Some time ago I became upset about the media coverage of the extraordinary bishop’s synod in Rome. I wrote a rather negative blog article, lamenting the standard of coverage. But interacting with Jack Valero of Catholic Voices, I have understood that the problem is not the media. We just need people to tell the positive story of the Catholic church in a professional, well-prepared and positive way.
In the case of the synod, the media were abuzz with the hope that the church would now adopt a more welcoming attitude towards groups in society like homosexuals and divorced and remarried people. And indeed, the Church wants to be open and welcoming, a mother for everyone, including these groups of people. The Church has a very beautiful and clear teaching on sexuality: it is a sacred gift of God that is an expression of mutual self-giving, which is only complete in the context of a life-long exclusive union in marriage and when it is open to children. Sexuality is very beautiful, but also very fragile: if used well, it can heal, foster love and unity, and give life, but if not used well, it can destroy, foster egoistic abuse of others, and leave people heart-broken. So it is good that the Church, like a good mother, insists that it be used in the right way and in the right context.
Also as a mother, the Church recognizes that some of her children face special difficulties in living the good of sexuality, like the homosexual and divorced and remarried people mentioned above and other people besides. The extraordinary synod of bishops that finished recently was only the first step in a process of discernment that the Church has begun, not to change its wonderful teaching on the good of sexuality and of the family, but rather to see how she can be a better mother to all her children, also those who face special difficulties in these areas. And as Catholics, we are very happy that the Church takes all this effort to improve its pastoral care in an area that affects all of us, because all of us are part of a family.
Finally, talking to Fr Manuel, spokesperson to the Holy Father in Rome who attended the synod, and who was in the Netherlands these days, it became clear that the Synod was carried out in a wonderful spirit of collegiality, with the Pope giving a speech at the beginning and at the end, and listening to all the discussions throughout. There was real novelty in the form of the synod, because rather than reading out their previously prepared speeches in Latin, the bishops used modern languages, and were free to talk about what concerned them and enter into a dialogue with the other people present. At the same time, all were aware that this synod was only meant to set the agenda for the next synod in one year’s time, which in turn has the role of advising the Pope about what to write in a post-synodal exhortation. So the synod consisted of 180 people, deeply in love with the Church, trying to come up with an adequate response to the many challenges people face in the family of our time, via a careful step-by-step process. That is really a wonderful thing, and I am eager to see what insights the Holy Spirit is going to bring to us over the coming time to help all of us in our family lives.
If you are interested in the conclusions of the extraordinary synod, which has set the agenda for the synod next year, and is therefore a document the Church will be thinking and praying about, you can find them here.