Wednesday, 15 October 2014
Synod on the Family - Reflections from Rome - Wednesday, 15th October (Morning)
I'm in Rome this week catching up on news and views on the Synod on the Family (October 5th to 19th), so will try to post a few blogs for those who are interested.
I have skim read the interim document, 'relatio post disceptationem', and will comment on it in more detail when I've had a chance to study it. It was published half way through the Synod on Monday to cries of jubilation and howls of indignation from around the Catholic world. Vociferous reactions ranged from cardinals and bishops to the whole diverse range of lay organisations concerned with making the Church in their image - that all too human desire which gives us the courage and also the folly of our convictions. For conservative family groups the document is a moral disaster. For many gay Catholics, it doesn't go nearly far enough. For what I suspect is a silent majority of bishops and cardinals attending the Synod, it is an opening up of the windows - first opened by Pope John XXIII to let a fresh wind blow through the church at Vatican II, and firmly closed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict against an advancing hurricane. But for a vocal and influential of what I suspect is a small minority of cardinals, all the rhetorical garrisons are being mustered to fight off this anarchic decline into relativism and cultural conformity in defiance of two thousand years of Church teaching. So what now?
The document is provisional, open to modification, and intended to serve as a platform for discussion between now and the decisive Synod on the Family in October 2015. If any substantial changes are made to church teaching and practice, they will be made then. However, the most telling document for now is not this week's interim document, but the one that will be released next Monday at the close of the Synod. The wrangling and negotiations that will play out this week will determine the content of next week's document. Comparing the two will provide something of a barometer as to where the majority stands on these issues, though we should never underestimate the power of that vocal minority, led by figures such as the swashbuckling Cardinal Raymond Burke - surely one of the most sartorially extravagant figures in his tendency to drape himself in swathes of red, which perhaps had something to do with the fact that Pope Francis has quietly demoted him. But this Synod on the Family, vast in its implications and its potential, is not finally about those attending the Synod in Rome and all the hangers-on like me.
This morning, I received an email telling me about how ISIS are beheading children in Northern Iraq because they refuse to renounce their Christian faith, but they are not killing the parents. The mind recoils from such stories and incredulity quickly sets in, yet we know how that tendency to incredulity can lead to so much denial and avoidance of unbearable truths. In West Africa, the horrors of Ebola are leaving children orphaned and starving, with some young girls turning to prostitution to feed themselves and their families.
Before coming to Rome I was having a conversation with someone who works with children in foster care. The stories she told me made me weep. A three year old who took her foster mother's shoes to bed every night, in the belief that if she hid her shoes she couldn't leave the house. Children who wet themselves as it gets to the end of the school day, in terror lest they are abandoned once again. Others who have been abused and abandoned to such an extent that they must destroy every demonstration of love in order to prove to themselves that they truly are loveless, and thus a vicious spiral of negative behaviour sets in which reinforces that belief. There are many forms of torture, and the adult world betrays children in so many, many ways.
Referring to children who live with couples of the same sex, the Synod document emphasizes that 'the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority'. It is wrong to confine that only to the context of same-sex couples. That must surely be the first priority for the whole human family, and when parents are for some reason unable to give love and support to the children they bear, then that responsibility devolves to each and every one of us.
My first grandchild was born in September. As I hold him in my arms, I am overwhelmed by his vulnerability and dependence. As I gaze into the unfathomable depths of those dark eyes, I see the most primordial human need - the need to be loved. If we give everything else but give not love, we give nothing.
That is where any Synod on the Family should start from. And strangely, I think that muddled and conflicted document is about the Church learning to make its peace with human love. Love is messy, muddled and conflicted. But more to follow.