Synod ends by affirming tradition, leaving controversial questions open

By Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — After several days of animated debate over its official midterm report, the Synod of Bishops on the family agreed on a final document more clearly grounded in traditional Catholic teaching. Yet the assembly failed to reach consensus on especially controversial questions of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and the pastoral care of homosexuals.

The synod’s last working session, Oct. 18, also featured a speech by Pope Francis, in which he celebrated the members’ frank exchanges while warning against extremism in the defense of tradition or the pursuit of progress.

Discussions in the synod hall had grown heated after the Oct. 13 delivery of a midterm report that used strikingly conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to church teaching, including divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and those in same-sex unions.

The summaries of working-group discussions, published Oct. 16, showed a majority of synod fathers wanted the final document to be clearer about relevant church doctrine and give more attention to families whose lives exemplify that teaching.

Pope Francis talks with Cardinal Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, during morning session on final day of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican

Pope Francis talks with Cardinal Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, during morning session on final day of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican (CNS photo.)

The final report, which the pope ordered published almost at once after the synod’s conclusion, featured many more citations of Scripture, as well as new references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the teachings of Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Synod fathers voted on each of the document’s 62 paragraphs. All received a simple majority, but three failed to gain the two-thirds supermajority ordinarily required for approval of synodal documents.

Two of those paragraphs dealt with a controversial proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper that would make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. The document noted disagreements on the subject and recommended further study.

The document’s section on homosexuality, which also fell short of supermajority approval, was significantly changed from its counterpart in the midterm report.

The original section heading –“welcoming homosexuals” — was changed to “pastoral attention to persons with homosexual orientation.”

A statement that same-sex unions can be a “precious support in the life of the partners” was removed.

The final report quoted a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters that the absence of a supermajority indicated a lack of consensus and a need for more discussion, but stressed that none of the document carried doctrinal weight. The synod’s final report will serve as an agenda for the October 2015 world synod on the family, which will make recommendations to the pope.

Pope Francis said he welcomed the assembly’s expressions of disagreement.

“Personally, I would have been very worried and saddened if there hadn’t been these temptations and these animated discussions,” the pope said, “if everybody had agreed or remained silent in a false and quietistic peace.”

Cheap Grace: the enemy of our Church

By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
Along the Way – October, 2014

Two weeks ago Bishop Kieran Conry made the surprise announcement to his diocese in England that he was resigning as their bishop because he had been unfaithful to his promises as a Catholic priest to live a chaste life. In his statement he admitted that he had been involved for a number of years in an illicit sexual relationship with an unnamed woman. After apologizing for the harm his actions caused to the individuals involved, he said he was sorry for the shame he had brought on the diocese and the Church and asked for forgiveness and prayers.

My initial response as a fellow sinner was to say a prayer for him and for all those involved. All of us, if we are honest with ourselves, struggle to always faithfully observe each of the commandments. It is a challenge over a lifetime to live up to the sacred promises and commitments we have made as husbands and wives, as parents, as baptized Christians and as ordained ministers. There, but for the grace of God go any of us.good-shepherd-2

But then I read that in an interview in a secular British newspaper, Bishop Conry was quoted as saying, “It has been difficult keeping the secret.

“In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief. I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in his sermons]. I don’t think it got in the way of my job, I don’t think people would say I have been a bad bishop. But I can’t defend myself. I did wrong.”

Incredible. I was disappointed, to say the least, by his comments.

How was it possible that a bishop could congratulate himself on being “very careful” to avoid making preaching on sexual morality a “priority” in his preaching? Presumably he was afraid of being perceived as being a “hypocrite” by exhorting his flock to observe the very commandments that he was failing to observe in his own life. Of course, he could have avoided the risk of being perceived as a hypocrite by repenting and ceasing to be a hypocrite. While it is true that sexual morality is not the only or even the most important homily topic, by being very careful to never preach on this subject because of the guilty knowledge of his own transgressions, he betrayed the pledge at his episcopal ordination “to preach the Gospel of Christ with constancy and fidelity.”

How is it possible that a bishop could observe that he didn’t think “it” got “in the way of my job?” (The “it” presumably being the illicit and sinful secret life that violated his solemn vow to live a chaste and celibate life for the sake of the Kingdom). Putting to one side the mistaken notion that being the successor of the apostles and chief shepherd of the local Church, ordained to teach, govern and sanctify the holy people of God is a job like any other, Bishop Conry’s “job” was to lead his people to Christ and to heaven by his words, by his example and by his actions. His choice to violate his solemn promise of fidelity was inexcusable. That he was unable to grasp that his sinful betrayal and duplicity corrupted his entire ministry as a bishop is astonishing but unfortunately all too common, as we have sadly seen in the clerical sexual abuse scandal in our own country.

Alaska to appeal ruling that invalidates its ban on same-sex marriage

By Joel Davidson, Catholic News Service

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNS) — Alaska will appeal a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess that invalidates the state’s constitutional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“As Alaska’s governor, I have a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement released Oct. 12, the day of the ruling. Parnell noted that the status of marriage law “is in flux.”

The state argued that the definition of marriage should be left to the democratic process, not court rulings.

In 1998, 68 percent of Alaskans voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It was the first of its kind.

On Oct. 14, two days after he struck down the law as unconstitutional, Burgess denied the state’s request for a stay on his ruling while until an appeal is heard.

