


  1. It is clear agreement is going to be difficult. Has discussion occurred to defer to the local churches to deal with some of the issues?

Tagle:  There is some discussion of this in the small groups.  There is unity affirmed but there are differences.  We have asked what space can be given to the episcopal conferences but always in the light of unity in marking the discussions.

Kurtz: It is easy to deal in the abstract.  But with the advent of “Gentle Judge” (Note: he is talking about the new annulment processes that PF promulgated on his own motu proprio….rr), the idea is widely accepted.

  1. After one week, I can’t tell if you are speaking from the viewpoint of the general family or Catholic Christian family. Which is it?


Sierra: Obviously, we are speaking of Christian families but family is basic to humanity.  The best of my life, the ability to love, respect and to serve others, devotion to others I learned in my family.  In my family, I experienced Jesus.  This is unique to Christian families, helping to make life more human and more humane.  We are seeing if we can provide a contribution of unconditional love to all families.


  1. In Central America, there is much talk of last year’s Synod on the gays and communion to the divorced and remarried. I want to focus on migration flows, which are destroying families.  What do you feel about this?  Also, the Synod needs to address violence and poverty.  There is a commercialization against giving birth.  Abortion is an important issue.


Sierra: We are considering the situation of migration fundamental to tackle.  The issue has been raised in the small groups. All of these processes are important.  Welcoming the person who immigrates to another country presents real opportunities.  There has always been migration.  The arrival of immigrants provides richness and new, fresh contributions to our communities.  Then there are the attacks to giving birth.  We need to take a new approach.  Poverty and housing issues in families affect how they welcome a pregnancy.  We need to support these families in their needs.


Kurtz: There has been great concern regarding migration and it seems to be twofold: generously accompanying in gifts and difficulties.  True migration reform on the part of governments is needed.  On the observation on the right to life: this was also treated well in part 1 of the IL.
We need to support families in difficulty at the time of pregnancy.


  1. I was talking to an archbishop from Nigeria last night. He says his Islamic brothers are looking to the Synod to protect the rights and mission of the family.  How much does the Synod send a message to the non-Catholic world?  How much will the message just be the same thing and it will be much ado about nothing?   You haven’t even addressed deep doctrinal issues like ordaining women and gay marriage…..


Kurtz:  This is a deep question.  How will the message be received and who receives it?  You are right that we are speaking to choir (Note: I didn’t get his exact words which were more detailed but this was his meaning…rr).  The Church seeks to work in the common good, stating the reality of it.  Because of our interaction beyond our faith community causes them to see what motivates us.  The Holy Father has said it is not a doctrinal Synod.  The ecumenical community is interested but not only in if we change church teaching.


Tagle: While the Catholic Church is reaffirming pastoral love for the family in a contrary world, there is universal concern of all believers and non-believers.  They are not only concerned about doctrinal concerns but how much the Catholic Church supports the family, reaffirms faith and giving new life.  How do we accompany?  We have doctrine, but how do we live it?


Sierra: I want to add that all of you in the media have a special power to put an end to the lack of respect to the family in all cultures.  You must serve as an example.  Family is the family shared in every country.

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