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The 25-day long Synod of Bishops on the theme, “Youth, the Faith and Discernment of Vocation,” opened this morning in a sun-splashed St. Peter’s Square, an ever stunning venue, with Mass presided over by Pope Francis.

This is the third synod that Francis has convened after the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family. As he did previously he also chose the theme for the 2018 synod.

The very first meeting of the synod began at 4:30 this afternoon with talks by the Holy Father, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha of Brasilia, Relator General of the just-begin synod. (photos vaticannews)

Cardinal Baldisseri, who also organized the 2014-2015 synods on the family, began his 4900-word talk by noting, “It is appropriate here to recall that the Holy Father has affirmed right from the start of the pathway to the synod, that the Church “wishes to place herself as a listener to the voices to the sensitivities, to the faith and even the doubts and criticisms of young people. Therefore we must first of all listen to the young people but also – and it is for this reason we are gathered here – we must answer their challenges with the hearts of pastors, through appropriate proposals and the good advice of the Holy Father.

Cardinal Baldiseri also spoke of the just-released Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis communio, written by the Pope and published on September 15. He noted this was a long path of revision of the institution of the Synod and in particular of the Synod methodology. In fact, there were many new elements in that document.

Cardinal Baldiserri noted that present at this 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops are 267 synod fathers, 8 fraternal delegates, 23 experts and 49 auditors for a total of 347, to which we must add Pope Francis.

The cardinal referred to four different events and elements that led up to the synod that began today. He noted the online questionnaire, saying there were 221,000 contacts, of whom 100,500 young people who answered all of the proposed questions: 58,000 girls and 42,500 boys. Almost 51,000 participants, corresponding to 50.6%, turned out to be young people between the ages of 16 and 19.

He then mentioned one very significant data: the country from which we got the greatest number of answers to the questionnaire was Uganda with more than 16,000 completed answers.

Baldisseri then outlined the other pre-synod elements: the international seminar on the condition of youth today that took place in September 2017, the pre-synod meeting with 300 young people from March 19 to the 24th, 2018 in the Vatican with the Pope, and last, but certainly not least, the Instrumentum laboris, the working document of the synod,

He said “in the 25 workdays of the synod that begins today, we have before us the instrumentum laboris which not only constitutes the point of departure for reflection and debate but the base text for the elaboration of the final document which at the end of the synod works will bring together the results reached by this synodal body.”

The secretary general went on to say that, after these first presentations, the synod Fathers will start to speaking, doing so in the order in which their request to speak, via a synod form they had to fill out, arrived in Rome. Basicall they are scheduled to speak only once in these 25 days, although the cardinal said there will be periods, usually lasting an hour, for free interventions. Because of the number of speakers, time will be limited to four minutes.

He also explained that participants will also work in small groups called circuli minores: these will gather people by language.

In the end, the speeches of the synod Fathers, the collective works of the language groups and the reports of the language groups will be gathered and synthesized into a text which will constitute an integrated development of the instrumentum laboris.


Reading Cardinal Baldisseri’s remarks, a lot of questions arose in my mind about the overarching importance that he gives to the synod’s Instrumentum laboris, or working document. I cannot deny it is indeed an important document, without which no synod has ever proceeded.

The Instrumentum laboris is born from responses to the Lineamenta, an outline of the future synod topic and focus that is composed by the secretariat general of the Synod of Bishops and sent to all Episcopal conferences, Oriental or Eastern Catholic Churches, offices of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General before the start of the assembly. Responses are sent back to Rome and studied, evaluated and analyzed by synod personnel.

The Instrumentum laboris is drafted from this input, read and approved by the Pope and sent to the bishops called to the synod. The bishops may then make their own changes, suggestions and contributions. The final document is usually released to the public, always in Italian.

The instrumentum laboris is not necessarily an indicator of what the conclusions of a synod will be,but can give an idea of the general consensus in the Church on the subject of discussion.

Reading Cardinal Baldisseri’s words, it does sound like the Instrumentum laboris for this 2018 synod is the be all and end all for the synod: “…we have before us the instrumentum laboris which not only constitutes the point of departure for reflection and debate but the base text for the elaboration of the final document which at the end of the synod works will bring together the results reached by this synodal body.”

