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Vatican City, Oct 13, 2015 / 12:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite the significant differences among the 13 small groups that are discussing the working document at the Synod on the Family, the majority are in agreement that gender ideology poses a serious challenge for families in the modern world.

Seven of the bishops’ working groups – which are divided by language – mention gender ideology as one of their major concerns and suggest that the synod’s working document does not sufficiently address the issue.

Gender theory or ideology is the idea that one's 'gender' is chosen and need not correspond with one's biological sex.

Pope Francis has tackled the issue at least once during his series of general audiences dedicated to family.

“I ask myself, if the so-called 'gender theory' is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it,” the Pope said April 15 of this year. “Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of (sexual) difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”

The Holy Father’s concern is shared by bishops at the synod.

The small group known as “French B” noted in its first report that “a wide discussion within our group focused on gender theory. In particular, it was underlined that gender theory has the character of an ideology when it is spread, or better imposed, by some international organizations.”

The group referred to pressure exerted by some international bodies, making financial aid dependent on the adoption of regulations based on gender ideology. This phenomenon has been denounced by numerous African prelates during the Synod.

However, concerns about gender ideology were not limited to the prelates from Africa. In Italy, bishops have been constantly fighting over the past year against attempts to introduce textbooks into the nation’s schools that present gender theory as a fact.

It was no surprise, therefore, that the issue was also raised in two Italian small groups.

“For what concerns the anthropological and cultural context, it seemed necessary (that the synod text) would more widely refer to the risks of gender ideology, as well to the negative influence it has on scholastic programs of many countries,” said small group “Italian A.”

Small group “Italian B” presented a specific amendment on the issue, saying, “The group more clearly emphasized the ideological character of gender ideology, in order to lend families a hand so that they can take back their original right to educate children in a responsible dialogue with other educative agencies.”

Meanwhile, the group “English D” lamented that “there were a number of elements missing” from the working document, including “a serious reflection on gender ideology.”

And the “Spanish B” group mentioned the challenge of gender ideology among “the ongoing anthropological changes,” that are “deeper than what we can imagine.”

Also delving into the issue was the group “French C,” which underscored gender ideology as one of its top two concerns.

“We are concerned by the uprise of a new ideology that is often called gender ideology,” the group stressed.

It said that “several gender theories have been developed in sociology and philosophy, with the attempt to analyze some human and social phenomenon.” But “when these theories are taken as an absolute, they tend to create a unique thought that aims to sweep away everything else.”

“While (these theories) try to impose a view that denies the relation between sexual identity and the sex of individuals as we are, they dissolve families, parenthood, human love in its more noble and humanizing part,” the group concluded.

Photo credit: shutterstock.com


Vatican City, Oct 12, 2015 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When the first week's reports of the 13 small groups at the Synod on the Family were released on Friday, the influence of those who participated in May's “Shadow Council” could be discerned in the report of the German speaking group.

The secretive May meeting was organized by the German, French, and Swiss bishops' conferences; and while nearly all of the small groups strongly criticized the synod's instrumentum laboris, or working document, the German report is different, as it praises the working document for both its method and contents.

The three French speaking groups have a more nuanced approach to the instrumentum laboris, given the varied compositions of each groups, though at least one of the French groups showed a positive attitude to it.

The German group's positive assessment of the instrumentum laboris come from the attitude already experienced at the 'shadow council'.

The German group praised the instrumentum laboris' methodology, saying, “the overall presentation of the text found unanimous agreement. We're also very much in agreement with the order of the document, including the structuring of the three chapters. It takes the order of papers from earliest sentence and conferences which lead from seeing to judging and finally into action.”

The group emphasized that “as bishops, we take a stand on marriage and family,” while adding that “we also want to listen to the circumstances and challenges of their life, and to accompany and strengthen them with the loving regard of the Gospel.”

This sentence recalls one of the proposals of the 'shadow council.” The participants in the May meeting advocated approval of contraception, homosexual acts, and admission to Communion for the divorced-and-remarried, after a consideration of the circumstances, and proposed a “narrative theology” based on personal experience – which is linked to rejecting the notion that any act can be intrinsically evil.

How did the experience of the 'shadow council' weigh in the working of the German group?

Among the shadow council participants, two were in the German speaking small group at the synod: Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who gave the final speech at the May 25 shadow council, and Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, who in a February interview with a German newspaper called for changes in the pastoral care of homosexuals, saying that to “portray homosexuality as a sin is hurtful.”

Archbishop Koch is the group's relator, working alongside its moderator, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna.

In a lengthy interview granted to the Jesuit-run magazine La Civiltà Cattolica in September, Cardinal Schoenborn stressed that since the social and cultural context has changed, the Church must find new ways of approach. He also proposed “personal penitential paths” for the divorced-and-remarried.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is also part of the German group: his proposal for the admission of (some of) the divorced-and-remarried to Communion is well known.

