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Synod Continues Discussion on Thorny Marriage Issues

bride groom altarThe fifth, sixth and seventh sessions of the historic Synod on the Family continued to discuss "difficult pastoral situations" such as same-sex marriages, cohabitation, the divorce, and polygamy.

According to the Vatican Information Service (VIS), the Synod Fathers continued their debate on a variety of hot-button issues pertaining to marriage and Church teaching.

"Firstly, it was underlined that the Church is not a customs house, but rather the house of the Father, and must therefore offer patient accompaniment to all people, including those who find themselves in difficult pastoral situations" the VIS reports.

The process of nullifying marriages was discussed. "The need to streamline the procedures was observed by many (along with the need to integrate more competent laypersons in the ecclesiastical Tribunals), but the Assembly also noted the danger of superficiality and the need always to safeguard respect for the truth and the rights of the parties."

The Fathers went on to "strongly" emphasize the attitude of respect that must be adopted in relation to divorced and remarried persons, "as they often live in situations of unease or social injustice, suffer in silence and in many cases seek a gradual path to fuller participation in ecclesial life. Pastoral care must not therefore be repressive, but full of mercy."

It was also suggested that the Church should look at individual cases and real-life situations, "even those involving great suffering, distinguishing for example between those who abandon their spouse and those who are abandoned."

bride groom ringsPastoral care of the divorced should not be of an "all or nothing" approach.

Access to the sacrament of the Eucharist for divorced and remarried persons was also discussed. After re-emphasizing the indissoluble nature of marriage "without compromise, based on the fact that the sacramental bond is an objective reality, the work of Christ in the Church," it was suggested that more be done to defend these teachings by improving pre-matrimonial catechesis and follow-up after marriage.

The Fathers also discussed how Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside of the Church do not have access to the Eucharist, but this doesn't mean they are not members of the community.

"On the contrary, it is to be taken into consideration that there exist various  responsibilities that may be exercised. Furthermore, the need to simplify and speed up the procedures for the declaration of marriage nullity was underlined."

Also discussed were polygamists from various cultures who convert to Catholicism and wish to receive the Sacraments as well as same-sex unions.

Same-sex unions were also discussed. " . . . (W)hile emphasizing the impossibility of recognizing same sex marriage, the need for a respectful and non-discriminatory approach with regard to homosexuals was in any case underlined."

The Synod Fathers are also tackling the thorny issue of cohabitation, including cohabitors such as the elderly who share a home for economic reasons.

"With regard to cohabitation in certain regions, it was shown that this is often due to economic and social factors and not a form of refusal of the teachings of the Church. Often, moreover, these and other types of de facto unions are lived while conserving the wish for a Christian life, and therefore require suitable pastoral care," the VIS reports.

Contraception was also discussed.

"With regard to children, the negative impact of contraception on society and resulting decline in the birth rate was underlined," the VIS reports. "It was remarked that Catholics should not remain silent in relation to this issue, but should instead bring a message of hope: children are important, they bring life and joy to their parents, and they reinforce faith and religious practices."

Regarding debate about the Church should stop using language such as "living in sin" and "intrinsically disordered" - which the secular media is trumpeting as some kind of signal that Church teaching might change regarding cohabitation or same-sex unions - the VIS explains that the Fathers were stressing the importance of avoiding moral judgment and harsh language that tends to alienate.

In what is probably the understatement of the year, the VIS reports that "certainly there are no 'easy' solutions to the problem."

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