Today I had the occasion to be on buses a lot….it’s a long story. Bus riding in Rome is interesting to say the least. I think the bus drivers deserve sainthood. Of course they must deal with lots and lots of people, some asking stupid questions and for directions. Then there is the art they must engage in to get more people onto a bus than is humanly possible at times. Let’s just say, I have been in some “cozy” situations. Being half Italian, it helps. There is another art they have. That is their ability to literally get a bus through some of the most narrow passages imaginable. Rome streets by and large are not wide thoroughfares. Then there are all of the cars parked and sometimes double parked along the side. Then there are streets, many streets, that either merge or there are roundabouts that defy imagination. Yesterday coming down off the hill where I am staying, just before the Vatican stop where I get off, there is a sharp curve. Right at the curve there is a merge where tour buses come out from a large underground parking area. This is supposed to be a two-lane one way. However, one of the tour buses was, as my dad used to say, taking his half out of the middle. It was a busy time and folks needed to get to their destinations for work and school. The tour bus edged over a bit. I watched as the bus driver, muttering not quite under his breath, threaded his bus through a space that left only bare inches between us and the tour bus and the cars on the side of the road. It was like he was threading a needle, but probably swearing about it the whole time!
Experiencing this it came to my mind the language of Jesus: it will be easier for a camel to pass through a (thread) needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. I may not have the quote exact but I think I have it close for my purposes. In the reports of the comments of the interventions and the small groups at the Synod, I hear over and over the words “the richness of the teachings of the Church”, “the solid (like solid gold) teachings of the Church”. In a sense the church is like that rich young man who Jesus was talking to right before he talked about camels and needles,telling him to sell all. The Church is a rich and not so young woman in many ways. Certainly there is the monetary wealth and we all know that Francis would like a “poor church for the poor”. My thoughts here are about that richness of the teachings. Of course there is much that is good in those teachings but this Synod is working its way through how burdensome some of that teaching is for many people. It may be easier for that camel to thread the needle than the Church with all of her “rich teachings” to remain meaningful in this modern world, to get to that kingdom of heaven we need to affect here and now. We should not hold these teachings above all else, especially the needs of those who are suffering because of them. We need to see the riches of the teachings for what they have to help people thread their own difficult needles so they can then use them to stitch their lives back together, so they can use them to make a beautiful tapestry, even if flawed, of their own lives. This applies to all of us, not just to those the Synod is often referring to as “those people” who have “difficult situations”. We need as a Church to “sell all”, to strip away all but what is essential in our wealth as well as our teachings. Insistence on the “solid, rich teachings of the Church” is burdening her ability to thread the needle. Maybe some of her leaders should spend some time riding around Rome on the public bus system.
Below are my notes from today’s news conference:
October 16, 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. I have transcribed full text of any English speaking panelist or journalist. from the video.
Fr. Lombardi, Vatican Spokesperson
Fr. Dorantes, Official Spanish Translator for the Vatican
Fr Rosica, English media attache for the Vatican
Ms. Ferrauto, French media attache for Vatican
Bishop T Thornton, Anglican Communion
Partriarch Stefanos of Estonia and Representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople
This afternoon the small groups will meet. There will be no interventions of the Synod Fathers this afternoon. This will be a 2-stage briefing. We will give an account of the interventions made yesterday afternoon—30 of them—and the free interventions (time for open debate, but still limited to 3 minutes for each speaker..rr). There were two interventions by auditors but we won’t refer to them as we will be disseminating their texts in full. This morning the 12 fraternal delegates (representatives of other Christian religions..rr) gave their interventions. Their texts will also be made available in full. Then after the first set of panelists make their reports of comments on interventions, we will have two fraternal delegates available for your questions. Patriarch Stefanos of Estonia and representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople is from the “East” and Revered Timothy Thornton of the Anglican Communion is a representative from the “West”. After all the fraternal delegates gave their interventions and the interventions of the auditors this completes that series of interventions….22 in all this morning. As I said, the texts are or will be published. This morning we are not going to give summations of the interventions of the auditors. This afternoon, the small groups are meeting on part 3 and the committee of experts (the commission for the drafting of the final document…rr) are working on integrating all the modi (proposals..rr) of parts 1 and 2 of the Instrumentum laboris.