The group also includes two 'conservative' cardinals of the Roman Curia: Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A strong defender of Church doctrine on faith and morals, Cardinal Mueller seems to be virtually isolated in the German small group, as the positions of the “prelates of the shadow council” seem to be prominent.

The composition of the French groups are more balanced, which is mirrored in their final reports.

Out of three French language reports, only that of 'French C' – whose moderator is Bishop Maurice Piat of Mauritius, and whose relator is Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau – completely backs the methodology of the instrumentum laboris.

The French C group underscored that the method of see, judge and act “is well adapted to our subject: it permits us to organize abundant material in a logical and productive way.”

The group also underscored that “the implicit anthropology of our modern culture is far from the Christian vision” of the family. The group also asked for a completely new introduction in the final report, which would “make explicit the link between the Synod and the New Evangelization, Evangelii Gaudium, and the Synod on the Family.”

The group also noted its concern over the emergence of gender ideology. The members consided that “many gender theories have been developed in sociology and philosophy, trying to analyze some human and social phenomenona in order to enrich our understanding of the world.”

However, the group stressed, when these theories “try to impose a point of view which denies the relation between the sexual identity and our actual sex, it dissolves the family, the parenthood, the human love.”

Meanwhile, the French A group (moderated by Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec and related by Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille) includes two 'shadow council' participants: Bishop Jean-Luc Brunin of Le Havre and Bishop Jean-Marie Lovey of Sion.

This group asked the text to adopt “the point of view of family life, not limited to that of ckuples and marriage”,  and lamented that “some (of the prelates) are worried that not all the amendments proposed, drafted and adopted after an intense discussion will not be taken in consideration.”

The group wants to underscore that “these amendments have been elaborated with much attention and with discussion that required a lot of energy and abnegation, in order to take into account the opinions of everyone.”

The three Italian and two Spanish speaking groups seemed uninfluenced by the shadow council, and the four English groups were emphatically opposed to its program – English D, for example, “found much of the text [of the instrumentum laboris] to be flawed or inadequate.”

Vatican City, Oct 12, 2015 / 01:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The text of a letter allegedly written by 13 cardinals to Pope Francis is inaccurate, said Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy, adding that the contents of private documents should remain private.

“The list of signatories is wrong, and so is the content,” Cardinal Pell told CNA Oct. 12.

“I don't know what they did, exactly. Perhaps they attributed incorrect signatures to a wrong text,” he continued, as to how the errors could have been inserted into the text. “I am not the head of any lobby, I am just a messenger.”

The cardinal’s comments come in response to a report that he was among the signatories of an Oct. 5 letter to Pope Francis over whether this year's Synod on the Family lacked the “openness and genuine collegiality” needed to accomplish its purpose.

In the letter, 13 prelates allegedly addressed the Pope with the aim of alerting him to concerns that new procedures imposed on this year's gathering, in contrast to previous synods, could hinder the participants in their responsibilities.

The names of the 13 prelates, along with the contents of the letter, were published Oct. 12 by Sandro Magister.

However, representatives of at least four of the prelates listed – Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Cardinal Péter Erdõ, and Cardinal Mauro Piacenza – have denied that they signed the document.

In an Oct. 12 statement, a spokesperson for Cardinal Pell said that while there is strong agreement on most issues within the synod, “there is some disagreement because minority elements want to change the Church's teachings on the proper dispositions necessary for the reception of Communion.”

“Obviously there is no possibility of change on this doctrine,” it said.

“A private letter should remain private,” the statement continued, adding, “The Cardinal is aware that concerns remain among many of the Synod Fathers about the composition of the drafting committee of the final relatio and about the process by which it will be presented to the Synod fathers and voted upon.”

Asked about the letter at an Oct. 12 press conference, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said he had “nothing to confirm about the document, as it was a confidential one.”

Offered in a “spirit of fidelity,” the letter released by Magister addresses the drafting of the final document to be submitted to the Holy Father at the conclusion of the synod, and the disproportionate degree of attention given to doctrinal and theological debates which take away the need to reinforce the dignity of marriage and family.

As a result of these procedural changes, there is “concern that the new procedures are not true to the traditional spirit and purpose of a synod,” the letter reads.

“It is unclear why these procedural changes are necessary. A number of fathers feel the new process seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.”

One of the primary tasks of the synod fathers is to create the final document based in part on the Instrumentum Laboris (the “preparatory document”), parts of which the letter says require “substantial reflection and reworking.”

“The new procedures guiding the synod seem to guarantee it excessive influence on the synod’s deliberations and on the final synodal document.”

The letter highlights several ways in which signatories believe these procedures inhibit the production of the final document, as opposed to previous synods.

It voices concern over the absence of propositions, along with discussion and voting on them; the late timing of the vote on the final document, such that there will not be time for “full review and serious adjustment of the text”; the fact that members of the drafting committee for the final document were appointed rather than elected; and what is described as a disproportionate focus on the issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.

This year's Synod on the Family, which runs from Oct. 4-25, is the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”

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