This October, the Vatican hosted a synod, or a gathering of clergy and laity, and the media swept up the resulting discussion as a groundbreaking moment for the church. The topic of this synod, which is only an installment in a two-year process, is on the concept of family.
Of course the term “family” is a huge umbrella term that touches on huge issues that the church has held controversial views on for years. These issues include, but are not limited to, divorce, remarriage and homosexuality.
The media especially focused on comments made about homosexuality and the church and said that this synod was taking a revolutionary step in the direction of acceptance of the LGBT community. The synod that occurred under the leadership of Pope Francis produced a twelve page document that reaffirmed beliefs held about the sanctity of the Family in a positive light, stating that “the church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.”
This isn’t the first time Pope Francis has surprised people in a fantastic way. He has consistently made moves towards acceptance and equality by example. In 2013, he went to a juvenile prison and washed the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday, including two women and two Muslims, which previously was unheard of. He has been hailed as humble and approachable and lives his life to exemplify these qualities. Clearly this synod is a continuation of Pope Francis’ pattern of acceptance and eventual reform.
The real groundbreaking part of the synod didn’t come from the document it produced, but rather from how it was conducted.
“Previously, the bishops had to submit any comments they wanted to make in writing, and the pope (or people from the pope’s cabinet, the Curia) selected who was allowed to speak in order to have the gathering look as uniform as possible, without differing opinions. Pope Francis clearly doesn’t mind if people disagree or have different viewpoints. He views this as healthy in a multicultural, global church,” religious studies professor, Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Ph.D. said.
This small change has huge impacts on how problems are discussed in the church. It gets rid of the silence and embarrassment to hold a certain view and gets people talking. When people start talking, a more open atmosphere is created, where problems can actually be resolved. It makes the conversation more personal and real, making it less abstract.
According to Imperatori-Lee, “the synod process has taught us that the whole church teaches and the whole church learns: that is, the bishops can learn from the life experiences of the laity as much as the laity can learn from bishops. And sometimes more.”
Pope Francis, in concluding the event, references the synod as a “journey.”
According to Catholic Herald, Pope Francis describes this journey “like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say ‘enough’; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations.
This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect!
The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again.”
Pope Francis is asking us to remember that we are all on this journey together. We have to accept our differences in order to appreciate everyone else’s differences and together we can find happiness and make this journey a pleasant one.