I would like to start by saying the interventions were very emotional. These are the first very spiritual interventions. One of these was on Humanae vita expressing that human love and the love of God are connected. It included rich and deep words. The intervention is a difficult topic covering procreation and contraception. The difficult subject of Christians vs Christians and Catholics vs Catholics especially in dictator ships and totalitarian states was another intervention. Other issues discussed were the adoption of children, family violence, and the nullity discourse of Pope Francis (the motu proprio he recently released on annulments….rr). The divorced and remarried was not a dominant topic. The Synod Fathers underlined the possibilities: do nothing or the penitential pathway of Kaspar. There were interventions for and against. Or does the Church stay firm as a prophetic witness of the Gospel versus the mainstream culture. Regarding the penitential pathway or changing doctrine, it was suggested this become a topic of further study. Pastoral study is suitable to our needs was discussed. Canon law vs a side aspect. The faithful wait for a clear word on the truth of matrimony. Accompany as the Good Samaritan vs allies of God…..(the translator kind of ended without completing his thought as the next panelist was beginning to speak so I may not have this accurately portrayed…rr)
Two general comments before I summarize the English presentations from yesterday. The first one is many of the interventions, the Synod delegates speak of person experiences, pastoral experiences, even to the point of reading a letter that had been given to them by one of the people they are caring for. The more that these experiences are anchored in real life situations, there was a deep resonance among everyone in the Synod hall. The second point that came up again that there are some pastoral situations for which there are no answers. There are no easy answers so we have to live the questions with people and to help them and the Church has to show mercy. Among the topics of the English language interventions, there were personal testimonies. Persons exist in a network of relationships. That was stressed several times. Human beings are social and ecological beings. Globalization, social media, extractive industries, climate change, migration: all of these factors including ecological changes that work in the world, these have impacts on families. They displace the life-giving values that are present in various cultures. For that reason, the Church has to pay attention to all of these factors. Coming from the African continent there is no one set mode or model that’s there. It was a vast panorama of pastoral situations. One particular comment coming from Africa: in some Vatican documents children are seen as objects and recipients of pastoral care. But, they also must be seen as subjects of promoting family relationships and family life. They are not just the recipients but the protagonists. There’s an importance given to necessary pastoral care: chaplaincies, campus ministry, pastoral teams that work with young adults. Any commitment to working with young adults guarantees successful families in the future. An importance of small Christian communities (was) coming from different Synod Fathers. Older mentor couples are very important in marriage preparation programs. And particular programs were cited in the different interventions: Family Life programs, Pre-Cana programs, Post-Cana programs, Marriage Encounter, Couples for Christ, marriage counseling offices offered by different dioceses or archdioceses—all of these have a very important role to play in the pastoral care of families. Another point that came up, very interesting, that large numbers of children in certain third world countries are not to be viewed as a liability but as a real sign of hope for the future of that country and also a sign of vitality for the culture of that country. Effective parenting influences children to become future Christias well-grounded in the faith. Another ministry that was referenced several times—I forget how many times, but several—was Retrouvaille ministry for couples who have been through difficult times and have found much help through the Retrouvaille movement. In many cases, bishops said when they set out to be the teacher and guide in pastoral situations, they ended up being the receiver of powerful Gospel witnesses. They were catechized by the couples and formed by their involvement with the couples. In other words, ministry with couples involves a mutuality. It’s not just the priest or bishop who is giving but the priest or bishop was deeply touched and formed by the people they were serving. It’s easy for us as priests or bishops, it was said, to be drawn into ways of power and control as if we are the only ones to impart the knowledge whereas working with couples and families is a mutual process of growth and holiness. From the afternoon discussions just a couple of themes that came up in that free discussion. The topic of violence in