Will synod Fathers actually be able to change, delete, etc what they do not like and add or otherwise contribute at the end of the synod the elements they found to be the principal focus and talking points of the participants?

Since its publication on May 8, 2018, this document has been heartily criticized for what it contains and what it does not contain

Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C said in a piece dated October 3 for “The Catholic Thing”: “I am in Rome for the Synod on “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” which begins today. I’ll be here, Deo Volente, essentially the whole month of October. It’s an inopportune time for such an event: the abuse crisis – and the involvement in that crisis of several bishops participating in the synod – have damaged the Church’s credibility with young people. The “Working Document” (Instrumentum Laboris) is cumbersome and deeply flawed – more sociology than theology – as our friends Archbishop Chaput and George Weigel have argued. And the “Instrumentum” betrays signs of wanting to move the Church more in the direction of secular culture rather than moving the culture in the direction of the Church. But the show goes on. The Catholic Thing will be bringing you regular synod reports (daily, if warranted) from Rome, as well as our regular columns during October. This is a crucial moment: Oremus pro invicem”

He also noted that, “Just yesterday, Cardinal Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, questioned the “loyalty and honesty” of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. After the tumultuous 2015 Synod on the Family, Chaput was elected to the Council of the Synod of Bishops (basically the planning committee) with the most votes for any single candidate by the bishops of the whole world. His recent offense? Substantial criticisms of the Working Document intended to guide the month’s proceedings.”

Read on for Abp. Chaput’s analysis:

Rome, Italy, Sep 29, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- In an op-ed column published Saturday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has restated his concerns about the upcoming synod of bishops on young adults, faith and vocational discernment, set to begin Oct. 3.

The column was published in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.

According to Chaput, after the Pennsylvania statewide grand jury report, and abuse problems in Chile, Germany and elsewhere, “the Church is in turmoil.”

“In this turbulent environment, the Holy See will host a world synod of bishops, October 3-28, in Rome. Keyed to the theme of ‘young people, faith, and vocational discernment,’ a more ironic, and more difficult, confluence of bad facts at a bad time for the meeting can hardly be imagined.”

The archbishop explained that, “this does not mean the synod need fail in its work. Francis’ personal appeal and the good will it can engender remain strong.”

“This is why many young priests, like those who wrote an open letter to delegates of the impending synod earlier this month, see an opportunity in the synod’s subject matter. As they make clear, the synod’s success depends on a profound confidence in the Word of God and the mission of the Church, despite the sins of her leaders.”

“It’s in the light of their faith, and the faith of other young men and women like them, that the synod’s instrumentum laboris or ‘working document,’ needs to be reviewed and revised. As it stands, the text is strong in the social sciences, but much less so in its call to belief, conversion, and mission,” Chaput wrote.

Citing a recently published theological reflection, Chaput lamented within the document “‘serious theological concerns…including: a false understanding of the conscience and its role in the moral life;’ a ‘false dichotomy proposed between truth and freedom,’ a ‘pervasive focus on socio-cultural elements, to the exclusion of deeper religious and moral issues,’ an ‘absence of the hope of the Gospel,’ and an ‘insufficient treatment of the abuse scandal.’”

“Comments like these sound harsh,” Chaput admits, “but they are not wholly unwarranted. A synod that deals with issues of sexuality and young people should also deal — honestly and thoroughly — with the roots of a clergy sexual abuse disaster involving minors.”

“Neither the Pope nor the Church is served – particularly in a time of humiliation and crisis – by an overdose of sentiment, accommodation, and sociology. Faith demands more than that,” Chaput, who is a delegate to the synod, concluded.

Il Foglio – The Sheet- was founded in 1996 by Italian journalist and agnostic intellectual Giuliano Ferrara. Despite its limited circulation of 47,000, the newspaper is regarded as one of Italy’s most independent and influential voices in matters of politics, culture and religion.

Click here to read entire Abp. Chaput piece in First Things: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/09/thoughts-on-the-instrumentum-laboris


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: http://synod15.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/special/2015/sinodo2015-en/topic.dir.html/content/salastampaevents/it/2015/sinodo2015-en.html

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.