Pope Francis' Concluding Synod Speech Stresses Mercy Above Law

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.


Pope Francis in St . Peter’s Square (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

The powerful postscript to the synod’s three weeks of debates, discussions, leaks, press conferences, interviews and rumors was Pope Francis’ speech to the assembled bishops and participants after he received from them their final report. Almost immediately after it was released to the press and the world, the speech received glowing accolades from all quarters.  The highest compliment that I can give it is that it was “pure Francis.”

It has been said, and I think it’s accurate, that the only times that Pope Francis uses harsh, pointed language is when he is addressing bishops.  Throughout his pontificate, he has been fearless in correcting them for not using their offices fully for the good of the people of the Church.   His latest speech was no exception.  At one point, he provided a list of descriptions of what he thought the synod was about.  Here are a few gems from that list:

“It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would ‘indoctrinate’ it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

“It was also about laying closed hearts, which bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families. . . .

“It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

“In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply ‘rubberstamp,’ but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.

And, in the opposite style, his most generous language is often that when he is welcoming people to the Church and into the love of God:

“The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:37-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27). . . .

“The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).”

And Pope Francis pointed the way forward with his message of mercy for all:

“In effect, for the Church to conclude the Synod means to return to our true “journeying together” in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!”

The speech also included some of the more troublesome parts of Pope Francis’ rhetoric, in which he defends more traditional conceptions of family, too.  He said the Church should be “defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.  He defined marriage as “between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.”  He warned against the danger of “relativism.”

Yet these references seem less powerful than his more eloquent calls to challenging archaic concepts and attitudes illustrated by the quotations above.

Pope Francis has one more opportunity to comment on the synod:  his homily at today’s closing Mass.  It will be interesting to see which themes he will expand upon in that text.  Stay tuned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


5 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    FYI, here’s a fairly well-balanced and informative analysis of the Synod — from Canada’s prestigious Globe and Mail newspaper:


    I think they’ve got it just about right, in both tone and substance. And I agree with their writers: GLBT couples who wish to be bonded in faithful relationships are, at least for now, the Church members who remain the most excluded and marginalized — when all the official rhetoric is parsed and deconstructed. What to do now, or to do next, is the urgently beckoning question.

  2. Edward Poliandro
    Edward Poliandro says:

    Excellent, Frank! Thank you ! Look forward to speaking with you stateside .Hope you can take some time off to get replenished. You have ministered well!! In gratitude , Ed

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Sharon Rose
    Sharon Rose says:

    This all well and good but as long as the Church doesn’t change the “rules” nothing has changed. People are still excluded and fired for being LGBT. I am a Lesbian Catholic and I am not going away. My conscience is alive and well. I am hoping that the more we stay and be fully who we are as God has called us that better we are as a Faith Community.

  4. William
    William says:

    I know many of our brothers and sisters decry that same-sex unions are still not recognized, but that is still a jump too far to be expected at the moment. The church has just recently woken up from a coma and we can’t expect it to do cartwheels the next day. I would even argue that a sudden embrace of the church for the active LGBT would be rather too soon had it happened at this synod. It would be like forcing a patient undergoing rehabilitation to run a marathon.

    Sometimes our disappointment blinds us from things to celebrate such as the growing number of bishops courageously speaking out for LGBT individuals and couples. They are trying to help us but they also need our help.

    The journey hasn’t ended and is actually continuing. I’m looking forward to the road towards the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin, where the issue at hand I believe would inevitably be given the careful consideration it needs.


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