To keep up with synod news, events, interviews and press briefings, the following is a very interesting link from the webpage of the Holy See Press Office:

There was a press briefing today, October 12, about the work of the language groups in recent days. You will find my report on that below, in the form of bullet points. And following that is a more lengthy but interesting piece from L’Osservatore Romano about the 13 language group reports

After a report today by Fr Lombardi, head of the press office, and summaries of the language groups reports, there was a brief Q&A period and, following that, two couples reported on their participation as synod auditors. They were generally very upbeat and positive about their participation, about their voices, stories and witnessing being heard and about the synod’s realistic understanding of marriage and family life – the joys, the sorrows and the challenges – around the world, within the diverse cultural contexts.

The couples were asked by a priest reporting on the synod what had most surprised them about the synod and their participation in this event. I think the priest was the one who was surprised because one husband replied that he and his wife were most surprised by what they were reading in the media as so much of it did not correspond to what they were experiencing in the synod!

One of the day’s top stories involves a letter allegedly sent to the Holy Father and signed by 13 Synod Fathers who outlined the many serious concerns they have with the work of the synod, the methodology and, importantly, the Instrumentum laboris or working document. Sections of the letter are a scathing critique of the above-mentioned concerns.

Fr. Lombardi was asked about the letter and he said he had not seen it so could not personally verify its existence. However he did say that two cardinals, cited among the signatories, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan and Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, have told him they did not sign any such document. The original of the letter is in English.


Fr. Lombardi stated this morning that, notwithstanding reports that the relatio or final report has “disappeared,” input from synod participants would be included in a final document, that document will be presented in the synod hall the morning of October 24 (the synod ends the following day), voted on that afternoon and then given to the Holy Father. It is not known of the Pope will ask that it be made public or will keep it as a reference for a document he might intend to write.

There were 43 talks given last Saturday. In this afternoon’s press briefing, Italian-, English-, French- and Spanish-language press office assistants gave summaries of the themes and topics under discussion by the language groups and other synod participants:

–         The need for good formation and accompaniment of both engaged couples and married couples;

  • –         the reconciliation of truth (Church teaching) and mercy:
  • –         sacraments for the divorced and remarried;
  • –         creating new language, news ways of expressing the pastoral ministry in what today are perceived like harsh terms;
  • –         focus on a pastoral ministry for the young;
  • –         some groups focused on many themes of Part II of the working document (difficulties in relationships, the break-up and breakdown of families, violence and abuse, external pressures on the family including poverty, migration, consumerism, social media and counter-witnessing in society): they stressed that the synod’s options do NOT lie in changing everything or changing nothing.
  • –         The great majority of pastors (priests, bishops,) present were seen as inspiring, hopeful pastors who, as Pope Francis has said, “have the smell of their flock”;
  • –         The Jubilee Year, mercy and the forgiveness of sins were big topics: how can we open wide the doors of God’s mercy;
  • –         focus on inter-religious and mixed marriages;
  • –         the many differences among families throughout the world, especially in ever-changing societies and different cultural contexts; the Church must be an accompanying mother who reaches out to all, does not reject people, and affirms ecclesial principles:
  • –         new family structures (single parent homes, mixed faith marriages, same sex unions, the absence of grandparents or parents, separated families, migrants, refugees, poverty-stricken families) each situation calls for different pastoral strategy;
  • –         the Church’s duty to teach, form and inform and bear strong witness vis-à-vis societies with liberal attitudes towards abortion, same sex unions, euthanasia; One cardinal said: “Our mission is to make disciples but culture is more effective at unmaking them!”
  • –         the discrimination, accusations, persecution, secularization and blasphemy to which Christians are subject in so many parts of the world:
  • –         the need to teach and acknowledge the goodness and beauty of Christian marriage.
  • –         some groups looked at the third and final part of the working document (which is on the agenda for next week) entitled “An Openness to Life and Parental Responsibility in Upbringing”;
  • –         focus on the indissolubility of marriage;
  • –         we must rediscover the pastoral sense of doctrine;
  • –         a return to moral conscience, the faithful must be formed and informed;
  • –         the importance of accompanying engaged and married couples and giving adequate pre-marriage preparation;
  • –         the immense amount of money spent on promoting contraception instead of natural family planning methods


On Friday, October 9, the Synod Fathers prayed at the Hour of Terce. Patriarch Sako delivered a homily expressing heartfelt gratitude to Pope Francis on behalf of all the Synod Fathers present. The reflection given by the Patriarch of Babylon for Chaldeans, who spoke of the “challenge of faith” which “involves the shepherds as much as the faithful”, was inspired by the Pope’s appeal for peace in the Middle East and Africa. Sako noted that today, “unfortunately, many Christians are ashamed of their faith”, when instead they should be living it with courage in their “everyday lives”. In this sense it may be useful for everyone to listen to the experiences of persecuted Iraqi Christians.

