Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the Blogging Bishop of Brisbane as he has been nicknamed, journeyed with the Pope, Synod Fathers and invited guests here in Rome at the synod on the family, and he is now on the long journey back to Australia. This was his final post from Rome and it is an articulate, personal and yet very eye-opening account of the just-concluded synod on the family. If you have read his previous synod columns that I have posted on “Joan’s Rome,” you will surely also want to read this one!

“The Synod journey is far from over; in some ways an important new phase is only beginning. But we are much better equipped … this doesn’t mean we have a detailed road-map; but Abrahamic journeys never do. They require instead a listening of another and deeper kind.”

October 26, 2015

Into St. Peter’s we marched yesterday to close the Synod that had opened three weeks ago. It seemed like three months. When I made it to my place and sat down, I felt a fatigue come over me – probably the let-down after the intensity and sheer hard work of the Synod journey. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, thinking it was either my guardian angel or an MC telling me I was in the wrong place. But no: it was the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See who’d been sitting in the front row in all his finery and then saw me take my place. He needed to speak with me. Under Pope Francis, it seems, diplomatic formalities aren’t what they used to be. No one stays in their proper place any more. All these surprises can be exhausting.

Some of the archbishop’s photos in Rome:

ABP COLERIDGE - final synod mass

There have been a thousand different accounts of how the Synod ended and what it all means. They range from the absurd to the insightful via the ideological and bland. Many of them view the Synod through a political lens and ask who won and who lost; they count the numbers. That there were politics is hardly news; it was there for all to see, especially for us inside the Synod. But what was equally clear by the end was that there was more than politics to the process; there really was “something greater than Solomon.” This was patent at the very end when Pope Francis spoke, leaving us with the sense that this wasn’t just Jorge Bergoglio but Peter speaking to the brothers and sisters. Here was “something greater.” So too with the homily during yesterday’s Mass, delivered in a low-key, almost gentle tone which may have been in part because the Pope himself was weary. That was one of my thoughts when the fatigue came over me at the start: what must the nearly 79-year-old Pope feel like?

A couple of bits of the homily especially hit the ear hard and reached deep. The Gospel of the day was the healing of blind beggar, Bartimaeus, from the Gospel of Mark, and here are the two paragraphs of the homily that stayed with me:

“There are some temptations for those who follow Jesus. The Gospel shows at least two of them. None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. This is the temptation: a ‘spirituality of illusion’: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.

“There is a second temptation, that of falling into a ‘scheduled faith’. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. We run the risk of becoming the ‘many’ of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13) and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.”

Listening to this, it was tempting to think that the Pope was playing the partisan game. But not so. To say that this applies to others and not to me is to mishear what Francis is saying and fall into the trap of seeing the Synod as no more than politics, a partisan play of power. The Pope’s words applied to every one of us listening to him. The same was true of the words he spoke at the end of the Synod or at the celebration of the Synod’s 50 years. This Pope is no ideologue; he loathes ideology. He has an acute political sense, but he doesn’t play politics. He knows there are different convictions and positions, but he rises above the differences.

At times during the Synod I was struck by the apocalyptic vision of some of those most ardently opposed to any thought of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried or a more humane and compassionate approach to homosexual people. For a few, the Synod seemed like Armageddon, the final battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. It was good versus evil, black versus white, all or nothing. No wonder they were anxious. Related to this is a view that I cited in an earlier post and which was heard at times in the Hall. It was an anxiety that we might see “the triumph of sociology over theology, history over metaphysics, the subjective over the objective and, fundamentally, becoming over being.” The sense of antagonism expressed here is part of what I mean by an apocalyptic vision. It’s one or the other; it couldn’t be both. This ends up opposing, at least implicitly, truth and mercy, Church and world, the doctrinal and the pastoral. Yet this essentially pastoral Synod – a fact at times obscured – was surely about finding new convergences, not reinforcing old antagonisms. Of course there are antagonisms, but there’s also “something greater than Solomon,” which means the possibility of convergence beyond antagonism. That, I think, is the work of the Holy Spirit who, we kept saying, was the prime mover of the Synod and is the prime agent of evangelisation.

Did the Synod achieve much? Yes and no. The very fact that we voted to accept all 94 paragraphs of the final document was important, no matter that some of the votes were close. The Synod brought to the surface what had been submerged – that the pastors are not of one mind and heart on some of the deepest and most complex issues facing the Church. This might be considered a negative of the Synod, but I see it as a positive. An essentially pastoral approach has to start with the facts. It’s no good living in some idealised Pollyanna world where all the bishops are supposed to be perfectly united, mind and heart. They aren’t; and at least now we know that as we journey on together. We have a more realistic basis for what lies ahead as we explore more of what synodality means. We’re living in the world that is, rather than the world as we might wish it to be. Yet our differences didn’t amount to open warfare or lead to irretrievable breakdown. That’s what the final voting showed and why it mattered.

The final document isn’t perfect nor does it provide pat answers to all the tough questions. It doesn’t try to say everything about everything, as some seemed to think it should. But it’s a vast improvement on the Synod working document, and it does provide the Pope with something he can work with. It’s clear and compassionate, doctrinally sound and pastorally sensitive. There’s a fair bit of Church-speak, but the document doesn’t drown in it; and its preference is to speak positively rather than negatively, to affirm rather than condemn.

