October 22, 2015 – Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia

“Some seem to think that decentralisation and unity are incompatible. Clearly Pope Francis doesn’t. The paradox, I think, is that ‘a healthy decentralisation’ could in fact strengthen the real unity of the Church.


Yesterday was supposed to be a free day for all but 10 of the Synod members – those chosen by the Pope to draft the final document. They were hard at it all day and (I imagine) into the night. They have a colossal job.

But a few others – myself among them – were also tied up, trying to finish our assessment of the 520 proposed amendments to Part III of the working document. My little group resumed work at 9am, with Cardinal Lacunza saying he couldn’t stay beyond 10.30. So we agreed that we would finish by then. As it turned out, we finished by 10.25, with His Eminence making a very speedy exit for a big man. For me, what was left of the day was largely absorbed by talking to journalists – four of them. This was a bit tougher than it should’ve been because my voice had turned decidedly hoarse. But I managed to croak away.

One of them asked me about the change of language which I’ve mentioned more than once during the Synod. The example I gave was ecumenism at the Second Vatican Council. The Council described Christians of others Churches and communities no longer as “heretics” and “schismatics” but as “separated brethren”, which is why at this Synod the ecumenical representatives are called “fraternal delegates”. The change of language came from a deeper consideration of the meaning of shared baptism. If they too were baptised into Christ, then in a real sense they were our brothers and sisters. Yet the communion wasn’t perfect, which is why they were called “separated”. The change of language indicated a new understanding of the relationship; and this not only changed the mood but also opened new doors and created new possibilities – like having fraternal delegates at Synods. And no core doctrine of the Church was violated.

We see a different kind of change, I said to the journalists, in the very delicate area of suicide. In his three-minute speech at the Synod, Bishop Hurley told the touching story of a man who was deeply alienated from the Church because clergy had refused a Catholic funeral to his son who had taken his own life. This was in line with a long practice that didn’t even allow those who’d committed suicide to be buried in consecrated ground. Without any big magisterial statement or public fanfare, the pastoral practice of the Church has changed, quietly but decidedly. Those who commit suicide are now treated like any other baptised person, and rightly so. This is because we’ve come to a better and more compassionate understanding of the mystery of suicide and the factors that may lead to it. Again, no core doctrine of the Church has been violated.

The journalists also keep asking: “what will be the fruits of this Synod?” Even at this late stage, it’s hard to say exactly. Certainly there’ll be no great overturning of Church teaching in key areas. But there’s likely to be a new creativity and commitment in the way we accompany married couples and families in all their diversity and at every step of their journey. There will also be an attempt to forge a new language – less negative, more in touch with reality, more comprehensible. In part, this will mean a more biblical language.


To read more from a synod insider, click here:




Please tune in this weekend to “Vatican Insider” for Part Two of my conversation with Cathy and Tony Witczak, a couple from Philadephia who have been married for 48 years, are leaders in the Worldwide Marriage Encouter movement and auditors at the synod on the family They talk to me about Marriage Encounter, how they were invited to the synod, what they are hearing and seeing and what their hopes are for the post-synod period, including a papal document. They addressed the synod last week.


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We have heard about this possibility for months but Thursday, at the beginning of the afternoon General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis formalized the news with the following announcement:

“I have decided to establish a new Dicastery with competency for Laity, Family and Life, that will replace the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. The Pontifical Academy for Life will be joined to the new Dicastery. To this end, I have constituted a special commission that will prepare a text delineating canonically the competencies of the new Dicastery. The text will be presented for discussion to the Council of Caridnals at their next meeting in December.”

Dicastery is another word for an office of the Roman Curia, such as a pontifical council or a congregation. The new office for Laity, Family and Life, has not been given a name but indications are that it will be a congregation.

The Pontifical Council for the Laity was instituted in 1967 by Paul VI who acted on some of the suggestions from Vatican Council II that had ended in December 1965.

It seemed fitting that Pope Francis announced the new dicastery on October 22, the feast day of St. John Paul II, the Pope who created two of the above-mentioned dicasteries.

In fact, the Pontifical Council for the Family was instituted by John Paul II in 1981 with the Motu Proprio “Familia e Deo Instituta.” It substituted the Committee for the Family created by Paul VI in 1973. Thirteen years later, on February 11, 1994, St. John Paul instituted the Pontifical Academy for Life with the Motu Proprio “Vitae Mysterium.”


With just two days to go until the end of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, participants on Friday gave their reactions to a draft of the final document which is now being fine-tuned and will be voted on by the bishops on Saturday.

At a press conference following the Friday morning session, press office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi was joined by Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana, Canadian Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec and Belgian Archbishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent to talk about their hopes for the outcome of the three-week meeting.

Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchens reports on Friday’s press briefing:

Long days and sleepless nights is how Cardinal Turkson characterised the work of the drafting committee, currently trying to integrate over 1,350 proposals for changes to the original working document put forward by the Synod’s small groups. On top of that, there were over 50 further comments made in the Synod Hall on Friday on subjects ranging from biblical quotations, to pastoral formation to the crucial question of the relationship between the Church’s moral law and the individual’s right to follow his or her own conscience.

Is it possible to integrate so many differing perspectives without watering down the contents of the final document, journalists wanted to know? Will the substance of the debate on key issues really be reflected, or must it be sacrificed to the need for consensus that can be accepted by all? Cardinal Lacroix noted the final Synod document is not a legislative text so it doesn’t have to reflect unanimity among the Church leaders – on the contrary, he said, differences of opinion reflect a healthy engagement with the difficult issues under discussion.

Among them are the ever-present questions of how to help divorced and remarried couples be reintegrated into the life of the Church and how to approach the issue of homosexuality, which some Synod fathers suggest has not been adequately dealt with at this meeting. Not so, said Cardinal Turkson, revealing that in his small group some bishops and cardinals themselves had shared experiences of gay members of their families. The cardinal also reiterated the view of another Ghanaian participant who told journalists that attitudes in Africa on this issue are changing, faster than they are in other parts of the world.

All three participants pointed to the important experience of synodality, as outlined in the Pope’s own words, allowing bishops in the different parts of the globe greater freedom to exercise leadership, while allowing the Pope to draw on the wealth of local expertise and experience.

Archbishop Van Looy said another key word of this Synod is tenderness, heralding a new attitude of the Church to stop judging and start journeying with people in whatever situation they may find themselves. While it’s vital to support families who do live up to Church teaching, Cardinal Lacroix said there is no such thing as the perfect family and the Church must remain close to all those looking for God’s grace in times of struggle and need.