VATICAN CITY, October 21, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Synod small circle groups' overall rejection of the Kasper proposal is not the end of the story for the Synod on the Family.
The small circle groups are the 13 discussion groups into which the 270 Synod Fathers are divided according to native language. The 13 groups are divided into four English, three French, three Italian, two Spanish, and one German group. Each language group is further divided into subgroups A, B, C, etc., depending on how many there are for that particular language.
This week the Synod Fathers considered Part III of the Instrumentum Laboris, the most controversal part, which deals with Communion for the divorced and remarried (the Kasper proposal), cohabitation and homosexuality.
Reports say a majority of the groups rejected the Kasper proposal. One report says only one group, "Spanish B," headed by Cdl. Francisco Robles Ortega, accepted the proposal. Even the German group couldn't reach a consensus, and only a small minority of the groups used language favorable to rejecting longstanding tradition in favor of opening up Holy Communion to those in adulterous unions.
For example, the Italian group B, headed by Cdl. Mauro Piacenza, suggested that the divorced and remarried issue should be handled at the local level:
[A]t present it is not possible to establish general criteria covering all cases which are very diverese. ... There are divorced and remarried faithful who apply themselves to following the path of the Gospel, offering significant witness of charity. ... The limits and conditions thus become an appeal to discernment — primarily on the part of the bishop — which must be accurate and respect the complexity of such situations.
In contrast, English group A, headed by Abp. Joseph Kurtz, argued against such a decentralized approach:
[P]astoral practice concerning admission to the Sacrament of the Eucharist by the divorced and civilly remarried ought not to be left to the individual conferences. To do so would risk harm to the unity of the Catholic Church, the understanding of Her sacramental order, and the visible witness of the life of the faithful.
On the issue of cohabitation, the general consensus was that the Church must be pastoral and attentitve to those in irregular or difficult situations. The members of English group C, headed by Abp. Mark Coleridge, agreed that "[Cohabitation] could not be considered a good in itself. We were prepared to recognize that there may be good in the relationship of those cohabiting rather than in cohabitation in some quasi-institutional sense."
The French group A, headed by Abp. Laurent Ulrich, emphasized the Church's need to be welcoming to irregular families in a more ambiguous way:
We know that there are many other families who feel they are far from the ideal model, and others who to a greater or lesser extent do not even think it is for them ... divided families, mixed families, single-parent families, families without marriage, even civil only; we cannot reject them, and we do not wish to think that their path does not lead them to God. ... We believe that in them we see the Spirit of the Lord Who inspires much of their behavior in their lives.
On the issue of homosexuality, nearly every group emphasized the Church's need to be accepting to homosexuals. The English group A said: "Parents and siblings of family members with homosexual tendencies are called to love and accept these members of their family with an undivided and understanding heart."
And the English group C said the Synod Fathers must "address this issue [homosexuality] as pastors, seeking to understand the reality of people's lives rather than issues in some more abstract sense." However, they also asked that the final document "include at an appropriate point a clear statement of Church teaching that same-sex unions are in no way equivalent to marriage."
So while much of the language used by the Synod small circle reports is ambiguous, the overall concensus seems to be an upholding of Church doctrine: the rejection of the Kasper proposal, a recognition that cohabitation (fornication) itself is not a real good, and a reiteration that homosexual unions cannot be recognized by the Church as a form of marriage.
Some conservatives are hailing a victory for Church doctrine while others are cautioning that it's too early to celebrate. ChurchMilitant.com contributor Deacon Nick Donnelly pointed out that one out of every four Synod Fathers voted in favor of the Kasper proposal. "We can't open the spiritual champagne bottles yet," he warned.
As the Synod winds down to a close, all eyes are turning towards the drafting ccommittee for the final Synod document. Although the Synod small circles in the main upheld Church doctrine, the final drafting committee, comprised of 10 bishops, has the final word on what the Synod document will say. And the final drafters include n overwhelming majority of liberal-minded bishops: Cdl. Lorenzo Baldisseri, Abp. Bruno Forte, Cdl. Donald Wuerl, Cdl. John Dew, Cdl. Oswald Gracias, Abp. Victor Manuel Fernandez and Fr. Adolfo Nicolas.
"It's coming into focus that the progressives are going to have to do an end run around the Synod," said ChurchMilitant.com's Michael Voris. "The floor vote by bishops will not go well for the progressives so they have to do something different."
With only three days left in the 2015 Synod on the Family, the liberal bishops will likely try to score a coup, if not through the small circle reports, where they have largely lost with regard to the Kasper proposal, then through the final document.