Some think that the fruits of this Synod process, reaching back to late 2013 when Pope Francis announced the two Synods, are meagre indeed, given the time, energy and resources that have been required. That sense of disappointment is tied, I think, to unrealistic expectation. As I look back now, I think we’ve achieved about as much as we could realistically have expected to achieve. We’ve certainly come to a deeper sense of the synodality of the whole Church – and both episcopal collegiality and the Petrine ministry within that context. That in itself may turn out to be the major achievement of this Synod process and what Pope Francis always had in mind.

As he has said and as we’ve all come to feel, the Synod journey is far from over; in some ways an important new phase is only beginning. But we are much better equipped for the new phase because of what’ happened since late 2013. This doesn’t mean we have a detailed road-map; but Abrahamic journeys never do. They require instead a listening of another and deeper kind. Through these weeks we’ve listened to each other; and at times that’s been hard work. Part of the hard work has been resisting the temptation not to listen to certain voices or to listen only to those with whom one agrees. But if this Synod process has produced a (slightly or substantially) more listening Church, then it will have been worthwhile.

In these blog posts, I’ve spoken often enough of the moments of farce that punctuated the Synod. Looking back, they were more important than I thought at the time, when they seemed simply welcome distractions about which I could blog to give people a bit of a chuckle and a sense that the Synod wasn’t all doom and gloom. Kierkegaard, I’m told, was a great aficionado of farce. He preferred its spontaneity, singularity and contingency to the ideal or universal aims of other dramatic forms admired by other critics. That may be why the Synod’s farcical moments made such an impression on me, and why I bothered recounting them to you. I’ve never thought of myself as a Kierkegaardian before this, but now I do … a bit.

Today I pack my bags and look to another long journey – the haul from Rome back to Brisbane which takes most of a day. The blog has turned out to be a bigger thing than I expected; I thought it’d be just to keep a few folks back home in the picture. But it’s been more than that. If it’s helped others be part of the Synod, I’m glad. It’s certainly helped me to focus my thoughts and feelings through the Synod and to maintain a sense that it wasn’t just about us bishops in an upstairs room but about the whole Church. But now I return to the silence from which I came – and to Australia where we’ll have to ask what all this means for us as the synodal journey continues. Thanks for your company.





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:






Statement from the Director of the Holy See Press Office (news.va: ANSA)


With regard to the unfounded news on the health of the Holy Father, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., has issued the following statement:

The circulation of entirely unfounded news regarding the health of the Holy Father by an Italian newspaper is gravely irresponsible and unworthy of attention. Furthermore, as is clearly evident, the Pope is carrying out his very intense activity in an totally normal way.

AT SYNOD PRESS BRIEFING ON WEDNESDAY, Fr. Lombardi said, referring to the original article, that no Japanese doctor specializing in brain tumors ever came to the Vatican last January to see the Pope,  no helicopter ever brought a person to the Vatican. He also mentioned that, next to the article about the papal health, was an interview by the same writer with a woman doctor about tumors. She personally called Fr. Lombardi from New York, saying she saw the report of a papal tumor, knew absolutely nothing, only that a journalist had called her and asked, in a very generic way, about tumors.


Some of the Synod Fathers, accompanied by faithful fom their dioceses. were at today’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square where tens of thousands of pilgrims braved chilly October temperatures to hear the Holy Father talk about fidelity in marriage.

AG - OCtober 21

Francis began by noting, “In our catechesis on the family, we spoke last week about the promises we make to our children by bringing them into the world. Today we consider the promise of love and fidelity made between husbands and wives, which is the basis of all family life. This promise is called into question nowadays, and seen as somehow opposed to personal freedom. Yet the truth is that our freedom is shaped and sustained by our fidelity to the choices and commitments we make throughout life. Fidelity grows through our daily efforts to keep our word; indeed, fidelity to our promises is a supreme expression of our dignity as human beings.

“A family that closes up on itself is a contradiction, a mortification of the promise that brought it to life,” said the Pope. “Never forget that the identity of the family is always a promise that extends and expands to all the family, and also to all humanity. … Love, like friendship, owes its strength and beauty to the fact that it generates a bond without curbing freedom. Love is free, the promise of the family is free, and this is its beauty. Without freedom there is no friendship, without freedom there is no love, without freedom there is no marriage. So, freedom and fidelity are not opposed to each other; on the contrary, they support each other, in terms of both interpersonal and social relationships.

In a very beautiful and moving passage, Francis said: “Being faithful to promises is a true work of art by humanity. No relationship of love – no friendship, no form of caring for another person, no joy of the common good – reaches the height of our desire and our hope, if it does not arrive at the point of inhabiting this miracle of the soul. And I use the word ‘miracle’, because the strength and persuasiveness of fidelity, in spite of everything, can only enchant and surprise us.”

