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The Dispatch: More from CWR
Synod of Bishops 2015
Tonight, the first draft of the final document will be summarized by Cardinal Erdo; it is widely expected that Church teaching will be reaffirmed by a significant majority
Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago talks with German Cardinal Walter Kasper as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Synod work has slowed slightly, as the bishops digest the reports of their small language based discussion groups. The official schedule is now about a half day behind. It's remarkable that, considering the gravity and depth of their discussions, that the schedule is only a few hours delayed. And, this is good. It means that bishops have taken the task so seriously that a pause to insure better amendments, more discernment and consultation may yet bring forth a final document, based on the Intrumentum Laboris, the working document. As it stands, that is not a certainty.

Closer analysis of the third edition of the small group reports (which corresponds to the three parts of the Instrumentum Laboris) indicates no expectation that there will be any pastoral change in favor of the “penitential path” for divorced and civilly remarried to receive Communion. A majority of bishops recognize that admitting “irregular relationships” to Communion is an assault on the entire sacramental economy and the theology of grace. Furthermore, if the Church can ignore Jesus’ own direct teaching on marriage, it raises the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

That's the bottom line of this entire synod: major issues that affect families worldwide were simply overwhelmed by the “euro-centric” gambit to achieve “flexibility” for sexual relationships outside the teaching of the Church.

The much discussed “Kasper proposal” is favored, at best, by about ten percent of the bishops gathered for the Synod. Some modified version might be accepted by another ten percent. But even that will not salvage the plan put forward for two years by the “reformers.” A two-thirds majority is required for a paragraph to pass into the final document. As one Vaticanista quipped, “Even Kasperites can count.”

Those who have followed the Synod deliberations will perceive that the likely failure of the gambit is a great relief for orthodox Catholics, but an equally great disappointment for “progressives” who have held exalted hopes of change, at least in pastoral practice. To review briefly, the “Kasper Proposal” is Synod shorthand for three main changes in pastoral practice: re- admittance of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion, some accommodation for cohabiting couples who hope to marry, and some “opening” to homosexual pairs. The latter was always a nebulous proposition. The assumption has been that “opening” to same-sex pairs was intended as a bargaining chip that would be jettisoned if compromise could be found for divorced and civilly remarried.

Still, those proposals have the sympathy of much of the secular press who have built an expectation that under this pope the Kasper Proposals would find an advocate. During today’s Vatican press briefing there was agitation; tense questions were aimed at Cardinal Gracias of India who serves on the document drafting committee. Reporters realized that the votes simply aren't there, but perhaps the reason is the process (a process that, coming into the Synod, seemed to favor their goal). Most questions addressed to Cdl. Gracias targeted the methodology that will result in a final document: Who was chosen to collate the amendments from the small groups? Who will decide on the exact wording of amendments? Why is “old” theology like Familiaris Consortio cited? Will some accommodation be achieved, such as pastoral emphasis on an “internal forum” concept of conscience be in the final document?

The fate of the final document hinges on the work of the draft commission, huddled together today until the early evening. The Herculean task of the commission is to faithfully incorporate the 1000+ modi ( amendments) from all the circoli minores into their draft. Many of the modi overlap, but even weaving together 300 or so different amendments to the working document is daunting. It is reportedly nearing a hundred pages. However, the overarching question isn't if the work can be completed,rather can it find wording that is acceptable to two-thirds of the bishops?

Tonight, in the Synod Hall, the first draft of the final document will be summarized by Cardinal Erdo, in Italian with simultaneous translation. Bishops will be given a written copy of the draft, in Italian, to take to their rooms and review overnight. (There is also whispered expectation that the draft will be leaked to the press.)

The use of Italian is another element in the fate of the final document. Joan Lewis, EWTN’s Vatican Bureau chief, mused today about the explosive situation caused last year by a poor translation of the Extraordinary Synods’s mid-term report. It contained a controversial proposal to welcome and “value” the contributions of homosexuals. The secular journalists latched onto that concept of “valuing” practicing homosexuals in the Church. There were headlines whirling around the globe announcing new “opening and valuing” of gay persons by the Catholic Church.

To make the situation more combustible, that mid-term report had not even been seen by the bishops yet. A copy was given to the press, but had not yet been given to Synod participants. When they had frantic calls from home dioceses about web reports permitting “Gay is OK!” bishops blanched. The following day, Cardinal Napier of Durban, during the daily briefing to press, said emphatically that the bishops had approved no such proposal. Some journalists grew indignant: it was in the text. “Yes” Cdl.Napier replied, but that text had not been seen by the bishops, and as it turns out, the translation was faulty. The Italian word for “evaluate” had been translated into English as “value.”

This spongy language situation rests on those responsible for the translations. And presumably, in their rooms tonight, bishops won't have translators standing by.

Those who yearn for relaxed pastoral approach for persons in “irregular relationships” won't be folding their tents, however. In small clutches in the Sala Stampa (Vatican Press Office) reporters for progressive Catholic publications discuss the “Synodal Church” which is code-speak for “the discussion isn't over.”

Increasingly we’ve heard from bishops—see Archbishop Chaput's most recent column, for example—that the unexpected result of the Synod has been the intense sharing among bishops, a heightened fraternal spirit, a true experience of synodality. Despite the battle described above, the majority of bishops have found confederates from a continent away. There is no quicker manner to form friendships than to work intensely together for three weeks. For, if no final document is reached, or if Pope Francis thanks everyone for their work, but chooses not to produce a post-synod exhortation, what was this Synod about? Only heaven knows,but one terrestrial suggestion has been that when the next conclave meets, these men will already have taken the measure of their brothers.

About the Author
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Mary Jo Anderson 

Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and speaker whose articles and commentaries on politics, religion, and culture appear in a variety of publications. She is a frequent guest on EWTN's “Abundant Life,” and her monthly “Global Watch” radio program is heard on EWTN radio affiliates nationwide. She was appointed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Advisory Council (NAC), 2010-2014 and served as member of the NAC Executive Committee in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @maryjoanderson3.
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