At the risk of posting something “controversial,” I have decided to make a few comments concerning the document which has emerged from the current Extraordinary Synod on the Family [Readers of Italian can view the unredacted document]. I do so out of a sense of moral obligation…to the blog! Only at the risk of isolationism can a website dedicated to missionary discipleship remain silent on an issue which captures the attention of a significant portion of the Church’s faithful.
But rather than begin with its contents, what ought to be considered first is the actual value of this document. This document is not associated in any way with the magisterial teaching of the Church. It is a relatio post disceptationem; i.e., a ‘communication after discussion.’ In other words, the General Reporter for the synod, Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary, composed a summary of the items discussed in the first week of the synod. It carries no more weight in terms of Catholic teaching than, say, the minutes from a meeting of the USCCB subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions; which is to say, none.
The timing and release of this relatio is certainly odd. Normally such a document would be crafted after a synod had concluded and would be given to the Holy Father for further consideration. It’s only potential value would be if a magisterial document emerged from the events of the synod. This would be the case, for example, if Pope Francis wrote an Apostolic Exhortation on the topics covered by the synod. And, even in that scenario, this relatio would be of value only to historians and theologians wishing to place the actual teaching document into a wider context. This is done most often today by scholars of the Second Vatican Council, who examine the drafts of texts which eventually became Vatican II documents. But, again, the previous drafts of Nostra Aetate have no teaching authority behind them; Nostra Aetate does.
Further, and as a relatio, the language of this document is far more colloquial and far less theologically precise than a magisterial document would be: e.g., an Apostolic Exhortation from the Pope, a Declaration from the CDF, et al. Concerns about specific language being used in the document ought to be tempered by an understanding of the nature of a relatio. It is a summary of themes discussed, not an expertly-crafted piece of theological and pastoral writing.
Now, having placed the document itself into its proper context, there are certainly issues related to content which cannot be ignored. While time and space prevent a detailed articulation of all of these concerns, I would refer the reader to a recent interview given by Cardinal Burke on the matter. Needless to say, I am very sympathetic to the good cardinal’s comments.
My overall response to this document, however, is quite simple; although not simplistic. Pray! If we are not in the habit of praying for the Spirit to enliven the wills and enlighten the intellects of the members of the magisterium, then now is the time to start. Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours (and I do try, LORD) should be most familiar with the following verses: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:7-8). Let us pray these words for those entrusted, by Christ, with teaching authority in His Church, whose vocation it is to preach His Gospel, that they may be receptive to His Spirit and hear His Voice.
Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.