The works of the Synod Assembly proceed intensively in Rome, where the complex, delicate issue of Communion to remarried divorcees gained centre stage; and those who wished to reduce, simplify, flatten – perhaps with an instrumental use – the media depiction of the Synod describing it as “polarized” on two opposing fronts, were proven wrong. At the Synod “we don’t count the numbers”, pointed out Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, but it is certain that in the Sixth and Seventh General Congregation, dedicated to “difficult pastoral situations”, the debate between the Fathers grew heated – with increasing, passionate participation. As relates to homosexual unions, there will be no “blessing” by the Church, notwithstanding the respect for individual choices. Doctrine and situations experienced. “At the Synod we don’t count the numbers. Everyone listens with great interest and respect. It would be wrong to say that there is an evident prevailing position”. With these words, during the briefing of October 9, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, answered questions from journalists regarding the “climate” of the Synod. Taking stock of the addresses in the Assembly the Vatican spokesperson referred that “there is a recurring determined reference to the Gospel proclamation of marriage, which implies the claim that in case of an existing marriage bond, admission to sacraments of remarried divorcees is not possible, coherently with the doctrine and for faithfulness to the Word of the Lord, along with an approach whereby while not denying the indissolubility of marriage in the proposal of Lord Jesus – wishes to see human situations through the lenses of mercy, which is obviously important for us all – and discern on how to address each one specifically”. Marriage annulment: three proposals. “Hastening” annulments, which however are not a “Catholic divorce”. Three “proposals” emerged during the Synod to “hasten” marriage annulments. These are: “the elimination of the requirement of “two conformed [affirmative] sentences” stipulated in canon Law; to “eliminate judgement by a College of judges” – at present three judges act in collegiality – to be replaced by “a Court with one judge only”; and envisage the possibility of “an administrative process”. Speaking to journalists, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, explained with an example what is meant by “administrative process”. “If a marriage is evidently invalid, because both spouses have excluded the indissolubility of marriage, and there is no evidence, neither in the form of witnesses nor in deeds, except for the declaration of the contracting partners, if the latter are credible, the bishop of the diocese can declare the marriage’s annulment”. The Pope’s hermeneutics. “On the question of remarried divorcees it is necessary to adopt the Pope’s hermeneutics”, said Card. Coccopalmerio, for whom “it is absolutely necessary to save the doctrine, but in doing so we must start with individuals, addressing their concrete situations, their needs, their suffering. An answer must be given to all those persons in dire situations, requiring and answer that is welcoming to them”. Pastoral care. “The Church is not a customs office, but rather the house of the Father, and it must therefore offer patient accompaniment to all people, including those experiencing difficult pastoral situations”: the phrase stemming from the magisterium of Pope Francis, was conveyed by the Press Office of the Holy See in a release regarding the debate of Synod Fathers held on October 8, during which “it was strongly emphasised that an attitude of respect must be adopted in relation to divorced and remarried persons, as they often live in situations of unease or social injustice, suffer in silence and in many cases seek a gradual path to fuller participation in ecclesial life. Pastoral care must not therefore be repressive, but full of mercy”. During the open debate session, it was affirmed that “it’s important to carefully avoid moral judgement or speaking of a ‘permanent state of sin’, while trying to make it clear that non-admission to the sacrament of the Eucharist does not entirely eliminate the possibility of grace in Christ and is rather due to an objective situation of the permanence of a previous, indissoluble sacramental bond”. Gay couples. Answering a question on the possibility of a “blessing” to homosexual couples by the Church, Cardinal Coccopalmerio said: “We should honestly say that for us, not only for the Catholic Church but for human culture in general, marriage is a union between man and woman, with additional specific features”. “We don’t judge these people, whom we consider to be in good faith – the cardinal pointed out – but we cannot say that they are comparable to a marriage. We never shall”.
The debate gains momentum. The question of access to the Eucharist for remarried divorcees at the centre