The ruling against Alaska’s marriage law is the latest blow to state marriage amendments. Like previous courts, Burgess claimed that Alaska’s marriage amendment violated same-sex couples’ right to equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Cardinal says balancing truth, mercy always difficult, always needed

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, one of the Catholic Church’s best known cardinal-theologians, said the Catholic Church must hold together truth and mercy, even if it is criticized for its attempt.

Cardinal Schonborn arrives for general congregation meeting at Vatican

Cardinal Schonborn arrives for general congregation meeting at Vatican.

The cardinal, editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the son of divorced parents, led one of the small working groups at the Synod of Bishops on the family. He spoke to reporters Oct. 16 about the groups’ attempts to improve the synod’s midterm report, which had garnered attention around the world for its seeming openness to people living in situations the church traditionally has labeled as irregular or sinful.

As synod officials were set to modify the midterm report to draft the synod’s final report, all 10 working groups called for a clearer presentation of church teaching and a greater emphasis on how Catholic families striving to live according to that teaching are a blessing for the church and for their societies.

Legalizing marijuana is wrong for many reasons

A BISHOP’S PERSPECTIVE in the Juneau Empire, Oct. 12, 2014

This November there are several initiatives on the general election ballot for voters to decide on. It is important that all of us as citizens to carefully and thoughtfully cast our votes on issues that will affect the greater good. Here are my thoughts for your consideration on Ballot Measure 2, which seeks to legalize, commercialize, advertise and industrialize marijuana and concentrated marijuana products in our state.

If passed by the voters, marijuana production, sale and use would taxed and regulated. Marijuana would be legal for persons 21 years of age or older. The bill would allow a person to possess, use, show, buy, transport or grow set amounts of marijuana, with the growing subject to certain restrictions.
Additionally, people 21 years of age or older would be allowed to possess, use, show, buy or transport marijuana accessories or make marijuana accessories and to distribute or sell them to persons who are 21 years of age or older. (Marijuana accessories are products individuals use to grow or consume marijuana).
Marijuana legalization is a complex question that requires addressing both the detrimental effects of marijuana — especially concentrated forms of the drug — and the financial and social costs prohibiting its use and prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana users, growers and sellers.

A marijuana leaf is displayed in 2012 at the Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle. Catholic health care ethicists say medical marijuana has potential merits and pitfalls but political and medical considerations are not being consistently managed from state to state as legalization spreads. (CNS photo/Anthony Bolante, Reuters)

A marijuana leaf is displayed in 2012 at the Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle. Catholic health care ethicists say medical marijuana has potential merits and pitfalls but political and medical considerations are not being consistently managed from state to state as legalization spreads. (CNS photo/Anthony Bolante, Reuters)

Many scientific studies have been done related to the use of marijuana. Marijuana use affects all segments of our society. Research shows that in chronic users, marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory persists after the immediate effects of the drug wear off; when marijuana use begins in adolescence, the effects may persist for many years. Research from different areas is converging on the fact that regular marijuana use by young people can have long-lasting negative impacts on the structure and function of their brains.

Marijuana users have abnormal brain structure and poor memory. Northwestern University scientists found marijuana use causes brain abnormalities that resemble those found in people with schizophrenia. Further, the findings suggested youths are particularly at risk as their brains are at a critical developmental stage.

Another Northwestern study found that young adults who used marijuana only recreationally showed significant abnormalities in two key brain regions important in emotion and motivation. The degree of those alterations was directly related to how much marijuana the subjects used.
Recognizing that the state of Alaska has the worst statistics regarding chemical dependency, domestic violence and suicide, I fail to see the necessity of passing a ballot measure that would legalize a mind-altering drug.

Synod fathers: Does the Church need to watch its language?

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In official reports of the closed-door talks at the Synod of Bishops on the family, an emerging theme has been the call for a new kind of language more appropriate for pastoral care today.

“Language appeared many, many times,” Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the briefer for English-speaking journalists, told reporters Oct.7, the assembly’s second working day. “There’s a great desire that our language has to change in order to meet the very complex situations” the church faces.Print

One bishop, whom Father Rosica did not name in accordance with synod rules, reportedly told fellow participants that “language such as ‘living in sin,’ ‘intrinsically disordered’ or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the church.” (“Intrinsically disordered” is a term used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe homosexual acts.)

Speaking to the synod Oct. 7, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin spoke of the need for new language with which to communicate with married couples.

“To many, the language of the church appears to be a disincarnated language of telling people what to do, a one-way dialogue,” the archbishop said, according to excerpts of his remarks published by the Irish bishops’ conference. “The lived experience and struggle of spouses can help find more effective ways of expression of the fundamental elements of church teaching.”

Following the same session, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa, told Catholic News Service that “language is something we’ve overlooked for a good while; we’ve used language that is out of touch with the way people speak today.”

“In the past, it was sufficient to say to people, ‘You are going to hell if you continue this way of life.’ Hell was a reality and it was something they knew and they understood it. But if you talk about hell today, people don’t know what you are talking about,” Cardinal Napier said. “So I think the emphasis is shifting (toward), ‘how can you be in a loving relationship with Jesus, and through Jesus with your brother and sister in the church, if you are living in this condition which separates and alienates you from Jesus?”