This morning the Vatican released the synod's final "message" to families. The text, which had input "from every continent," according to one cardinal, was approved by 158 of the synod's 174 voting members. Two things about this synod's message are unusual: First, it's quite short. Second, it's not the synod's final word. This time the synod fathers will release a final version of the report that sparked controversy earlier this week. The message does not address any of the contentious issues that draft touched on. Homosexuality is not mentioned at all. Neither is cohabitation. And as for Communion for the divorced and remarried, the message only says that the synod discussed the question.

Instead, the message acknowledges the challenges facing families today--including economic pressures, war, women who suffer violence, children who are abused, and the victims of human trafficking. It also recognizes how difficult it can be to remain faithful to a spouse. "Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious." While emphasizing that the "authentic encounter" is found in the marriage "sacrament, where God sets his seal, his presence, and grace," the synod fathers express their admiration for "the fidelity of so many families who endure these trials with courage, faith, and love."

The message also focused on charity as "another expression of fraternal communion." To give to the needy is to give witness to "the truth, to light, and to the meaning of life."

Finally, the synod fathers remind families that the Eucharist is the "high point" that ties together all the "threads of communion with God and neighbor." In the Eucharist, God "gives himself to all of us, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when 'Christ is all and in all' (Col 3:11)." This is where the synod fathers mention that they have been looking at the issue of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. But that is all they say about it.

"We synod fathers ask you walk with us towards the next synod. The presence of the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their modest home hovers over you."

Later today the synod will vote on the final text of the relatio, which was read aloud this morning. It won't be a straight up or down vote. Rather, the synod fathers will vote on each of the three sections individually. At this morning's press conference, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, appointed by the pope to serve as one of the drafters of the document, said he expected the relatio to be approved by a considerable majority of the synod fathers, and that the pope would choose to publish it immediately.

Ravasi was asked what he made of Cardinal Raymond Burke's complaint that Pope Francis had not intervened in the synod with a firm statement of Catholic doctrine on marriage. Conservatives have been bringing up Burke throughout the synod press briefings. This time a representative of Lifesitenews cited Burke's recent complaint that the pope has "done a lot of harm to the church" by not openly stating his position. Ravasi chuckled. "Roma locuta, causa finita," he said. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said the notion that the pope should intervene in such a way was a misunderstanding of the synod process. The pope listens while the bishops discuss, he said.

Picking up on that theme, Ravasi praised the synod process initiated by Pope Francis. He recalled that Peter and James confronted one another at the Council of Jerusalem, with positive results. The cardinal explained that he much prefers the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" atmosphere. That openness, he continued, has produced a final relatio text that is "choral" in nature--that is, it carries many voices heard over the past two weeks. How much will it resemble the first draft? Most of the amendments from the small groups have been incorporated, but Ravasi suggested that the document's welcoming tone would remain. Jesus's approach to lepers is the model for the way the church approaches those in "irregular" relationships. The credibly of the message of the church, the cardinal said, depends on its welcome.

Come back in a few hours for news of the second of today's press conferences, which will start at 12:30 p.m. Eastern--including the final report on the synod. Today's presser in tweets, after the jump.


[View the story "Synod day 14 presser the first: morning message." on Storify]

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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