families. Incest within families, sexual abuse within families. The expression was used “the martyrdom of silence” in many families where incest has taken place. And the Church has to become the voice and give voice in those situations, to the martyrs who have suffered the terrible evil of incest. Care of the elderly—that was mentioned several times, even this morning. You will see that in the notes of this morning (the full texts of the auditor interventions….rr). The great value of elderly people in our societies. Two of the things mentioned, the suffering of the elderly, the isolation and the feeling of being useless. When that happens, it’s often followed by despair and even suicide. A lovely image was made, a reference was made: an arc that exists between Pope John XXIII and Pope Francis. The unity being there is the Second Vatican Council. It was evoked that Pope John XXIII famous address on the night of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, often called the “Moonlight Speech” and it was hoped that Pope Francis would end the Synod with a similar discourse. It would be the discourse of the sun, perhaps, and the image used too of the color of mercy. What is the color of mercy? It was said that the color of mercy is gold. At the heart of the Synod is human sexuality and often times it is muted and often times we don’t know how to talk about it because most of us in the room are male celibates and the important role that lay people bring to that and married couple enrich the whole discussion. (Hallelujah, Jesus, somebody in the group gets it! One of them is owning up to the elephant in the room!…rr). It was stressed, please remember there is a sexual nature to the Eucharist: “This is my body given for you” and we need to root that in human sexuality and in love. It helps us to appreciate even better the sacrament of the Eucharist. Finally the last point is the disastrous effects of very poor sex education programs in many countries which are then transmitted through books and manuals and through media and how much the Holy Mother Church, it was said, is a mother and teacher of love who really has to be involved in the passing on of information about human sexuality Otherwise we leave it in the hands of the public domain and it causes great distortion.
(Note: this woman was speaking so fast in French that the translator had a very hard time keeping up. As a result, my notes for her remarks are less than I would like to be able to provide. I did my best….rr)
Yesterday afternoon there were less French speaking interventions. Before I move I urge you to take the opportunity to read the reports of the fraternal delegates and auditors and to talk about topics in a different way. Two people, lay workers in the Church in Bagdahd spoke of the dire need to help alleviate the suffering of persecuted Christians. Committing of child abuse in churches was mentioned (?). Aborigines and their needs need to be recognized. Parents need to work two jobs and this cuts into the time parents can spend with their children. The balance between doctrine and pastoral care as coming from faith. Use the teaching of JP2 on sexuality. Also Paul to Corinth….act so as not to scandalize the weak. Preparation to marriage—sex education—church needs to enter into it in a clear way. Many parents don’t talk to their children about the beauty of sex. Church should present the good news of sex and the path to love and not sin.
There are a few moments I want to underline from yesterday. How do we underline accompaniment, accompaniment of Christian couples and difficult situations by the church? Underline the recognition of women. Need to accompany the elderly. They can begin to feel useless and can become suicidal as a result. Violence in the family and incest. Ecclesial accompaniment requires formation to take in difficult situations. Almost all who took the floor warned about the need for this otherwise the Church can cause doubt and hopelessness. The Africans raised the awareness of Christians and those of good will to defend against attacks of same sex marriage, reproductive health issues. The also encouraged child adoption. Also, access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried.
- Companies need to discern and respect the distinct values of the poor countries.
- Requirements of Christian couples who have experience to share with others. There are many associations in the Church for this. Importance of the role in the marriage pastoral
- Emphasize what Rosica said. The importance of sex in the life of spouses.
- Reference to the everyday “reconciliation” couples need to do everyday.
- Eucharist is a dimension of the gift of self. Married couples provide a real example of this in the sex act. It is a fundamental role.
- Intervention on the atmosphere of the synodal pathway. There was a significant reference to the Peter and Cornelius episode. Peter realized understanding of the Holy Spirit to better understand and make choices he did not understand before. He realized the presence of the Holy Spirit and listened to the Holy Spirit.