“There is no greater ‘school’ to teach us such fidelity than marriage and the family,” continued the Holy Father, because they are, “in God’s plan, a blessing for our world. Saint Paul tells us that the love which grounds the family points to the bond of love between Christ and the Church. In these days of the Synod on the Family, let us pray that the Church will uphold and strengthen the promise of the family, with creativity and with unfailing trust in that faithful love by which the Lord fulfils his every promise.”


Papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi started today’s briefing on the synod by adding to his earlier denial of what he called “the circulation of entirely unfounded news” that Pope Francis has a benign brain tumor. He had said that the report “regarding the health of the Holy Father by an Italian newspaper is gravely irresponsible and unworthy of attention.”

At the briefing, referring to the original article, he stated that no Japanese doctor specializing in brain tumors ever came to the Vatican to see the Pope last January, nor had a helicopter ever brought a person to the Vatican. Father Lombardi also mentioned that, next to the article about the papal health, was an interview by the same writer with a woman doctor about tumors. She personally called Fr. Lombardi from New York to say she had seen the report of a papal tumor, knew absolutely nothing, only that a journalist had called her and asked, in a very generic way, about tumors.

Cardinals Daniel Sturla Berhouet of Montevideo, Uruguay and Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany and Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Ireland addressed the media. Each began with an opening statement.

Cardinal Marx, who is also one of C-9 Council of Cardinals that advises the Holy Father, began to speak in his native German and then switched to English, a language understood by the greater majority of the journalists present.

He said he thinks “the synod is nearing the end but that it will not be the end because there will be a ‘relatio’ (report) and propositions. In our German-speaking group we had propositions and reflections about marriage and the family. The Holy Father will make something of the texts (of the language groups) so the synod is not at an end.”

Cardinal Marx said from the (2014) consistory to the 2014 synod to this synod, he sees that, “most of the people agree with the central part of the document (the Instrumentum laboris or working document), that is, one man, one women, together, forever. That is the great majority of the people I know in the church and also in society in general, and they will agree with the message of the Church. The Church says be faithful to your dreams – and people want to hear this – but they ask: what will you say to us when we fail?  That is the center of the discussions. Our answer: we stay with you even when you fail. This is a challenge in pastoral work.”

“In our relatio, continued the archbishop of Munich, “we stressed the point because marriage and the family is such a center for the world, for society. The family is the center and thanks to the Catholic Church for making this possible. Our discussions are for the world – this is our message to the world.” Cardinal Marx noted, “we have to do a lot to strengthen and support families, to accompany them and help them, to help families to realize their dream when they say ‘Yes’ to each other. One man, one woman, forever, and children. Thus, this most intimate private action is also most important for the public interest.”

Another point was “the discussion on gender and we tried to make a difference.” There is this new social construction of gender, and we are against these ‘new’ genders. That people can ‘choose’ gender is not acceptable to the Church.”

On the issue of the divorced and civilly remarried who wish communion, the German said, “everyone is looking at this issue. We are looking at what I just said about these people: what will you say to us when we fail?”

He pointed out that “every proposition, every text of German language group is unanimous – no vote against it. We feel there must be a way for us to be with these people who are aiming for full reconciliation with the church.”

“I hope this synod will not be a synod of closed doors but of open doors for people – open to young people who want to marry. We truly hope your dream will come true.”

(FYI: In actual practice, a number of bishops in Germany and Switzerland are already giving communion to divorced and remarried, an issue of great concern and consternation for many Church fathers and Catholics elsewhere.)

Cardinal Sturla from Uruguay said he has only been a bishop for three and a half years and cardinal for half that time and this is his first synod. He said he is learning a lot from his brothers, learning how to listen, to see the universal church. He sees the universality of the Church in the Italian language group of which he is part as there are Italian-speaking prelates and guests from the Eastern Churches and from around the world. He is impressed with the intensity of work, the conscientious care with which Synod Fathers prepared their text.

The Salesian cardinal said there was great attention in language groups, as well as diversity of opinions, freedom to talk, fraternity and unity. “We touched on all the topics Card Marx mentioned,” and spoke of the ideology of gender, He stressed the strong secularization process in Latin America where, in many instances, even same sex unions are approved. He said his group was struck by the unity given by the figure of the Pope. He said “we work but the last word will be the Pope’s.” He also underscored how, “for us of Spanish language, the word ‘accompany’ is very important, fundamental, in fact.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Ireland said this was his first synod and it has been a “marvelous, special experience.”

“Last night in our small language group of which I am moderator,” he began, “I thought: what will come out of this synod? Were we all to go home last night, before any document was issued, then I feel the synod has been worthwhile. The synod is about finding synergy, as Pope Francis said Saturday (in his talk about the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops). The convergence was around Pope Francis.”

Abp. Martin noted that, “this synod is entitled ‘vocation and mission of the family.’ Vocation often suggests priesthood and consecrated life. But they are in decline. What do we do? We pray for vocations and we support those who believe they have a vocation. So why not do the same for the family, think in the same way? The tsunami of secularism has led to this decline in the sense of vocation, so how do we support that?

The archbishop of Armagh suggested three answers. 1. We must surely pray for the family, for marriage; 2. We need to have a clear, positive definition of marriage, of vocation to marriage and family, and 3. We need to support and nourish those in the vocation of marriage. In coming weeks, months and years, we have to ask: What are we doing to support the vocation and mission of the family?


