By Alison Barnett
Pope Francis has opened a synod dedicated to discussing issues important to modern Catholics, such as birth control or divorce. The 191 attendants were greeted by the Pope with a Sunday mass, where he said “Synods are not called to discuss nice and original subjects, nor they are a test on intelligence. They are meant to foster the vineyard of the lord, and the lord is asking us totake care of the family.”
Over the next two weeks, the nearly 200 church officials will discuss church policy regarding issues pertaining to the church’s view on family issues. One issue of concern for many at the meeting is whether to allow divorced people to receive communion. Catholics who divorce without receiving an annulment and then remarry are considered adulterers and not allowed to take communion. This rule is what drove King Henry VIII to found the Anglican Church. Pope Francis has shown signs of wanting change, even showing support for German cardinal Walter Kaspar, who has spoken openly about allowing remarried Catholics to receive communion. He has argued that a church that can forgive murderers can forgive people with failed marriages.s
Leaders on both sides have been preparing for a debate on this and other issues. One difference this synod has from many in the past is that lay couples have been invited to speak at the meeting, some of whom have been openly discussing sexuality. The couples were invited to help the religious leaders better understand marriage and family life. One Australian couple told the Vatican Radio that “The little things we did for each other, the telephone calls and love notes, the way we planned our day around each other and the things we shared were outward expressions of our longing to be intimate with each other”. Ron and Mavis Pirola, who have been married for 55 years, have pointed out that Catholic doctrine seems “not terribly relevant” to the experiences of ordinary people.
Many Catholics consider church teachings on issues such as divorce and birth control to be out of date, having been created years ago by a group of people who had no real stake in these issues. Last year, the Vatican sent out a survey to parishes around the world, looking for the opinions of ordinary Catholics on issues such as same-sex marriage and divorced people receiving communion. The results of the survey have not been released to the public but the topic of the synod may indicate that Pope Francis, along with other more liberal church leaders, recognize it may be time to discuss changing church practices to better reflect modern life. Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of the Catholic Light+Salt Network, reported that the language such as “living in sin” that the church uses is being discussed in the meeting as “not helpful” for keeping people in the church. Though this synod may not lead to any big changes, it opens up discussion of sometime centuries old beliefs and practices, and will foster a better understanding between Catholic leadership and members of the church.