Introductions of the Fraternal Delegates, representing the East and the West:
Stefanos: I am the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Estonia and representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople. I have had a positive experience of the Synod. I am not saying this because I have to or was told to say it. I say it because it is true. The Church of Rome is carrying out extensive work without looking for easy solutions. Other involved Christian families’ problems not all different in other Christian religions. Society is replacing the Church in the name of equality. The right to equality ends up in nihilism where everything is allowed entry at a level of reality. The Church needs to be aware to keep and proclaim the reality of differences (in the sexes…rr). The family starts from a reality—a man and a woman. It is in the differences of the sexes that we can find completion of the human sex act. Cancelling this in the name of equality means evolution cannot move forward. The life of the world is we have to go on in this way. The Synod is important as all share concerns with the life of the world. We fraternal delegates are not just viewers, we took the floor to give our voices. In the mixed commissions (he means small group discussions…rr), we are on an equal basis. Risking contributions, we are indispensable to each other. The problems are shared by all.
Good afternoon. I am really pleased to be here. My name is Tim Thornton. I’m slightly anxious about the chair. I wonder if the Vatican controls the chair if I say the wrong thing I’ll get pulled backwards but I’m the bishop of Truro, Cornwall. I encourage you all to come to Cornwall for your holidays and spend lots of money. That would be really good of you. I represent here the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. I’m delighted to do that and privileged to be here. It’s been a very good experience for me. I agree with much of what my colleague has said. We have been very welcomed, warmly welcomed into the Synod of Bishops. I feel slightly embarrassed because my cassock is a different color from many other people. So, several people were wondering who on earth I was. Therefore, they perhaps came up to me even more than they might have done just to find out who I was. Once they did that, they went away again. It’s been a very friendly occasion for me and again in the small groups we’ve been warmly welcomes to be part of it. There’s a proper protocol and etiquette, but without breaking too many secrets, certainly in my small group myself and the other fraternal delegate and the auditors have been very much welcomed and able to join in as we think best and I think we’ve all been trying to help each other responding to the Instrumentum laboris, struggling with that at times and working together to come up with what we feel is the right things to be saying and moving forward. I am also the Church of England co-chair of the national conversations that take place between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. We meet twice a year for 24 hours so I’m very keen on ecumenism in that sense and keen to see how we can move forward, noticing our differences but also it’s important to pray together and find where we can journey very closely next door, side by side. I’m also president of the Association of Church Families along with Crd Vincent Nichols and the moderator of the free churches. So, I have a particular interest here in the section just about to come up on mixed marriages. I was delighted to hear an intervention from Crd Koch suggesting that those phrases in the Instrumentum laboris unfortunately seem to be very negative. AHe was expressing, and I was very pleased to hear, saying they should be much more positive towards those between a Catholic along with another Christian tradition. Just a couple more over-arching views for me and then you might want to ask some questions, or you might not. I think I can say that I believe what we are seeing here is a work in progress. So, I understand, I learned a long time ago, that to expect too much from any singular event, you will always come away disappointed. So, it would seem to me that actually those people, and maybe there’s some in this room, I don’t know, who are expecting something to happen at the end of the Synod process, as if a revelation will occur, I could be wrong, but I have a hunch that’s not going to happen. What I’ve seen developing in front of my eyes is that the Synod Fathers have been learning how to be more synodal as you might say, how to be more in synod together. I personally think that’s going to be an extraordinary observation for me to make. In our small group we have Synod Fathers from all around the world and it’s been extraordinary to hear from other people what happens in their contexts and perhaps at the beginning there was reticence and concern but now it’s no very much clear that we are learning from each other, that we are listening more and more carefully, attending to each other, key Christian gift to attend to each other. I believe that there is a real sign of hope for the Roman Catholic Church in taking this forward. I’m sure the Holy Fathers is very aware of how that might be handled into the future. Just one thing from what Fr. Tom said yesterday about the reference in the free interventions. I think the free interventions have been fascinating. To begin with they were slightly more artificial perhaps, but now I think the Synod Fathers are getting their handle on it, the hang of it. More and more Synod Fathers are quick to push their button as soon as they are asked and we are having more and more what are free interventions. Yesterday somebody made the point about the Eucharist and sexuality and the sexuality of the Eucharist: This is my body given for you as opposed to your body taken from me. I think that is a very profound couple of statements which will certainly stay with me a long time.