On The Road Together – The soil of real experience

“We’ve come far but there’s still a long way to go in a short time” – by Abp. Mark Coleridge, Brisbane, Australia

Yesterday (Tuesday) we finished work in the small groups. Our group was a very mixed bag, as were all the groups more or less. But English being spoken so widely we had a real jumble of nationalities (18), and voices spoke from vastly different backgrounds, at times it seemed from different planets. It wasn’t always easy to weave a tapestry from this but – thanks in large part to the tact and patience, the tactics and hard work of the Moderator, Archbishop Eamon Martin – we came close enough to it.

It was a challenge to put the final group report together, because Part III on which we were reporting contains most of the hot-button issues, on which there wasn’t always agreement in the group. The final report didn’t gloss over this totally; nor did it give much sense of the disagreement among us. At times our focus, I thought, was more doctrinal than pastoral and that, as a result, we tended to talk in some kind of noosphere which bore little relation to the reality of people’s lives – or at least the lives of the people I serve back home. The word “pastoral” means in the first place that we’re in touch with the reality of people’s lives, not caught in some doctrinal or ideological bubble where things may be beautiful in their own neat way but where you don’t deal with the mess of reality. The group was at its best perhaps when we were sharing our experiences of marriage and the family in our home situations. That’s when you felt we were touching down in the soil of real experience.

At times we wandered away from the focus of the family, talking about issues in global terms rather than within the context of the family. As a result, there was sometimes a feeling that we had to say everything about everything, which is not what a Synod is about – especially when we’re looking at the family which is not a single theme but a whole host of themes. You have to be very focused if it’s not to become unmanageable; and our focus had to be essentially pastoral and strictly within the context of the family.

Read the rest of Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s very informative blog here (you really have to wonder where he finds he time to write this, given what he said about his schedule!): http://brisbanecatholic.org.au/articles/soil-real-experience/



When one is not gifted with the grace of bi-location, covering a synod can be a real challenge.

You see, a journalist:

  1.       Wants to be outside the synod hall in the fenced-in area for the media where you try to shout greetings to prelates you know or want to know or at least take a few important photos: You can do this at least once a day but will probably meet more people if you stand there at least twice daily, such when the synod fathers arrive at the morning and afternoon sessions and then leave both sessions;
  2.      Wants to attend the daily briefings, normally scheduled for 1 pm in the Holy See Press Office: they can last as little as an hour or well over 90 minutes. In any case, if you have lunch, it will be a late lunch. Now, there is an alternative: stay at home or in your office and watch online. But most likely you have stayed at home because you are trying to write an article from a previous interview or you are trying to prepare a new interview – but how do you listen attentively to the press briefing (where some interesting things can be learned) AND write a thoughtful, comprehensive piece, blog, daily column, script for radio or TV, etc.?
  3.       If you do attend the press briefing, you then have to write your column and that might take considerable time to do well (reading your notes, translating the shorthand, etc.). You will probably do this as you eat a snack from the press office vending machine. However, if you eat a really decent lunch, the writing will be put off.
  4.      But you can’t put off the writing because you have a 4:30 appointment to interview a prelate. Do you prepare your press briefing column or make sure the interview is well prepared? Is there time to do both? Something might give along the way.
  5.       If everything actually falls into place (and by the way, I did not include the time it takes to download photos, selecting a few for your column, and/or listening to your recording of the press conference or an interview) by late evening you will have accomplished most of the day’s objectives and then, feeling you deserve a really good break, you seek a really good meal, preferably breaking bread with friends and colleagues who have shared the same daily schedule.
  6.      Things should and probably will work out with some level of determination and organization but it is always the little extras that can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back: the “extras” like meeting deadlines for two weekly television shows and three radio programs or having to re-arrange schedules to accommodate an interviewee who has to change his/her schedule, or an unexpected assignment from your editor. My “extra” today was an almost daylong repair job on the centralized satellite we have in our Vatican-owned apartment building. I’ve been without a great number of channels, including EWTN, for several months. A technician came at 10:30 am and left a little after 5:30 pm but he did solve the problem. I had to be available part of the time as the technician needed to check damage and/or repairs against my TV. In any case, I can now watch EWTN’s nightly show on the synod at 7 pm, instead of streaming on my iPad (but thank the Lord for little favors!)
  7.      And the synod days will pass – not as rapidly as one might like – but we are now, after all, in the third and final week of this marathon synod on the family that ends – at least here in Rome – on Sunday, October 25. Deo gratias for endings!


Archbishops Enrico Solmi of Italy, Mark Coleridge of Australia and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Beatitude Fouad Twal, answered questions from the media at the daily press briefing on the Synod of the Family. Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, explained that the delegates were meeting in small groups on Monday and Tuesday so there will be no report until Wednesday of the discussions that were underway. The three prelates answered a number of questions which mainly focussed on the admission of the divorced and civilly remarried to Communion.

