BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge said a “whole new language is needed” to continue the work from the synod on the family, which ends in Rome this weekend.
And Archbishop Coleridge believes a national synod could be the next step in a search for a new pastoral approach.
While saying “there is no groundswell of support for the change of Church teaching” in the areas of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, homosexuality or cohabitation, Archbishop Coleridge said the synod should be a constant journey.
He said those thoughts were crystalised by a speech that Pope Francis made last weekend to mark 50 years of synods.
“He was talking about the synodality of the whole Church … as a permanent characteristic of the whole Church. It’s not a journey that only happens now and again,” Archbishop Coleridge told a media conference in Rome on Monday.
“It may well be time for a thing like a national synod in my own country.
“It’s something that has been fermenting in my own mind for some time.
“It seemed to come to a point of clarity or crystalisation listening to the Holy Father on Saturday.
“My hope is that we will move towards, without accomplishing it at this synod, a genuinely new pastoral approach.
“There has to be a whole new language … that would open up new doors and new possibilities.”
Archbishop Coleridge is one of two Australian bishops attending the synod, which is the second in two years discussing the Church and the modern family.
The synod attendees have been pressed by Catholic media to discuss the likely outcomes from the synod, which will conclude with a document summarising the gathering handed to Pope Francis.
“The indications are that there will be no substantial change of Church teaching on those three issues (communion for divorced and civilly remarried, co-habitation and homosexuality),” Archbishop Coleridge said.
But the Archbishop said he was concerned that an “all-or-nothing” approach tended to dominate discussions and that there was a “vast territory that calls us to a new kind of pastoral creativity”.
“In the case of divorce and remarriage, we’re always dealing with sin, there’s no news in saying that; the Church has traditionally spoken of the second union as adulterous,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“But at the same time, not every case is the same, and that is where a pastoral approach needs to take account of the difference from situation to situation.”
The Archbishop said a couple in a second union that was “enduring and stable and loving” was not the same “as a couple skulking off to a hotel room for a wicked weekend”.
He said the term “‘adulterous’ is perhaps too sweeping”, and that while defining the sin was “important, but in another sense it doesn’t say enough”.
“And I think what a pastoral approach requires is that we actually enter into what the synod is calling a genuine pastoral dialogue or discernment with these couples,” he said.
Archbishop Coleridge emphasised that the ministry toward families in irregular unions required “a genuine pastoral dialogue of discernment”, which began with bishops listening to them.
While the framework and direction of this dialogue was Church teaching, the archbishop said the Church was also called to reach out to those who felt alienated.
“What really worries me as a pastor is that a lot of these people don’t come to me or the Church,” he said. “They are seriously alienated and feel seriously excluded.
“So the question is not what do we do when they come to us but how can I/we go to them and begin that process of dialogue that starts with a kind of listening.”
The Archbishop expressed his hope that “the teaching of the Church in these areas will remain intact” and that a genuinely new pastoral approach with a whole new language, particularly for those who no longer understood the distinction of “hate the sin, love the sinner”, was needed.
The shifts in today’s culture, he said, created major problems in communication.
“A pastoral approach is relentlessly geared to the facts,” he said.
“Otherwise we indulge in this discourse, which is beautiful in itself, self-contained, but does not put down roots in the soil of human experience.”
The Archbishop said one of the questions he and the members of the synod were trying to answer was if there was another way of explaining the Church’s doctrine, particularly on the indissolubility of marriage and the distinction of homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered”.
While acknowledging that those two examples were understood perfectly once one knew their background, the reality was that most people “haven’t got a clue what the background is” and that those in today’s culture who identified themselves through their sexuality often felt alienated and excluded.
Archbishop Coleridge has been posting daily to his Synod blog, which can be found on the Brisbane archdiocesan website.