By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published October 30, 2014 | En Español
I always try to begin writing my column by praying over a theme or topic that seems particularly timely. Occasionally subjects come to me without much difficulty; they jump out and capture me as things that demand my pastoral guidance.
On other occasions, I arrive at them because they are much more soul-searching in nature and demand even more thoughtful consideration. The theme this week comes because so many people both locally and across the globe are pondering and responding to the discussion of the issues that were raised during the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.
Pope Francis, in calling for such an Extraordinary Synod as the first of a two-part conversation on the issues that families face in the contemporary world, began with a process that first invited the faithful to offer their observations to their own local bishops. I submitted a summary report on the responses that I received from more than 5,000 folks from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, as well as from a fruitful conversation with our own Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. My summary was then united with those submitted by bishops from across the globe.
That was the first stage of a dialogue in which Pope Francis now wants the Church to engage. The conversations at the Extraordinary Synod were another step in that process. Like any such dialogue, there were many differing opinions about what the truly important issues facing families are, as well as perhaps even more differing opinions about how best to respond pastorally to those challenges.
All of these discussions are important in order for us to invite people who may be alienated or detached from the Church to return to and to find their place within our family of faith. These are the very people on “the periphery” of the Church Pope Francis has challenged us to seek out and if possible to bring home. Their particular circumstances are frequently problematic in reference to our Church’s teachings and moral discipline, but in spite of that, these people must remain close to our hearts and always in our prayers.
This desire to consider the needs and the situations of those families in extraordinary circumstances has caused other recommendations and observations from those who have great influence regarding contemporary social norms and who have access to and control over powerful social media platforms.
We live in a world where even the most sensitive deliberations are almost always eventually made public—even when confidentiality and discretion might have been the norm when considering such issues in the past. Jesus told His disciples, “For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” Those words have never been more meaningful than they are today, where our catchphrase is “transparency.”
The legendary editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, died last week, and we heard in retrospect about his obsession with making sure that whatever was published by the Post was meticulously documented and well sourced. Such obsessive concern for confirming the accuracy of what one publishes does not always hold sway over some of the social media vehicles that fill our world today. And so we all must carefully consider what is in the public forum for its accuracy and especially regarding its partiality. Are there people who would seek to manipulate the dialogue that Pope Francis has invited in order to suggest things that cannot exist within the Church’s faith legacy as well as others who are completely closed off to the newness of Christian hope? Without a doubt.
Nonetheless, speaking so openly about these issues can be disconcerting for some folks and obviously has caused some to fret and to worry about where the dialogue will lead us in the next steps of this conversation.
That is where Pope Francis is a model of serenity and confidence. His closing remarks at the Extraordinary Synod were a paragon of courage and faith. He chided people on both sides of the dialogue. On the one hand he admonished some not to lock themselves so rigidly to the past that they cannot even envision a future guided by our tradition yet truly open to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Then he challenged those on the other side not to become so simplistic in seeking a pastoral solution to these matters that they manage to forsake the heritage of faith that must always link the Church to itself and its past. Finally, he assured us that in his Petrine Office, he is the source of unity and truth for the Church. He then asked that these conversations continue during the coming year and with the forthcoming Bishops’ Synod, while we listen humbly to one another and speak clearly for all to hear.
The Holy Father’s remarks are printed in their entirety in this edition of The Georgia Bulletin. As we have come to expect from Pope Francis, his words are direct, they are challenging, and they are wonderfully and accessibly written. I encourage you to read them more than once and to pray over their meaning as they relate to you as a person of faith and goodwill.
I trust our Holy Father implicitly, and I believe that the dialogue must go forward so that we give the Spirit the necessary room to lead us where He would have us venture.
ABOUT THE SYNOD
The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, so called because Pope Francis convened it in addition to the regular Synods of Bishops held every few years, met at the Vatican Oct. 5-19. The Extraordinary Synod was smaller than regular synods, comprised just of presidents of national bishops’ conferences, the heads of Eastern Catholic churches and Vatican officials. The meeting was also briefer. The world Synod of Bishops, which will include more bishops—many elected by their peers—will meet at the Vatican Oct. 4-25, 2015, to continue the discussion on pastoral approaches to the challenges facing families today.
The text of Pope Francis’ closing message to the extraordinary Synod of Bishops is available here.