What are we to make of the final report produced by the bishops at the conclusion of the synod of the family held in Rome these past few weeks?
At the moment it seems that Catholics, and interested observers, are left to sift through, and discern, contrary opinions.
Church teaching on homosexuality and same-sex marriage appear to be upheld, but paragraphs of the report concerning the divorced and remarried seem very much like political and legal language written by those seeking to avoid or circumvent truth.
This, of course, is worrisome.
To some, the report seems to open the door to the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and civilly remarried, which the Church currently teaches as forbidden. To others, it upholds in its entirety Church teaching.
The chasm between these competing positions suggests that the report is ambiguous at a time when Catholics need unambiguity.
Rorate Caeli reports that Walter Cardinal Kasper, the main proponent of allowing the divorced and civilly remarried to receive communion, believes the report supports his view.
“I’m satisfied,” he is quoted as saying in an interview with an Italian publication, translated by Rorate Caeli. “The door has been opened to the possibility of the divorced and remarried being granted Communion.”
George Cardinal Pell, however, told Catholic News Service (Rorate Caeli has posted a video of the interview) that the report is fully in line with Church teaching:
“It would have been helpful for there to be more clarity,” Cardinal Pell states in the interview. “There is nothing in the paragraphs as they stand that is heretical or false doctrine or advocating false practice.”
A Catholic News Service article reports on the disagreement among bishops about how to read the report on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried. The article cites Cardinal Pell’s view and alternative readings, including that of Reinhard Cardinal Marx, head of the German bishops, who is quoted as saying the report is “a step forward.”
A National Catholic Register article takes the position that the report firmly upholds Church teaching, but Edward Pentin, the paper’s Rome correspondent, offers a long statement by Cardinal Raymond Burke that suggests that it’s possible to read the report differently.
Cardinal Burke concludes, Pentin explains, that the section on divorce and remarriage is unclear about “a fundamental matter of the faith: the indissolubility of the marriage bond which both reason and faith teach all men.”
An article in The Catholic Thing describes problems with the competing narratives that are circulating. It argues that those who see the report as completely supporting Church teaching present a rosy portrait; at the same time, he notes, the report does not give liberals a free hand to do what they wish.
In an interview with Pentin, Cardinal Pell condemns the Irish bishops who claim the report supports the reception of communion for the divorced and remarried and praises the Polish bishops for stating that such a reading is unjustified.
He also states that: “There’s really no ambiguity in the text.”
Cardinal Pell offers a curt answer to Pentin’s question about whether more clarity is needed: “I don’t know.” He further reiterates, however, that: “the synod has not broken with essential Catholic tradition in either doctrine or practice.”
In an interesting exchange, asked whether the pope’s appointees altered the vote on the report, Cardinal Pell says: “That’s very possible.” Asked if this is a problem, the cardinal responds: “It’s a fact.”
Cardinal Pell’s overall assessment of the report is that: “The final text is elegantly written, well structured, understated in some essential regards but 92 out of the 94 paragraphs showed there was massive consensus.”
Pentin later published an article stating that there is “general satisfaction” with the report and that it is now with Pope Francis, who is expected to write an apostolic exhortation.
What does the Vatican think?
Zenit reports that Fr. Frederico Lombardi, director of the Vatican’s press office, calls the report: “positive and welcoming.
Choose a side. The document in its entirety upholds Church doctrine. The document opens the door to a radical change in church doctrine.
Regardless of whether you see the document as clear and unambiguous or clouded and ambiguous, there clearly is disagreement among the bishops about what the report in fact says.
Clarity and unambiguity in terms of what the highest office of the Church plans to teach going forward will only come when Pope Francis provides a definitive, unambiguous response to the entire report.
Until he does, post family synod Catholics find themselves in a hazy world.