- Josh McElwee, National Catholic Reporter to Thornton: I had read on your blog that you had said one of the themes you thought was emerging was the question of authority in the Church. Now, I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about that. What are you hearing and what do you mean when you say that?
Yes, not surprisingly there is clearly a discussion to be had about what is universal and what is local and how do those two things work together. Very interestingly, in the hall, and also in the small groups, at times some of the bishops won’t say this is clearly something we could do maybe better in our episcopal conferences. So, I think the first part there was fairly common ground. I felt that the first part was both too negative but also too singular in perspective. So, one of the suggestions being made was wouldn’t it be exciting if local bishops’ conferences had done their analysis and brought that together and then shared that together. Now on the one hand that’s very exciting and again, as has been mentioned earlier, suggestions about some issues to do with divorce and remarriage should there be a commission on that but should that commission just be one commission drawn from around the world or should it be looking at the context in different places. Clearly there is a tension playing out which I recognize from my own communion. How much do you allow things to be, to use a word, in subsidiarity and how much do you actually say here’s a need for universal framework. Clearly if you allow people to gather together and talk to each other, it is no surprise that there will be some tensions emerge. You then have to find the right way to hold those tensions together and to allow, where appropriate, decisions to be formed locally and, where appropriate, those decisions have to be taken universally.
- One question to the East and one to the West. In the Anglican communion at first there was a lot of debate focused on marriage. The recent break-up of the Anglican communion was on the concept of marriage. What is the prevailing concept of family in the Anglican communion. As regards the “penitential pathway” in the Orthodox churches, what exactly is it? There seems to be no union of vision and each Orthodox church has a different framework.
It is not true that each Orthodox church has a different vision. You should forget that there are different Orthodox churches. We have the same spirituality and theology. This is not well understood. Each is strong and pushes its own part. There is the Russian Orthodox versus the Greek Orthodox. Regarding the penitential pathway in divorce. A couple gets married not to reach divorce later on. In the Orthodox church we speak about the unicity of marriage, not the indissolubility. In certain moments, the love of the couple changes its sense. Two people start to destroy each other. The Orthodox consider this sin and desperation. In this case the bishop can dissolve the marriage link. The Orthodox church takes into account and gives the person the chance to rebuild through a penitential pathway. It is not automatic divorce when a marriage has other considerations. We help people understand conflicts in a time of penance. The second marriage liturgy is a penitential wedding. The first wedding is a triumph. People living in a second penitential wedding need to know their heart and their truth in life. The priest of the parish needs to intervene and report to the bishop when there are marriage difficulties. He will send his findings to the bishop. The decision to grant the divorce is at the parish level and by the bishop.
I am very grateful to the person who asked the question, to suggest that the Anglican communion has one view of marriage. I think Ab Justin would be very pleased if that were the case. I said in my intervention, Ab Justin wanted me to assure the Synod that the Anglican communion still holds the traditional view of marriage. I don’t think I agree with you about the reason for he Ordinariate being created. I’m not sure that was really to do with issues with the family. I think it was more to do with issues of church order.
- I would like to call on Bishop Thornton. What I would like to ask you is about the leaked letter which is now famous. The last paragraph of that letter, or draft of it, said something, like the pope should be careful because of the collapse of liberal churches was accelerated by the abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation. How can you dialogue with a church, the Vatican, whose 13 of its leaders thinks your church has collapsed?
It’s the story of my life. I’m very disappointed. Since I’ve been in Rome, nobody has asked me to sign a letter. I want to make that very clear. I think we can dialogue with people who have extraordinarily different views. I think dialogue is crucial. In a sense a quick answer to your question is that it doesn’t really matter to much what another person’s views are for me. I think it’s important to keep dialogue open. There have been times in the past where the relationship between the Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church have been in a far worse state than they are now. Clearly I don’t accept some of what was suggested in that letter or perhaps behind some of the assumptions of what you are saying. I actually I think we are seeing this being played out in the Synod. I don’t think it’s easy to suggest there is a neat distinction between doctrine and pastoral issues. I always think the word pastoral is so often misunderstood. In my world it can often be seen as a soft way, a way of saying something nice to people. Actually pastoral work is sometimes the most difficult work you can possibly do. I think there is a profoundly theological setting, which I won’t get into now, about why we take the stance we do as the Anglican communion in trying to understand what I think we are right in doing in responding to the world. I think my response to the Synod so fare would reconfirm for me that dialogue is crucial and that you need to keep in dialogue with everybody. There is at least one member in our small group who clearly thinks totally different to me or rather I think totally different to him. We have gone out of our way to make sure we have some conversations together to try and listen carefully to what each other is saying.
