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The Synod 2015 Final Report: Just how good is it?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 17, 2015

When George Weigel finally wrapped up his “what really happened” account of the 2015 Synod on the Family, it was predictable that he would give it a positive spin if he honestly could. Those who follow my own comments on Catholic affairs know that I try, whenever possible, to do the very same thing. But Weigel has excellent contacts in Rome and an impressive track record of getting inside what is going on in the Church. Moreover, he was in Rome for the Synod, right smack in the middle of it all.

Weigel reported his findings in the January issue of First Things magazine (the article is not available online to the general public). What he describes is a clear and tangible shift. The Synod as a whole was discontented with the lackluster, vague, and “signs of the times” approach of the working document. And so the Synod ended by producing a far stronger final report, a document which was “an unmistakably ecclesial text, a product of the Church’s meditation on the Word of God, understood as the lens through which the Church interprets the signs of the times.”

It would be disingenuous to argue that the document is perfect, that there were no compromises which reduced its effectiveness, or that every point was fully developed. After all, it covers a huge territory and is ultimately the work of a giant committee. But as Weigel rightly insists:

[T]he final report was a massive improvement over the Instrumentum Laboris, and illustrated just how significantly the cardinals’ letter, [Cardinal] Erdo’s introductory intervention, and the debates in the general assembly and the language groups had changed both the dynamics and the content of Synod 2015.

Points of Improvement

Here are the improvements Weigel enumerates:

  • “While the working document was biblically anorexic, the final report was richly, even eloquently, biblical.”
  • “The working document’s seeming embarrassment over Catholic teaching on chastity, fidelity, and worthiness to receive Holy Communion was replaced by an impressive reaffirmation of the possibility of living virtuously in the postmodern world.”
  • “At the same time, the report called the Church to a more effective proclamation of the truths it bears as a patrimony from the Lord Jesus himself, and to more solicitous pastoral care of those in difficult marital and familial circumstances.”
  • “Children were largely missing from the IL [Instrumentum Laboris or working document]. The final report describes children as a great blessing, praises large families, is careful to honor children with special needs, and lifts up the witness of happily and fruitfully married couples and their kids as agents of evangelization.”
  • “The working document’s confused discussion of conscience [as a kind of ‘get out of jail free’ card] was replaced by a far more serious explication of the Church’s understanding of conscience’s relationship to truth.”
  • “The working document was full of ambiguities about the relationship of pastoral practice to doctrine. The final report makes it clear that these two realities are closely linked…and there is no such thing as ‘local-option’ Catholicism.”
  • “The working document was also ambiguous in describing the ‘family’. The final report underscores that there can be no proper analogy drawn between the Catholic understanding of ‘marriage’ and ‘family’ and other social arrangements, no matter what their legal status.”
  • “Mercy and truth were sometimes put in tension in the working document. The final report is far more theologically developed in relating mercy and truth in God, which means that mercy and truth are inseparable in the doctrine and the practice of the Church.”
  • “The working document was dull and dispiriting. The final report…will enrich the lives of those who read it, whatever their disagreement with this or that formulation in it.”

All in all…

I cannot improve on George Weigel’s analysis here, which is why I have quoted so heavily. Of course there is much more in the First Things article. The greater part of it explains what the Synod was up against and how it managed to turn out so well; it also looks forward to what is likely to come next in synod management. His treatment of the absurd coverage of the Synod in the Italian press is alone worth the price of admission! But with respect to the final report, here is his overall conclusion:

In sum, the final report, though not without flaws, goes a very long way—and light years beyond the Instrumentum Laboris—in lifting up and celebrating the Catholic vision of marriage and the family as a luminous answer to the crisis of those institutions in the twenty-first century. And claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the final report says not a single word about admitting the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion, absent a decree of nullity.

The full text in English of the 2015 Synod’s Final Report is now available in our library: The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Feb. 13, 2016 11:38 AM ET USA

    loumiamo: Thanks for catching this problem. In editing the final draft, I swapped two parts of a sentence without removing some of the words that had been moved. I've corrected it now.

  • Posted by: loumiamo - Feb. 13, 2016 8:03 AM ET USA

    Seems to be a typo I can't figure out in sentence just before "what of damnation?"

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Feb. 12, 2016 5:33 PM ET USA

    On von Balthasar's "hope that all will be saved," (a thorny issue!) you may be right if "hope" is taken in a weak sense. However, I do not see how capital-H Hope could take the salvation of all as one of its proximate objects. Some of the ideas you raise about the mercy of damnation seem irrelevant. There may be mercies shown to the damned, but those do not make the damnation itself merciful. Free will is the only way I see to make the two compatible. Still, thank you for another great essay.

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Dec. 19, 2015 2:25 PM ET USA

    Thank God. The Holy Father should invite Weigel to draft the Motu Proprio.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Dec. 19, 2015 10:06 AM ET USA

    I hope this results in a big sigh of relief for many. It did for me. Thanks Dr. Mirus.