By Hannah Brockhaus
The final report of the fifteenth general session of the Synod of Bishops, held on the topics of young people, faith, and vocational discernment, was released Saturday. The document says the Church must find new ways of presenting its teaching on sexuality and continue to “accompany” and “listen to” people with same-sex attraction.
The final draft of the synod report was presented to members Oct. 27 for voting, which took place in two sessions that day. The draft was passed in its entirety. During the voting process, each paragraph of the document was voted on, requiring 166 or more “yes” votes — a two-thirds majority — to pass and be included in the final report.
Each paragraph passed by a comfortable margin.
The 167-paragraph document states that the “Church struggles to convey the beauty of the Christian vision of the body and sexuality,” and therefore “a search for more adequate methods is urgently needed.”
“It is necessary to propose to young people an anthropology of affectivity and sexuality capable of giving the right value to chastity, showing pedagogically the most authentic meaning for the growth of the person,” the synod fathers wrote.
The 55-page final report of the synod was published Oct. 27. The report is broken into three parts, each titled after parts of the New Testament account of Jesus meeting his disciples on the road to Emmaus: He walked with them; Their eyes were opened; They set out at once.
Each of the parts contain chapters and smaller sections within the chapters.
The document contains two paragraphs specifically on the issue of human sexuality, which is it says requires focusing on “empathetic listening, accompaniment and discernment, along the line indicated by the recent Magisterium.”
There are questions concerning the body and sexuality that “need a more in-depth anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration,” the document continues, including the aspect of difference between “male and female identity and sexual inclinations,” but the synod fathers affirmed that it was “reductive” use sexual desire or orientation as a starting point for defining a person’s identity.
While condemning discrimination and violence on the basis of sex, it affirms that God loves every person and the Church loves every person, while underscoring the “determinative anthropological relevance” of the complimentary differences between men and women.
One main recommendation is for increased “accompaniment” to help people “read their own story; to adhere freely and responsibly to one’s baptismal call; to recognize the desire to belong and contribute to the life of the community.”
The report identifies this path as a way to help young people “increasingly integrate the sexual dimension into their personality.”
The two paragraphs entitled, “Sexuality: a clear, free, authentic word,” were opposed by 26 and 65 synod members respectively.
Another paragraph which drew some opposition from the synod fathers was entitled “the questions of young people.”
It begins by explaining that the Catholic Church has a rich tradition and understanding “on which to build and from which to propose its own teaching” on the subject of sexual morality. This tradition is said to include the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope St. John Paul II’s catechesis on the theology of the body, Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus caritas est, and Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.
“But young people, even those who know and live this teaching, express the desire to receive a clear, human and empathetic word from the Church.”
The final document goes on to say that sexual morality is often a source of “misunderstanding and estrangement from the Church, as it is perceived as a space of judgment and condemnation.”
Young people value authenticity, it states, but are often disoriented by the many social changes taking place: “They express more particularly an explicit desire for discussion on issues related to the difference between male and female identity.”
On the question of difference between men and women, the document referenced the equality of men and women before God and said that “domination and discrimination based on sex offends human dignity,” forms of which even the Church needs to free itself from.
“The relationship between man and woman is then understood in terms of a vocation to live together in reciprocity and in dialogue, in communion and in fruitfulness in all areas of human experience: couple life, work, education and more,” it states.
The document also tackles the topic of the body from the angle of sexual immorality, such as promiscuity, sexual tourism, “fascination for risky behaviors,” digital pornography and the display of one’s body online.
“These phenomena, to which the new generations are exposed,” the document states, “constitute an obstacle for a serene maturation. They indicate unprecedented social dynamics, which influence personal experiences and choices, making them the territory of a sort of ideological colonization.”
It is within this context that the Church and Christian families are trying to communicate the gift of sexuality to young people, so that they can “live relationships according to the logic of the Gospel,” the report says.
However, the desire to teach this does not always translate into “an adequate affective and sexual education” beyond “sporadic and occasional speeches,” it continued, arguing that the Church should put more effort into this area.
Other topics included within the document are synodality, the issue of abuse, migration, the digital age, art, music and sport, violence and persecution, suffering, education, and seminary formation.
The synod’s final report also touches on the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church, vocation, the art of discerning, formation of the conscience, the role of young people in renewing the parish community, and the centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church.