Bishops arrive at the synod hall for meetings (photo: news.va):

bishops arrive for synod

Following is a report by Vatican Radio’s Fr. Russell Politt, SJ

“Discernment is always messy and uncertain,” said Archbishop Coleridge. He went on to say that despite the mess and the challenges the Synod faces, he is confident that deep down something is moving. Coleridge said that he thought Pope Francis’ address at Saturday’s celebration marking 50 years of the institution of the Synod of Bishops was a key moment and that he hoped what the Pope said would be taken forward.

Archbishop Solmi said that climate at the Synod was one of listening and expressing things openly which included different opinions and nuances. He said that a fundamental aspect of the Synod was to try and look at the family through the eyes of God. Solmi said that he really thinks the Synod understands a sense of Catholicism – the universal Church meeting and sharing their lived experiences from all over the world.

All three prelates spoke of the importance of being in touch with human experience. Coleridge said that often bishops can indulge in “Church-speak” that is truly beautiful but abstract and doesn’t touch people in their reality. He underlined that this was a pastoral synod. We need theology but we also need to be deeply in touch with human experience, he added.

Beatitude Twal, speaking on the admission of the divorced and civilly married to Communion, said that this is a very serious and complicated discussion. He said that in no way can we generalise, sometimes there may be no sin but “a lack of order” and so we have to look at these issues very closely. Coleridge said that if a second marriage is good, stable and the children were well cared for, then we need to see if there is some pastoral solution that can be used. He added that there are many people who are alienated from the Church and so it’s important that we go to them and reach out.

Solmi said that people may be living in a situation that is not God’s will for them. He said that there may be sin but we need to remember that we are dealing with the reality of peoples lives and that accompanying them means listening and embarking upon a path of discernment.

The prelates were asked how they are dealing with three vexed questions which seem to be central to the narrative around the Synod: the admission of the divorce and civilly remarried to communion, homosexuality and cohabitation. Twal said that he did not believe these were central. He said that these were not the items of the Synod but amongst items being discussed at the Synod. He mentioned other issues like war and poverty. He said that even with much goodwill on the part of the Synod delegates, they are aware of their limits and that they cannot solve all the issues before them. He said that in his part of the world he does not have the same problems as the West.

Coleridge said that there will be no substantial change in Church teaching on these issues. He said that, hopefully, there will be a movement to a new, genuine, pastoral approach to things. He said the approach requires new language, a language that listens. He said that although the Church may understand a certain language – like “love the sinner but not the sin” or “intrinsically disordered” – this no longer communicates with the people of our times. It would be helpful to find others words to express truths that are more positive. He asked if there was another way, for example, that the Church could express “indissolubility” more positively.

The bishops said that they were working hard, and feeling tired, trying to put together a report that could be presented to the Pope. They said that they would give their recommendations to him but that, in the end, the Holy Father will decide on the way forward.



“We’re caught at the moment between Abraham and Moses. All of the bishops have a bit of both in them, but some are more Mosaic than Abrahamic, others more Abrahamic than Mosaic. Let’s hope the two patriarchs can embrace by week’s end.”

October 19, 2015 – Abp. Mark Coleridge, Brisbane, Australia

Yesterday, being Sunday, was free from Synod commitments. But that didn’t mean free from praying and eating – both of which are done in considerable quantities during the Synod, free day or not. I had two invitations for Mass – one to the Domus Australia where Cardinal Pell was celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Aussie house in Rome, the other the Canonisation Mass in St Peter’s Square. I decided the Square was closer, so over I went with Bishop Hurley to join the mob of of bishops who gathered around the Pope as he declared four blesseds – among them the parents of Therese of Lisieux – to be saints.

These papal occasions have about them a grand formality, at least out in the Square. But things are a little less formal, in fact a bit messy, in the Basilica where the bishops vest. It’s very pleasant to have, as it were, the run of St Peter’s without the vast crowds that throng through it from day to day.

We were vesting in the chapel of St Gregory Nazianzen who, by the way, hated episcopal synods and councils and thought that no good ever came of them. He retired from his see early to produce some of the most memorable theology ever written. Nearby was the chapel of Pope St John XXIII and he, of course, loved synods and councils. All the bishops stopped before his tomb to seek his intercession as the start of the final week of this Synod. I certainly did, in part because I think this Synod is more directly linked to Vatican II than any other Synod through the last 50 years.

Continue with this fascinating insider’s look here: http://brisbanecatholic.org.au/articles/on-the-road-together-between-abraham-moses/




From Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s October 15 blog:


“We need to draw more deeply on the Bible in shaping our vision of marriage and the family and the way we speak about them. This doesn’t mean just sticking a few more quotes from Scripture into the text.”


Yesterday morning the Pope wasn’t in the Synod Hall because he was out in the rain in St Peter’s Square at the General Audience. I thought he might say something about the Synod, but he didn’t. Perhaps he thought it would be premature or that his words, whatever they were, would be pounced upon and misinterpreted in a way that wouldn’t be helpful at this delicate midpoint of the Synod process.

Benedict XVI learnt the hard way how the words of a Pope can be misread: think of his Regensburg address which would have been perfectly OK in an academic common room but which really stirred the pot given it was the Pope who was speaking. When I was working in the Vatican Secretariat of State, helping to prepare and finalise texts for the Pope, the golden rule was: “when in doubt, leave it out”. In other words, if there’s any chance that this or that text may be misread or turned against the Pope, “drop it”.

