THE RECENT Synod of Bishops on the Family remained firm on the Church’s teaching that the divorced and remarried cannot receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but stressed that they are among the baptized and should be “more integrated into the Christian community,” while “avoiding every occasion of scandal.”

Granting access to the sacrament for the divorced and remarried, proposed by European bishops reportedly with encouragement from the Pope himself, encountered stiff opposition from African and some American prelates, who claimed that such change condoned adulterous relationships and would be contrary to the teachings of Christ.

“They must not only not feel excommunicated, but they can live and mature as living members of the Church, feeling that she is a mother who always welcomes them, takes care of them with affection and encourages them in the walk of the life of the Gospel,” Paragraph 84 of the final synod document stated.

Pope Francis is expected to issue an apostolic exhortation, drawing from the synod’s recommendations, next year.

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, one of the Filipino participants, said divorced and remarried individuals should be treated as members of the Church.

“The practice of the Church remains, but we need to let these people know that they are still part of the Church, in the spirit of mercy and compassion. [Their situation] does not mean that they are no longer members of the Church,” he told the Varsitarian.

The Davao prelate said that in general, the results of the synod discussions “did not go beyond what is already practiced in the Catholic Church.”

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The synod document encouraged the divorced and remarried to examine their conscience and reflect on “how they behaved toward their children when the marriage entered into crisis,” and on the “consequences of their new relationship on the rest of the family and the community of faithful.” They were also urged to direct their discernment to “the awareness of their situation before God.”

“Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and the steps that can foster it and make it grow,” the document stated.

Pope St. John Paul II’s “Familiaris Consortio,” promulgated following the 1980 Synod of Bishops, held that giving divorced and remarried individuals access to Holy Communion would lead the lives of the faithful to error and confusion as regards the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

This year’s event had the theme “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world,” and followed 2014 extraordinary synod on the family, which focused on pastoral challenges involved in family life.

The recent “ordinary” synod ran from Oct. 4 to Oct. 25 and was attended by 200 bishops from all over the world.

At the conclusion of the synod, Pope Francis said the gathering was not about settling issues about families, but attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel.

“Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand,” Pope Francis said.

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No ‘unjust discrimination’

The Synod also called for openness to homosexual individuals. The document emphasized the importance of each person regardless of his or her sexual orientation.

It also denounced moves by international organizations to pressure countries into introducing laws allowing marriage between people of the same sex.

“The Church repeats that every person, independently of his sexual tendency, is to be respected in his dignity and welcomed with respect, careful to avoid ‘every sign of unjust discrimination,’” Paragraph 76 stated, quoting the Catechism.

Valles called on the faithful to be Christ-like in treating homosexuals and to constantly remind them that they are still members of the Church.

“There were very strong reminders that they are still part of the Church community. In many aspects, we should do our best to be Christ-like, and not be condemning and discriminatory, but to allow them in many aspects of the life of the Church,” Valles said.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, another synod participant, said homosexuals should be treated with friendship and guidance.

“The people within the community and the Church should give them the non-judgmental attitude and the accompaniment, and should become their friends and their guide as they search for meaning in their life,” the Cebu prelate said in a phone interview.

Filipino perspective

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle reiterated the importance of preserving the family in a theological forum on the synod at Ateneo de Manila last Nov. 10.

“The Synod realized the fragility of the contemporary family. And at the same time, the Synod celebrated the strength, the nobility of families,” he said.

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“I emphasized the socio-economic context, and even the political battles being waged in different countries and how they impacted the family. This is not an external context when you come from a developing country. Poverty hits the heart of the family,” the cardinal added.

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