by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris

At today’s (23 Oct.) Vatican Press Conference, three Synod Fathers spoke, representing India (Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and President of the Episcopal Conference of India); Oceania (Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, Bishop of Tonga and President of the Episcopal Conference of Tonga); and North America (Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, California).

As things wind down in the Vatican, a more relaxed atmosphere and good sense of humor were on display inside the "Sala Stampa." Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office, made some light-hearted introductions of the three guest speakers. He noted that Cardinal Mafi (born in 1961) was the youngest Cardinal at the Synod; and that while Archbishop Gomez has indeed referred to himself as "the Bishop of Hollywood," we shouldn't forget that Cardinal Gracias is "the Bishop of Bollywood." Now permit me to deal with the serious stuff mentioned at the Press Conference.

The main concerns of the Church in Tonga revolve around how the family can maintain its Christian-Catholic identity while interfacing with what Cardinal Mafi cleverly termed "the hurricane warnings of globalization" or, at times, "the tsunami of globalization." He spoke of the good aspects of living in a "global village" but pointed out the negative aspects of "individualism" and "materialism" that can serve to devalue the common good of the family and the extended family.

Archbishop Gómez expressed disappointment that the three-week Synod was not able to focus enough on areas of great concern for his Archdiocese (which happens to be the largest in the United States of America) and likewise expressed his hope that the "Final Document" would nonetheless mention them.

What are some of Archbishop Gómez's pastoral concerns? The principal concerns are immigration and migration. In the United States, according to Archbishop Gómez, there are 11 million illegal immigrants. Frequently, immigrant families are broken up on account of deportations. Spouses become separated and children suffer when one or both parents are absent from their normal, family life. Other areas of concern affecting the family are violence and poverty in neighborhoods.

All three Synod Fathers spoke about the importance of defending the dignity, rights and responsibilities of women who should be considered as equal to men not only in God's eyes but in the day-to-day life of the Church and society. The Synod Fathers were very firm on the importance of condemning violence perpetrated against women and fighting against elements in society that contribute to the "degradation" of women.

Undoubtedly, Cardinal Gracias entertained the most questions from the Vatican Press Corps. Why? Because he is a member of the Commission charged by Pope Francis with putting together the "Final Document" of the Synod which, by all accounts, should be made available to the public some time on Saturday, October 25. As I recall from last year, the "Final Document" of the Extraordinary Synod was released in the late afternoon.

Cardinal Gracias answered numerous questions about the inner workings of the Commission. Here is a summary of his statements:

(1)  Pope Francis met briefly with the Commission members to thank them for what is arduous and often "thankless" work. 

(2) The Commission, with the help of theological and linguistic experts from the General Secretariat of the Synod under the leadership of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, sorted out the hundreds of "modi" (amendments) that were the fruit of the small discussion groups ("circuli minores"), to be integrated into the "Instrumentum Laboris," which has been the "working document" of the Synod. 

(3) The ten-member Commission was divided into three separate groups of three members each. Each group was accompanied by experts, chosen by lot. Together they decided which "modi" to keep and which ones to omit due to their repetitive nature or because they did not reflect the concerns of the majority of the Synod Fathers.

(4) A separate group from the Commission and the experts worked on the editing and writing process.

(5) Once a text is produced (which is presently about 100 pages), the Commission will take another look at it.

(6) As of Thursday afternoon, the Commission voted unanimously on the first draft of the "Final Document."

(7) This document will be made available to all the Synod Fathers on Thursday afternoon, who will read and critique it in time for a discussion of the document in the General Assembly of the Synod to be held on Friday morning.

(8) Once the Synod Fathers make their suggested amendments, the Commission will begin working on the final draft of the document to be presented to the entire assembly of Synod Fathers.

(9) On Saturday, Cardinal Péter Erdö, General Relator of the Synod, will read the Commission's final draft to the whole Synod body.

(10) Then the Synod Fathers will vote on each and every paragraph, followed by a vote on the entire document.

(11) Once the document is approved by the Synod Fathers, it will be published in Italian, with official translations in other languages to follow.

While Cardinal Gracias could not comment on any of the first draft's contents, he did note that it will most likely include several references to St. John Paul II's post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio." He indicated that the Final Document of the Synod is intended not as a doctrinal or magisterial work but as a synthesis of the Synod Fathers' pastoral concerns on the family which they, in turn, present to the Pope for his own reflection.

It is worth noting that a few questions were posed by journalists about the Pope's health and about the German-speaking bishops' proposal for an "internal forum" solution to the thorny question of Holy Communion for the divorced/remarried. Fr. Lombardi and Archbishop Gómez firmly denied any rumors about the Pope’s health. Cardinal Gracias said that, given the sensitive nature of the Commission's work on the "Final Document," he could not comment on the particular proposal of the German-language group.

In any case, Cardinal Gracias did mention paragraph 84 of "Familiaris Consortio," in which Pope John Paul II taught that different pastoral situations demand different approaches, while always preserving the unity of the Catholic Faith on marriage and the family.

After which, Diane Montagna (from the online publication "Aleteia") asked a question about the aforementioned paragraph in "Familiaris Consortio," according to which St. John Paul II deemed Holy Communion for the divorced/remarried as neither theologically sound nor pastorally practical. Another question was asked in Italian about "Familiaris Consortio" and the relevance of that 30-year old document for the present Synod. Cardinal Gracias remarked, quoting the Book of Ecclesiastes, that "there is nothing new under the sun," meaning that many of the problems facing the family mentioned in "Familiaris Consortio" have remained the same – as has the Church's doctrine. 

Cardinal Gracias concluded the Press Conference adding that the proposal of the German-speaking bishops for an "internal forum" solution to the pastoral problem of Holy Communion for the divorced/remarried was no novelty since the Redemptorist moral theologian, Bernard Häring, had made a similar proposal years ago. It must be recalled that Häring, literally until his dying day, was a vocal dissenter from "Humanae Vitae.”

Putting some of the above into yet another context, permit me to conclude this report with reference to the Pope’s Wednesday audience (October 21). Francis greeted the Polish- speaking pilgrims by reminding them that the following day (October 22) was the feast day of St. John Paul II, "the Pope of the Family." In his catechesis, and in a special way in his greeting to the Poles, Pope Francis reiterated clear Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. Here is an excerpt of what he had to say (my own translation from the Italian original text):

"Be good followers in caring for your families and for all families, especially those that live in spiritual or material discomfort. May your fidelity to professed love, to the promises you have made, and to the tasks that derive from responsibility, be your strength! Through the intercession of St. John Paul II, let us pray that the Synod of Bishops (which is about to conclude) might renew in the whole Church a sense of the undeniable value of indissoluble matrimony and of the healthy family, based on the reciprocal love of a man and a woman, and on divine grace."