Interestingly, Pope Francis decided to offer a public apology for some recent – and unspecified – mishaps that have happened in the Vatican and perhaps the Church more broadly. You can speculate about what exactly he had in mind; it was hard to know exactly. Perhaps his point was simply to have the Pope say sorry in public. That’s not something Popes have done too often.

I remember when Pope John Paul proposed the Day of Pardon during the Great Jubilee of 2000, saying sorry publicly for the Church’s sins over two millennia, there were voices of disquiet, even complaint – at least in the Vatican. Some of these voices were worried that if you started saying sorry, where and when would it stop. As it turned out, there was something to this because, after the Day of Pardon had been celebrated, all kinds of groups and individuals wrote to the Pope saying: “what about us? You left us out”.

Click here to read the rest of Archbishop Coleridge’s blog: http://brisbanecatholic.org.au/articles/on-the-road-together-field-of-god/


(Vatican Radio) Oct 15. “The Polish Episcopal Conference does not support the notion of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki at the daily Synod briefing. Following is a report on that briefing by VR’s Fr. Russell Pollitt SJ:

Archbishop Gadecki, President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, and Archbishop Carlos Aquiar Retes of Mexico, were guests at the briefing. Holy See Press spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told the media that there had been about 93 interventions on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning in the General Assembly. Fr. Lombardi was joined by four language assistants who sit in on the synod meetings.

Fr. Lombardi explained that the delegates would continue to make interventions on part three of Intrumentum Laboris on Thursday afternoon. On Friday the auditors and fraternal delegates will be given time to make their interventions.

On Friday there will be two media briefings at the Holy See Press Office: one on Sunday’s canonization of the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin, at 11:00 am and the daily Synod briefing at 1 pm.

The interventions made at the Synod assembly spanned many issues. Some of these included: the need to defend Church doctrine and ensure we are faithful to the tradition of the Church; correct understanding of Scripture texts; clarification of Church teaching on marriage; a possible catechetical pathway for accompanying the divorced and remarried; the important role that the sacrament of reconciliation plays; the teaching of the Church on sin should be highlighted and not lost; the complexities of inter-faith, inter-cultural, inter-religious and multi-racial marriages; the trafficking of women and children and the suffering of couples who are not able to have children – adoption was spoken about in such cases.

The formation of priests for pastoral accompaniment was also addressed. If young men do not have a good experience of family and are not given adequate formation, they will not be effective ministers. Young men need to be taught the “art of friendship” so that they can accompany families on the pathway to holiness.

The issue of the admission to the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried was discussed extensively. Archbishop Gadecki said that the Polish position was clear, “We do not support a process of admitting the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist, we believe in the current annulment process.”

He said that there were many ways in which people in second unions could participate in the life of the Church without receiving the Eucharist. “People can participate in different forms and bear witness to the hardships of family life.” Gadecki added that remarried divorcees had the “right to participate” in the life of the Church without receiving the Eucharist.

It was reported that some interventions in the Synod Assembly made it clear that admitting remarried people to the Eucharist would not be an “indiscriminate process” but a carefully structured one. Divorce must always be seen as a tragedy for the family. The Church should not punish those who are weak but find ways of helping them. Many of the interventions underlined that it was not a doctrinal change that was sought but a change in pastoral attitude.

Archbishop Retes said that the Holy Father has shown the Church what attitude we should have: that of mercy towards everyone. He said that this was the mission of the Church and, in the family, people should “taste” the love of God.

There were other interventions about the serious problems related to inter-religious marriages in Africa and Asia. However, many delegates said that the positive side of this was that it opened the door to dialogue with people of other religions who were married to Catholics.

The media were told that some interventions had thanked the Holy Father for his Moto Proprio that made annulments more accessible. He was also thanked for teaching ministers of the Church how to smile when pasturing God’s people.


(Vatican Radio) ‘Mission impossible’ was how Fr Federico Lombardi on Thursday described the task of trying to sum up the dozens of daily interventions by participants in the Synod of Bishops on the Family, currently coming to the close of its second week in the Vatican’s Synod Hall.

Friday will mark the final day of presentations on part three of the Synod’s working document, before participants move back into their small groups to decide on final changes they’d like to see reflected in a concluding document on marriage and family life.

Philippa Hitchen has been listening to the bishops as they seek to draw together some very diverging points of view and reports …

“The way of Jesus or the way of Walter Kasper”, was how one disgruntled bishop was overheard describing the divisions at the start of this Synod, painting the retired German cardinal into the role of reluctant cheerleader for the perceived ‘progressive’ wing of the Church. It was Kasper’s book on mercy that Pope Francis quoted in his first Angelus address, and it was he whom the Pope asked to speak about the challenges facing the family at the very start of the lengthy Synod process. The cardinal’s suggestion of exploring new ways to show mercy and readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist, through a path of penance and reconciliation, alarmed those who saw it as an overturning of doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage.

