Frankness, courage and pastoral compassion: fruits of the Synod

Father General has compared the Synod on the Family that concluded at the weekend with the Second Vatican Council. Reflecting on the discussions that took place in Rome on marriage and relationships, Fr Adolfo Nicolás SJ told Salt and Light TV that he hoped one of the positive results of the Synod of Bishops would be “a change of pastoral attitudes”. Rather than aiming to reach conclusions at the Synod, Fr Nicolás said its purpose was to look carefully and compassionately at the situations families find themselves in today. “Compassion is part of Christian life and part of the Gospel,” he said.

The Jesuit General, who was one of six clerics appointed by Pope Francis to work on the ratio (the interim summary between the two weeks of the Synod), implied that the definition of marriage was not an exclusively Christian prerogative. “Marriage is not a Christian invention,” he told Salt and Light. “We didn’t invent marriage. It’s the result of hundreds of thousands of years of humanity searching for a way of life that is meaningful, that protects the children, that allows growth etc.” That searching, he said, leads us to conclude that we do not have the answers to all the questions about human existence. “Eventually, we believe in a mystery that we cannot manipulate,” he said. “Therefore, we need to continually search and to keep asking questions; and I think this is happening in this Synod. It happened in Vatican II and my hope is it continues to happen in the Church.”

In his closing remarks at the end of the Synod on the Family, Pope Francis quoted from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius when referring to the animated discussions as a “movement of the spirits”. He added that he would have been sad and very worried if there had been total agreement among the delegates or no exchange of views. “Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia (speaking boldly).”

The Pope said the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage remained unchanged following the Synod: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life. “And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the ‘supreme law’, the ‘good of souls’,” he said.

The next session of the Synod will take place in October 2015, after which Pope Francis will issue his ‘apostolic exhortation’, a document which enjoys a high level of teaching authority. There will however be further discussions and reflection before that at the World Meeting of Families, which is held every three years and is sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family. This will take place in September in Philadelphia.  

Father General's interview on Salt and Light TV.

Vatican Radio's translation of Pope Francis' closing remarks.

Photo: Pope Francis arrives for the final day of the Synod on the Family, © Mazur/