Pope John Paul II and the Church

By Peter Hebblethwaite | Go to book overview
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Synod on family concentrates on marriage and sex

( October 17, 1980) At the halfway point, the synod on the family has posed more problems than solutions. Speeches have largely centered on the questions of marriage and sexuality. And the outcome of the gathering remains unpredictable.

During the first week there were 162 speeches plus a number of written submissions. Week two began with three speeches from the hitherto silent "auditors" -- including Mother Teresa from Calcutta, India, who spoke without notes. Then all withdrew into their language-based discussion groups.

What are they discussing? On Oct. 6, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Munich, Germany, offered a 45-minute summary of the previous week's 162 speeches. It was like pouring a quart into a pint pot. His report was accepted as a fair summation. He was applauded for his efforts.

But I prefer to present first my own analysis of the speeches. It will be less bland and more conflictual than Ratzinger's account, but, I believe, no less faithful to what happened.

Five major themes have so far emerged. They correspond, roughly, to the synod members' geographical origins. The synod is a partly elected, partly nominated body. Of its members, 262 were elected by their episcopal conferences. Ten are major religious superiors (all male) elected by the other generals.

Then come 20 curial cardinals, and the 24 members named by Pope John Paul II (including Cardinal Terence J. Cooke of New York). One can usually tell from reading a speech whether it comes from an elected member or from a nominated or curial member.

Nearly all the elected members spoke for (and perhaps to) their constituencies. One African bishop put it picturesquely: "I know you have heard all this before, but if I don't say it again, it will be difficult for me to go back home."

The nonelected members, having no constituency, speak in the name of God or authority or themselves. Thus Cardinal Pericle Felici in effect replied to Archbishop John J. Quinn's remarks on dissent from Humanae Vitae by saying the discussion was closed: "There is


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