While Pope Francis explicitly asked bishops not to see this as the only theme of the Synod, the past two weeks of discussions have highlighted this fault line, with many bishops speaking out firmly in favour of defending unchanging truths, while others have pleaded for a more merciful and compassionate approach to those in both second marriages and in same-sex relationships.

But as participants move towards the crucial process of summing up their three weeks’ work, I’m increasingly hearing a desire to overcome that divide, to bridge the gap and to see these apparent extremes as simply two sides of the same coin. Just as Jesus was both teacher and pastor, and John XXIII described the Church in his encylical as both mother and teacher, so today’s Church leaders must learn to teach clearly, while offering the unqualified warmth and welcome that a parent shows to his or her child.

Faced with different attitudes and changing legislation on marriage and the family, one Latin American bishop said, the Church can neither shut herself up in a ghetto, nor dilute her beliefs, but rather she must learn to engage with a new attitude of understanding and respect for those who hold very different views. And as one Asian prelate put it, Pope Francis himself has shown the way forward, by teaching through a welcoming presence, a listening heart and a discerning spirit.




The Holy See Press Office has published the following list of rapporteurs and moderators of the synod’s Circuli Minori, or Language Groups: Gallicus (French), Anglicus (English), Italicus (Italian), Hibericus (Spanish) and Germanicus (German). The language groups met for the first time Tuesday afternoon.

It was noted at a press briefing in the Holy See Press Office today that while a group may be labeled as English, French, etc., not all members of that group would be native English- or French-speakers. For example, Archbishop Charles Chaput of English Group D said that, in his group, there were people from Canada, France, India, Bangladesh, Australia, Belgium and Uganda and several people from United States.


Circulus Gallicus “A”:     Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille, France

Circulus Gallicus “B”:     Msgr. Francois-Xavier Dumortier S.J.

Circulus Gallicus “C”:     Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher

Circulus Anglicus “A”:   Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz

Circulus Anglicus “B”:   Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Circulus Anglicus “C”:   Bishop Mark Benedict Coleridge

Circulus Anglicus “D”:   Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Circulus Italicus “A”:     Rev. Fr. Manuel Jesus Arroba Conde, C.M.F.

Circulus Italicus “B”:     Cardinal Mauro Piacenza

Circulus Italicus “C”:     Bishop Franco Giulio Brambilla

Circulus Hibericus “A”: Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, O.A.R.

Circulus Hibericus “B”: Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo

Circulus Germanicus:     Archbishop Heiner Koch


Circulus Gallicus “A”:   Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, elected

Circulus Gallicus “B”:   Cardinal Robert Sarah, elected

Circulus Gallicus “C”:     Maurice Piat, C.S.Sp., elected

Circulus Anglicus “A”:   Cardinal George Pell, elected

Circulus Anglicus “B”:   Cardinal Vincent Nichols, elected

Circulus Anglicus “C”:   Eamon Martin, elected

Circulus Anglicus “D”:   Cardinal Thomas Christopher Collins, elected

Circulus Italicus “A”:     Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, elected

Circulus Italicus “B”:    Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli, elected

Circulus Italicus “C”:     Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, elected

Circulus Hibericus “A”: Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B. elected

Circulus Hibericus “B”: Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega, elected

Circulus Germanicus:     Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, O.P.,elected


Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., says the opening days of the Synod of Bishops are going smoothly. “I think we’re moving along very well. We’ve had very good discussions in the Aula (hall). Many, many of the points that were raised contribute positively to trying to find a better way to say what we want to say. The rest of them reinforced what’s already there. So far, this has been a very positive meeting.” (Reuters photo)


In an interview in the synod hall with Vatican Radio’s Bernd Hagenkord, S.J., Cardinal Wuerl spoke about the atmosphere in the small groups, which began their discussions on Tuesday afternoon. “Now we’re in the small language groups. We’re just beginning. And I think we’re already beginning to sense, in our small group, a sense of solidarity around what it is we want to say, and a consensus where are the major points to be underlined. We’re just beginning, but we’re off to a good start.”

Asked about his predictions for the synod, Cardinal Wuerl said he hoped that, “out of this whole discussion will come a recognition that while we have a very clear doctrinal basis for our appreciation of marriage, equally part of the revelation is God’s mercy.” He also expressed his hope that the Synod would address the need to respond pastorally “to all of the people whose marriage is not the ideal, whose lives more reflect the brokenness of the human condition than they reflect the beauty of the ideal.”


Catholic News Agency, CNA, in a piece appearing online yesterday, wrote that a day earlier, the opening day of the 2015 Synod on the Family, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, the synod’s relator general, gave an introductory speech to the synod fathers. Drawing from the working document for the synod as well as recent magisterial documents, Cardinal Erdo surveyed the work the assembly is called to do. He examined current challenges to the family and marriage, the vocation of the family, and the family’s mission today.

Cardinal Erdo’s remarks have been criticized since he spoke Monday and many, in fact, share the opinion of Archbishop Coleridge who wrote on his blog that some “are uneasy about the impression given by the presentation of Cardinal Erdo in the morning that some key questions are already decided and seemingly off the table. They felt that such a stance was premature.”

The cardinal himself, at a press conference Monday, explained that his introductory address had followed the structure of Instrumentum Laboris. “I tried to systematize all the data which was received from the Church around the world, including families and individuals who wrote to us, following the themes already in Instrumentum Laboris.”