After the prayer, says the L’Osservatore Romano report, the Assembly — meeting for their fourth General Congregation under President delegate Cardinal Damasceno Assis, in the presence of 266 Synod Fathers — prepared to listen to the reports of the circuli minores. The reports showed the Fathers to be seeking a simpler language for the final document, a language that is direct and engaging, and that sheds light not only on the challenges and problems that the family faces in the world, but also and most importantly the beauty and hope that is sowed every day by families who are living in the light of the Gospel.

This was visible in nearly all thirteen of the reports, which were summaries of the work of the circuli minores which — divided into four languages (French, English, Italian and German) — came together on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss and propose appropriate modifications to the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris.

With the adjustments and additions of the individual propositions to the document, drawn up by Fathers, the Synod has reached its first key step. The Commission will now work with these results to prepare the final report.

Archbishop Kurtz, the relator of the English Circle “A”, was the first to speak. He said that confidence in Jesus Christ “is to be the first and last word of the synod”. The working group proposed focusing more on a positive message and the signs of renewal that are encountered today. One of the suggestions pays particular attention to the theme of families who are forced to emigrate and to those who experience pain and disability. In this sense, the group aimed to highlight the role of public policy and recommended using a tone the is more “global” and less “Euro-centric”.

An invitation was also made in the speech given by Archbishop Chaput, the relator of English Circle “D”, who said that the Instrumentum Laboris displays a vision that is “overwhelmingly Western”. The group highlighted issues that they felt were not given enough attention, and also pointed to unclear and uncertain elements in the English translation of the document. They called for the use of a more engaging and appealing language, and the need to highlight positive aspects. Hence the suggestion was made to reverse Section ii with Section i of the document, in order to begin with a message of hope.

In agreement with the other relators, Fr Arroba Conde, cmf, relator of Italian Circle “A”, spoke of the spirit of collaboration that has been breathed into working groups: an awareness of differing opinions, but a sincere desire to promote that which unites them. He spoke of awareness that “is more complementary than conflicting”. In the details of the group’s proposals, it was again suggested that the document begin with a positive note. One of the goals the relator listed was to formulate a “Gospel of the family” as a cultural proposal offered to everyone. Particular attention was given to issues of gender ideology, secularisation and to the problems of human trafficking and migration.

“We can only give thanks” for all of the “families who try to make God’s dream their dream”, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the relator of English Circle “B”. In particular, this working group called for greater use of biblical references to facilitate clearer and more compelling understanding, stating that the language of scripture “can become a bridge between faith and life”.

A language that touches upon the real problems of the family was also called for by French Circle “A”: Archbishop Laurent Ulrich, the relator, said that the text should have a more open tone and promote dialogue with peers.

Self-criticism over family ministry (“What have we forgotten to do?”) was heard from Cardinal Lacunza Maestrojuán, the relator of Spanish Circle “A”. One of the key points to emerge from his group was the invitation to learn more about the cultures, and to focus on formation, not merely stopping at the norms.

In addition to the request for a more simplified text and the addition of more biblical references, Cardinal Piacenza, the relator of Italian Circle “B”, drew attention to themes such as: the equal dignity of man and woman, the need to reiterate the Church’s positive outlook on sexuality, further education on integral ecology, and the demand for pastoral care specifically for migrant families.

Archbishop Mark Benedict Coleridge, the relator of English Circle “C”, highlighted the fact that “the Church does not inhabit a world out of time” and the need to address the facts of history with eyes of faith. The key issue for this group was to clarify that the family is based on the “the marriage of a man and a woman”, and expressed the need to propose this “positive and luminous” reality to the world with a more “accessible” language.

Fr Dumortier, the relator of French Circle “B”, spoke of the family as a “school of humanity”. The group also suggested magisterial participation on issues addressed by the Synod.

In favour of opting for a language of hope, showing “a Church that says ‘yes’”, Archbishop Porras Cardozo, the relator of Spanish Circle “B”, emphasized the importance of formation (“if faith is weak it is difficult to respond to the challenges”) and of a transition “from an individual spirituality to that of communion”.

A methodological point was offered by Archbishop Heiner Koch, the relator of German Circle “A”, who suggested taking cultural difference into account. He said that there must be a “differentiated analysis in order to contribute to an exchange in the universal Church”. The goal, said Archbishop Durocher, the relator of French Circle “C”, should be to answer two questions: “What is the family?” and “What does the family do?”. He pointed out the need for a clear analysis, saying that the “pastoral needs must be grounded in reality”. This group called for vigilance and commitment with regards to the widespread gender theory and to distortions of bioethical technologies.

Bishop Brambilla, relator of Italian Circle “C”, was the last of the interventions. By reiterating the importance of integrating the many perspectives that come from different parts of the world, he invited the Fathers to always decipher the challenges of society and contemporary culture in a positive way, highlighting the positive points and not allowing them to be crushed by diagnosis that favour the shadows.

At the end of the Congregation, the some of the Synod Fathers began speaking about the second part of Instrumentum Laboris.