Sunday 04 October 2015: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
What God has joined together, no one must divide
Bishops from around the world have recently been visiting Rome for the Synod on the Family (4 - 25 October 2015). The media portrayal of the Synod, and the interest of many Australian Catholics, have focused on the conflict between two parties: the liberal Bishops led by the Pope and the conservative Bishops, under Cardinal Burke.
The flash points of this conflict are whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion, and whether the Synod should extend an unqualified welcome to Catholics of a homosexual orientation or should accompany it by reiterating forcefully Catholic teaching on homosexuality.
The scope of the Synod, however, is much broader, and there are many other significant parties. Bishops of the Third World, for example, are impatient with their First World fellows’ narrow focus on divorce and homosexuality.
They want the Synod to focus on the life and death issues that face families in their region. These include acute domestic violence, fathers absent from home seeking work, hunger and shortage of water, and the delicate task of handling religious differences within families. Many also hope that the Synod will criticise an international economic order that in their region keeps families in poverty and rapes the environment on which they rely.
So divorced and homosexual Catholics are not the only people who make a claim on the Synod. But the claim they make is important, and the differences between Bishops at the Synod are real. The treatment of them in the Media, however, is often misleading.
The real differences between Bishops at the Synod touch on what is central within the tradition and what is open to question, and how the tradition should be embodied in the detail of Catholic practice.
Few Bishops would hold that the morality of homosexuality or of divorce are open questions in Catholic tradition. They would differ, however, on whether the long-standing practice of denying communion to the divorced and remarried is unchangeable, and on the way in which the boundaries of Christian identity are preserved when welcoming people at its margins. These questions touch the life of the community.
They are particularly important at the Synod because the way in which they are handled will decide whether Pope Francis’ vision of a Church defined by its welcome to people at its margins is accepted by the bishops as more than a personal thing or will be subordinated to the firm marking out of boundaries.
That is why the issues facing the Third World Catholic Church are so important for the Synod. They remind us all that questions about marriage, sexuality and family are first and foremost about people and their flourishing, and not about the Church.
Many of the vulnerable young people with whom Jesuit Social Services works grew up in troubled families. They remind us constantly how important it is to shape a society and a Church in which families are well supported.
Excerpt from Third World issues illuminate Synod's first world problems, Fr Andrew Hamilton sj