And here is what Edward Pentin wrote – in part – in the National Catholic Register about the Erdo talk:

“In his speech, Cardinal Erdö reasserted much of the Church’s teaching, and cast doubt on the prospect of a controversial proposal to readmit civilly remarried divorcees to Communion.

“The proposal, first raised by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German and the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, at a consistory in February 2014 and which is based on the practice of Eastern Orthodox Churches, was one of the most controversial issues at last year’s extraordinary synod on the family.

“The current gathering, which runs until Oct. 25 and is being attended by 279 bishops and priests from around the world, is to discuss the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.”

“In his 2014 proposal, Cardinal Kasper said divorced-and-remarried Catholics could be readmitted to the sacraments after a period of penitence for their first marriage. Critics said it undermined the indissolubility of marriage, amounted to an attack on the sacrament of the Eucharist, and would precipitate many other abuses of Church teaching.

“Cardinal Erdö, 63, whose position as general relator makes him responsible for underlining the goals of the synod at the beginning of the three-week meeting, stressed that civilly remarried Catholics “must be given merciful pastoral guidance,” but this “does not call into question the indissolubility of marriage as taught by Jesus Christ himself.”

“He added that ‘God’s mercy offers forgiveness to sinners but requires conversion’,” and, in this case, “a couple’s sin does not lie first and foremost in whatever behavior may have led to the breakup of the first marriage.”The reason they cannot receive the Eucharist “is not because of the failure of their first marriage, but because of the cohabitation in their second relationship,” he said.”

The cardinal’s speech appeared on Vatican web pages in Italian but it has now been translated into English by some of the CNA staff: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-cardinal-erdos-introductory-report-for-the-synod-on-the-family-67404/



A fascinating place to start studying what is happening in the Synod Hall as the Synod Fathers and invited guests meet on the vast theme of the family is to visit the Facebook pages or Twitter accounts of some of the participants. One of the more interesting by far is the Facebook page of Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia: https://www.facebook.com/ArchbishopMarkColeridge

As you start to read his account of Day 2 of the synod, you are brought here – http://brisbanecatholic.org.au/articles/time-to-speak/ – to the archdiocese of Brisbane where Abp. Coleridge continues his story, an insider’s account of what bishops are feeling and saying and observing and have questions about.

Here is Abp. Mark Coleridge’s diary of a day in the synod:

On the Road Together – A time to speak

October 6, 2015

The sun rises on Synod Day 2.

In the afternoon yesterday we began the long haul of the three-minute interventions, with Cardinal Vingt-Trois beginning with the very lengthy list of those who’d been called to speak. The two Kiwis and I were among those called, so we all rushed to our bag to find our text, hoping we hadn’t left it back at the house.

The procession of speeches was rapid-fire compared with earlier Synods. Many of the speakers – including myself remarkably – were under the three-minute limit. I must have spoken faster than I planned. But it’s hard to be substantial in such a short space: you can certainly say something, but it has to be very concise. Bit like a Tweet. It’s clear even now that the real action of the Synod won’t be in these short speeches but in the more ample work of the small groups that begin today.

After the long series of speeches, we began the last hour of what’s called free discussion. It’s not all that free, with some of the speakers actually reading texts which is not exactly my sense of what free discussion means. My view is that texts shouldn’t be allowed in that hour’s discussion. We don’t need more set-piece speeches, especially given that there’s a four-minute limit for the free discussion. It just means longer speeches.

But there were some lively unscripted interventions, which showed that this hour at the end of the day could be important. The interventions showed that there are still uncertainties about the new format and its workability. The Secretary General, Cardinal Baldisseri, gave a long and impassioned defence of the format proposed, so we’ll see how it works out.

Another uncertainty that was expressed concerned the ordering of the three-part Instrumentum Laboris which structures the three weeks of the Synod. Some speakers were uneasy about the way the Instrumentum Laboris (and hence Week 1 of the Synod) begins with anthropological and sociological observations on the family and then, only in the second part, moves to consider the family in the light of our experience of God. Some felt we should begin with God. It’s the old argument about whether an inductive or deductive approach is better. I’m not sure it matters where you start; what matters is where you end up.

The free discussion also made clear that there are different political currents at work in the Synod. Given all that happened in the lead-up, that’s no surprise. Some, it seems, are unhappy with parts of the Instrumentum Laboris, others with the make-up of the group of 10 who will supervise the production of the Synod’s final document. Others again are uneasy about the impression given by the presentation of Cardinal Erdo in the morning that some key questions are already decided and seemingly off the table. They felt that such a stance was premature. All of this will feed into the messier but probably more productive work of the small groups where more voices will be heard in a freer setting in which we will be able not just to make statements but to discuss issues.

It will pass eventually into the hands of Pope Francis who was in the Hall for the whole day, keeping his head down following the papers (and monitor) in front of him, listening carefully and barely raising his head through the sessions. But he’s also hard at work outside the sessions, as you can see from this shot of him entering the Hall for the afternoon sessions. He’s always tapping someone on the shoulder for a quick word; and you can bet they’re not discussing the weather.