I would say first of all I don’t want to be mean with the press. I say it in a fraternal sense that the media needs to say positive things and not negative things. As to the letter, we don’t know what it said. We don’t all walk in the same direction. We have different stances and diverging stances. The Holy Father received the letter, not to create scandal. If the bishops sent a letter it is not to create tension. They are seeing as if to try to test the water to see more progress. You need to witness what I see in the Synod. The bishops are happy, concerned pastors. They are not robots. Each has a view of pastoral responsibility. I have nothing against the media. I felt a need to speak fraternally with you. I myself was a member of the media. I would like to say I notice in small groups—I’ve seen this in the Middle East—those bishops in the small groups from the Middle East bring a new idea of marriage to the Roman Catholic Church. The “econonmy of doctrine”. Of course there is rigor but the doctrine needs to be adapted to the whole church. Hence the economy of doctrine. Human beings are not robots we place in a container to march in one way. The Synod Fathers are hearing this, hence the importance of mercy.
- Austen Ivereigh, Our Sunday Visitor: A question for Bishop Thornton and the previous archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has many more grey hairs in his beard after many years of the Anglican communion seeking to resolve a number of questions particularly in relation to same sex marriage, same sex blessings, homosexuality. And the greatest splits of course within the communions came between north and south and the Africans above all and the Americans. I just wonder if you have seen some of the same forces at work in this Synod, whether you see some of the fissures, if I can call them that. And I’d be very interested to know if you see this Synod as an affective mechanism for resolving perhaps in a way that the Anglican communion was never capable of doing or are you equally pessimistic.
I’m not sure the final whistle has blown in the Anglican communion. I didn’t realized we had split. I still realize us as together and surely Justin in his meeting in January will be very crucial sot see what happens there. Your point is a good one. I think just by way of preface I was slightly disappointed, but its inevitable. So much of the conversation in the Synod hall has been focused on remarriage and divorcees and whether they should be open to communion and a little bit about homosexual habits, although very little about that really. When there’s been very significant input from around the world about migration and refugees, about the economic situation, about the way in which abuse has been such a tragic part of the institutional life of the Church for a long time, it’s important that some that some really profound issues, again, just this morning some of the auditors , really important issues get pushed to one side. On your particular point I did hear previously some things both, well I see some things the same but a small group certainly some of the African bishops were perhaps, well, almost strident but also some of the people from the Eastern European countries would also be there. But actually, I think again I would say to talk about Africa is too simplistic. In my last job, I used to go to Sudan a lot. We had some very good conversations with bishops in the Sudan. There were 37 or 38 of them. They didn’t all think of one mind I suppose one of the joys of being a member of the Church of England is that you can have 3 bishops and 10 opinions. I think for me there is for me without saying what I see happening here is bishops building up their own confidence both to say what they really, really want to say, which is a first point. Secondly to listen to what someone else is saying and then say how does this fit within the magisterium and the tradition. We are going to celebrate 50 years tomorrow (Fiftieth anniversary of the Synod…rr). Fifty years is a very short time and so I think it’s going to take longer.
I also would like to share this viewpoint within my Orthodox church. We are horrigied by the idea of excluding sinners. We give everybody he chance to return. Our Orthodox churches are small communities. There is not a large number of churches. A bishop can have up to 100 priests each. The bishop is always in touch with his people. People go to him to ask him for help. There are good human relationships. There cannot be rejoicing about sin but we must try to keep human relationships in mind. We do all we can to bring people back to the Eucharist.