Vatican synod: Evolution, revolution or just a discussion?

Two-week Vatican synod about Catholic Church’s teaching on family life will take place from Sunday.


The upcoming Vatican synod is surrounded by lot of media hype. What do you expect from the synod, if I may ask. Sort of evolution, maybe a revolution or simply more debate about the role of Catholic Church?


Thomas ReeseSenior Analyst for the  National Catholic Reporter

The topic of the family is so huge, with regional and cultural differences, that it is impossible for the bishops to resolve every outstanding issue.  The most important accomplishment of the synod is already here–open conversation about all these issues, which will continue after the synod in preparation for the synod in 2015. This was impossible for the last 30 years.

Thomas Worcester, Professor of History, College of the Holy Cross

I think that the synod meeting this month will be mostly a chance for an exchange of views and for listening. Pope Francis is likely to do much more listening than talking or decision making. But the synod on the family is supposed to meet again in Autumn 2015, and then there could be some significant statements from Francis on several topics, including reception of communion by the divorced and remarried.

Charles Hilken, Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California 

A lot of attention is being given to the question of the reception of communion by divorced Catholics.  There is some talk of either relaxing the rules for annulment making it easier for some troubled marriages to end within the bounds of Church law.  There is also talk of leaving the question of the reception of communion as a matter of conscience by men and women who have taken up second marriages.  In either case, concern for the sacramental life of divorced Catholics is only one question among many that the synod fathers will consider around the topic of family.  The synod is dedicated to the family and especially to the proper care and raising of children within the family.  The best hope for the synod is that it will address pastoral more than doctrinal issues both for traditional families, for example, the use birth control, and for what the Church would see as irregular but common unions, for example, the spiritual welfare of divorced men and women and couples in same-sex unions, and the proper upbringing of children within these unions.  The emphasis of pastoral concerns over doctrine seems clear from Pope Francis’s own inclinations.  Much will be determined by if and how the synod moves beyond the tone and substance of the preparatory document.

Steven Avella, Professor of History, Marquette University, Former President of the American Catholic Historical Association

Among other things, the Synod will be one of the defining moments in the strength of the leadership of Pope Francis. He has shifted the tone of ecclesiastical life all over the world. His simplicity of life and heart-felt pastoral approach to the issues facing “ordinary” believers have won the church renewed attention from a wide spectrum of people. It has also earned him strong opposition from the regular suspects: the Roman Curia. This is not a unique occurrence in the history of various pontificates–but in this case the opposition is quite open and almost defiantly insubordinate. John Paul II and Benedict XVI would never have tolerated such brazen talk from one of their own cardinals as Francis has from the likes of curial functionaries like Burke and Mueller. The moment of truth is arriving for the two of them as they will have to either submit to papal authority–as they often lectured others to do–or they will break away. Could Cardinal Burke be the next Archbishop Lefebvre? I expect and hope for a message of love and mercy to emerge from the synod–and a concerted effort to de-legitimize the interference of the curia in the life of the church. Bergoglio seems to be the man who can make this happen.

Mathew SchmalzAssociate Professor of Religious Studies. Director, College Honors Program, The College of the Holy Cross

I think publicly there will initially be a show of unity with the bishops, given that faction of cardinals have been publicly disagreeing about what can and should happen at the synod.  Behind the scenes, however, there will be battles–especially over the status of divorced and remarried Catholics and whether they can be allowed to receive communion.  Progressive bishops and cardinals–such as they are–see Francis’ pontificate as an opportunity to make the church more open and more accommodating to the many Catholics who have become disappointed with the direction of the Church in recent decades.  These bishops and cardinals realize that Pope Francis reign will not be forever and that the Synod represents a special opportunity to do something bold.  It will all depend on how Francis publicly positions himself in his first speech. If he comes out for change, then I would expect progressive bishops and cardinals to move on the question divorced and remarried Catholics.  Conservatives will then be in a bind because they would not want to be seen as opposing a very popular Pope.  So, everyone will be looking to Francis and follow his lead.


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