Synod diary: Home stretch, the German defense, and Where's Waldo

VATICAN CITY – After two full weeks of reporting on the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I finally had my picture published by the Holy See. Kind of. Let’s see if you can play Where’s Waldo at today’s press conference and spot me. A few people on Twitter figured it out:

It’s been quite humid here in Rome over the last couple of days, even in the mornings before the streets begin to fill up. I learned on this trip that Romans prefer to sleep in a bit in the mornings, and take their time in getting to work. That wasn’t as true for the March 2013 conclave, or perhaps I didn’t notice it quite as much because of the overwhelming coverage of the papal conclave. With media coming in from all over the world, the press room (a temporary facility in another Vatican location) opened early and stayed open late. The past two weeks, the regular La Sala Stampa office opens for business at 9 am and closes at 4. The first few people in the room tend to be the Americans, Irish, and Brits, although that’s not entirely the case.

The turnout has increased as the synod has progressed. That began on Tuesday, after the release of the draft relatio, and it hasn’t abated — not even today, when no one expected any developments from the synod. The picture above gives an accurate depiction of the attendance; last week, it would have been half or less than that. The generally humid weather meant that the air conditioning didn’t quite cover the density in the briefing room either, although it was still an improvement over outdoors.

As noted above, the synod had no major developments since the last briefing; in fact, they didn’t meet until this afternoon, having taken the morning and previous evening off. Their next step will be to propose and vote on specific amendments to the draft relatio, and there are expected to be many offered. Cardinal George Pell, as I noted earlier today, expects the tone and substance of the relatio to change markedly. That isn’t true of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German episcopal conference, who launched into a lengthy defense today of the questions raised by Cardinal Walter Kasper on divorce, remarriage, and the Eucharist, as well as the need to open a dialogue about same-sex unions.

Cardinal Marx responded to one question about the apparent rejection of Kasper’s proposal by saying there was no proposal — just a need to raise the question. German bishops heard plenty of feedback on the remarried and the Eucharist, Marx argued, which they raised in the synod in good faith. Marx seemed satisfied that the discussion took place, and that the church has to get away from a black-and-white approach to the issue. At one point, referring to remarried Catholics and the Eucharist, Marx said that treating them like “second-class Christians” is unthinkable. “Exclusion is not the language of the Church,” Marx insisted. Marx also argued that doctrine develops, that it is not fixed, and the synodal process is one way in which it advances.

He took the same approach with same-sex relationships. Marx went into a discussion about a particular couple whose experience he knew, where one longtime partner was caring for another during a long illness, and said that demonstrated the complexity of human relations that the church has to at least address in its nuances. That’s a different situation than with someone who has a different partner every day, regardless of the orientation, and the church should have different approaches that recognizes the distinctions. He is “convinced” that the church needs “new moral language.”

If the signals over the last couple of days pan out as they appear, Marx may end up disappointed. According to one source, the synod is leaning more toward Pell than Marx and Kasper, although still looking for ways to express the welcoming embrace of the Catholic Church while applying its current teachings more effectively. They seem — at least for now — to be looking for ways to emphasize current teaching as the ideal of beauty and truth in family life to which all should aspire and to which the Catholic Church needs to guide people, rather than to innovate on doctrine and practice in those regards. But we won’t really know how they will turn until they produce the final relatio, which is itself a transitional guidepost for the next year as bishops around the world apply it and prepare for the ordinary synod in 2015 that will finalize this effort.

Later today, I’ll discuss all of these developments with Sheila Liaugminas of Relevant Radio at 6pm ET, so be sure to tune in. And don’t forget to check in over at Catholic Match, too, where I’m doing some blogging on the atmospherics of Rome.