The Truth about the Synod

For many, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the end of the  ”Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops” to discuss the “‎Pastoral ‎challenges to the family in the context of evangelization” (i.e., the Synod on the Family that began in Rome on October 5, and which ended Sunday October 19) did not come nearly soon enough. And for many in the media, what started out as a potential ‘big bang’ in the Catholic Church, ended up being, “two wasted weeks.”

For anyone not familiar with the term, a Synod is a council held to discuss (not to decide, as Wikipedia states), relevant and important issues and Church matters. This particular Synod was held, according to Pope Francis, to discuss the "challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children, and the role of the family in the life of the church." 

Many in the media, however, especially the liberal MSM, tried very hard to make this Synod into some kind of high level Vatican meeting being held to decide how the Catholic Church is going to change its teaching on gays and gay marriage, and maybe even on birth control, cohabitation, and divorce. 

The Synod received an ample amount of press coverage during the two weeks it was being held, much of it surrounding the relatio, a kind of meeting minutes recap report, that was released at the half-way point of the Synod

A story at the Huffington Post, for instance proclaimed,

Vatican Proposes Dramatic Shift In Attitude Towards Gays Same Sex Couples   

CNN said,

Vatican proposes ‘stunning’ shift on gays, lesbians

And not to be left out, the NY Times said

At the Vatican a Shift in Tone Toward Gays and Divorce

Headlines like these may have grabbed readers but such sensational headlines and stories only resulted in a lot of confusion. Then again, maybe that was the whole purpose behind the reporting.  The CNN story, for instance goes on to say, “Using strikingly open language, a new Vatican report says the church should welcome and appreciate gays, and offers a solution for divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.”

In fairness to the MSM, Catholic and conservative news websites also ran their fair share of articles and even commentaries such as Rob Dreher’s offering at American Conservative, "Pope Francis: Liberal Machiavelli"? 

And also to be fair, there were some bone-headed decisions made when it came to the relatio -- translation errors, the apparent inclusion of some points that really were not discussed that much, and the absence of what many attendees felt was relevant information on topics that were being discussed. 

What has been lost in all the sensationalizing and commenting are the facts, perhaps best summed up by Father Robert Barron, in reference to the relatio, in a blogpost at

The midterm report on the deliberations of the Synod on the Family has appeared and there is a fair amount of hysteria all around. John Thavis, a veteran Vatican reporter who should know better, has declared this statement “an earthquake, the big one that hit after months of smaller tremors.” Certain commentators on the right have been wringing their hands and bewailing a deep betrayal of the Church’s teaching. One even opined that this report is the “silliest document ever issued by the Catholic Church,” and some have said that the interim document flaunts the teaching of St. John Paul II. Meanwhile the New York Times confidently announced that the Church has moved from “condemnation of unconventional family situations and toward understanding, openness, and mercy.” 

I think everyone should take a deep breath.

What has just appeared is not even close to a definitive, formal teaching of the Catholic Church. It is a report on what has been discussed so far in a synod of some two hundred bishops from around the world. It conveys, to be sure, a certain consensus around major themes, trends that have been evident in the conversations, dominant emphases in the debates, etc., but it decidedly does not represent “the teaching” of the Pope or the bishops.

So here’s the thing:  the Synod can be thought of as a symposium, where a specific topic or topics are discussed, various people make presentations, and ‘breakout’ discussion groups are held. At the conclusion, a recap is presented to the attendees, who then go home and think about what was discussed. 

In the case of this Synod, the participants will get together again in 2015 for more discussion. Out of this discussion will come suggestions and recommendations for Pope Francis’ consideration regarding what the Church can do or should be doing in light of current "challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children, and the role of the family in the life of the Church."  Sometime after this, Pope Francis will likely issue an Exhortation -- papal guidance on how best to deal with those issues impacting marriage, family life, etc. 

All the headlines, all the stories, all the commentaries, and all the opinions that were expressed over the two weeks of the Synod are just that. In the end, over a year from now, what we are likely to hear is something like, ‘we’re good at hating the sin, but we’ve got to do better job of loving the sinner, and here is what we need to be  doing . . . ’ 

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