When a priest on national television had said he could not refuse Holy Communion to a cohabiting woman, all hell broke loose.

The controversy sparked by Fr Ġorġ Dalli four years ago had even prompted the bishops to clarify that cohabiting couples could not receive the Eucharist.

But now the very same issue is on the agenda of a special meeting of Catholic bishops from around the world that starts meeting today in the Vatican.

Over the next two weeks the synod of bishops will be debating the pastoral challenges associated with the family. Gozo Bishop Mario Grech is representing the Maltese Episcopal Council.

Those expecting some radical decision at the end of the synod will be disappointed- Fr Joe Borg

The run-up to the synod was characterised by a public debate among clerics on what to do with Catholics who lived together outside marriage and others who divorced and re-married civilly.

The controversy has split the Catholic Church along liberal and conservative lines but according to media specialist Fr Joe Borg, a columnist, those expecting some radical decision at the end of the synod “will be disappointed”.

The objective of the synod was to draw up the agenda for next year’s synod about the family,he noted.

“The bishops will be discussing the results of the extensive consultative process held in preparation for the synod, albeit with several limitations,” Fr Joe said.

The working document released by the Vatican for the synod arches over many issues of importance for the family, including social pressures caused by joblessness, debt, usury and rifts over inheritance.

But Fr Borg acknowledged that the most widely discussed issue, fuelled by some of the Church’s most influential cardinals, was whether under certain limited conditions those divorced and remarried or those living together without being married could receive communion.

How far the Church will go to bridge the difference between its teaching on the family and an ever-changing reality will only be known in two weeks’ time. It would also depend on the position taken by the bishops who so far have kept their silence, he said.

But Fr Borg also cautioned against judging the outcome of the synod solely on this one issue and urged Catholics to follow all the interventions made in the plenary session that will be posted on the Vatican’s website.

His thoughts were reflected by Fr Brendan Gatt, a Canon Law lawyer, who insisted the reality of marriage and family was much wider. Family life encompassed many areas of fragility and pain but also of beauty, tenderness and sanctity, he added.

“The fact that the Church is openly and sincerely discussing these matters in an effort to once again present the good news of Jesus Christ concerning marriage and family life to people in these various situations is something to rejoice about and be grateful for,” Fr Gatt said.

He noted that the Church would have a whole year’s time to reflect upon the conclusions reached over the coming two weeks in preparation for next year’s synod.

Meanwhile, in a first reflection from Rome, Mgr Grech spoke on the importance of Catholics to bear witness to their faith. Taking a leaf from a lecture delivered by Prof. Joseph Weiler, president of the European University Institute in Florence, Mgr Grech said Catholics should be able to “seduce” others by the way they lived their lives.

“Catholics should be bothered more about bearing witness than haggling about the type of laws a country should have… I think this counts for some Maltese Catholics who still harbour a crusader mentality,” Mgr Grech said.

The synod starts today with a mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us