Final report from Synod urges 'pastoral discernment' on divorced and remarried Catholics

The Catholic Church moved to soften its stance banning remarried divorcees from Holy Communion and other sacraments. However, the three-week Synod on the Family in Rome has ended with no indications that a less hostile language on homosexuality is close to being adopted and with no change of mood on contraception.

The final report from the synod  is likely to be used by the Pope as the basis for an apostolic exhortation.

It repeats Catholic teaching that marrige is indissoluble but calls for "pastoral discernment" at the local level for priests to take individual circumstances into account before issuing a blanket ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion.

The document says: "Faced with difficult situations and wounded families, it is always necessary to remember a general principle: pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, are obliged to discern situations." Priests must avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of different situations, and pay attention to how people live and suffer.

Pope Francis blesses a woman in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican.Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

The document says the Church "must therefore recognise and understand the world in which we live, its expectations, its longings and its often dramatic features."

The situation of the faithful who have established a new union requires special pastoral attention, it continues, urging mercy which is at the "heart of revelation".

The baptised who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more integrated into their Christian communities, it says, calling for clergy "to discern which of the various forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgy, pastoral, educational and institutional framework can be overcome."

The report continues: "They not only do not have to feel excommunicated, but can live and grow as living members of the Church."

On contraception, it says "the Church rejects with all its might the enforcement of actions from the state in favour of contraception, sterilisation and even abortion."  Instead it advocates methods based on "natural cycles of fertility".

While the Christian faith is strong and alive, in some parts of the world it has been relegated to the private and family life, reducing the witness and mission of the Christian family in the modern world, the Synod fathers say. They acknowledge that some Catholics find it difficult to lead their lives in line with Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. 

The report admits that one of the most "serious and urgent needs" of the Christian family is to preserve the link between the generations for the transmission of faith and the fundamental values of life. It warns of a risk of the elderly being perceived as a burden. "Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide," it says.

It acknowledges issues such as polygamy, mixed marriages and civil marriages. It also addresses deep problems such as migration and the sexual exploitation of children.

The report also appears to urge men to do more around the home, such as perhaps housework. It says: "The increasing use of women working outside the home has not found adequate compensation for a greater commitment of man in the home."

Pope Francis chats with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri as he is flanked by Jesuit Superior Adolfo Nicolas Pachon on leaving the Synod on the Family, which has come to an end after three weeks.Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

At the end of the synod, Pope Francis condemned bishops and archbishops who hide behind rigid doctrines while families suffer. He called for bishops to address issues "fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand" and said the gathering had revealed "the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church's teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families." He criticised those with blinkered viewpoints and said the Church could not hope to appeal to younger generations when it is at times "encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible."

Conservatives were quick to condemn the report.

John Smeaton, co-founder of Voice of the Family and chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "Paragraphs 84 – 86 of the final report published today can be interpreted as providing a number of clear openings to the reception of Holy Communion by those living in public adultery, and thus to the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament and the scandalising of the faithful, not least our children and grandchildren."

He added: "Only the Pope can restore trust between Catholic laypeople and Church authorities in Rome. Confusion on fundamental doctrinal matters, which has reigned at the Family Synod, is only serving to assist powerful international bodies opposed to the family and to the sanctity of human life. Holy Father, enough is enough."