It is apparently unavoidable. The Extraordinary Synod on the Family is at its midpoint and certain degrees of separation are clear: There is a divorce over divorce, remarriage, and Communion.
The just released midterm report comes as the Synod completes the first week of presentations and interventions. Now participants will break into language groups—about ten groups—to discuss how the pastoral applications of some of the proposed approaches might be applied to people in the pews.
The most contentious topic has been how divorced and civilly remarried Catholics might be “welcomed” with compassion and even assisted “toward” a re-admittance to Holy Communion. The divorced and remarried should be “accompanied” by the Church, according to the so-called, Kasper proposal, after Cardinal Kasper of Germany.
The measured rebuttal is exemplified by Cardinal Pell of Australia, who agreed that mercy and compassion are pastoral imperatives of the Church, but, that does not require “doctrinal backflips.” How this gap over pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried persons will be bridged is the Big Question as the week progresses.
The published midterm report also includes some troubling language, not official in Church documents, but on the lips of many of the synod participants. Phrases such as, “sacramental fullness doesn’t exclude the possibility of recognizing positive elements even in imperfect forms.” The example given was “…whether there are positive elements in irregular marriages. The Synod Fathers make the point that when a civil marriage is stable, shows deep affection and care for children, then the Church should work to accompany it toward Sacramentality.”
Theologians may parse this concept, for surely an imperfect understanding of marriage and remarriage can be held by persons who mean well. The goal of the Church is to teach that well meaning must be aligned with well doing for the faithful Catholic, before full communion is possible.
But while these fine distinctions of “positive elements in irregular marriages” may be debated in theological theory, it surely be either misused or bludgeoned by many in the media. And you can bet that some in the media will suppose that “irregular marriages” should be inclusive of same-sex pairs. What the public will hear is, “While cohabitation is not marriage, it is not always wrong, either.”
Such loose “pastoral” approaches risk further erosion of marriage as an institution. Many more will now become comfortable with their “irregular” situations, and why not? Language matters and this imprecise language opens a Pandora’s Box.