LAST March Pope Francis produced his own document on the Family, following two Synods of Bishops on the Family. It was published last March 19 on the feast of St. Joseph and the anniversary of the inauguration of Francis’ pontificate. This is according to Christopher Lamb, a columnist in the UK magazine The Tablet.

In his concluding speech of last October’s Synod Francis said: “What appears normal to a bishop in one continent is ‘strange and almost scandalous’ for a bishop from another.” The Pope’s document stressed the need to accompany families; to show mercy before pronouncing judgment. He gave also greater power to local Churches to develop their own pastoral approaches to cohabitation in Africa or divorced and remarried in Europe. The most precarious question is whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion. The Pope stressed the need for integration. He added: “Integrate in the Church doesn’t mean having Communion… all doors are open, but we cannot say, from here on they can take Communion. This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple.” In other words, the possibility of Communion could be offered in a case-by-case basis.

Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI is opposed to remarried divorcees receiving the Eucharist.

When Francis addressed the bishops in Mexico some time ago he said: “We do not need princes in the Church” and he included a list of temptations: proud self-sufficiency, corruption, aloofness and conceited schemes of careerism. The Pope said he wants a Church that is like an ‘inverted pyramid’ where bishops serve their people from below. It is a bold, radical vision but, judging by his speeches, still a work in progress.

There is a lot of secrecy in the Church on this subject. But Jesus at his trial before Pilate said: “I have spoken openly to the world… I have said nothing in secret.”

According to Sara Maitland, a novelist and writer in the UK magazine The Tablet, the English bishops rejected last month a request from the Council of Priests to support the ordination of married men. The bishops’ plenary sessions are held as private meetings and they only tell us what they choose us to know, and we would not even have heard that they had discussed the issue of Bishop Seamus Cunningham who had not properly reported back to the clergy (on sex abuse of priests).

What does this say about the bishops’ teaching office? We know that a substantial number of the laity believe that the celibacy of the clergy is less important than regular and widespread access to the sacraments; we could be wrong but it would be quite good to know why. To preserve the ‘integrity of the system’, according to Sara Maitland, is used as a excuse or a cover up to tell secrets.

People have a right to know, she said, what they are accused of. At a marriage tribunal you have to take a solemn oath not disclose anything about it to anyone at any time (the whole process is ‘secret’; I am possibly breaking my solemn oath telling you this), it seems all the odder. I asked a priest during my annulment process why we accepted secret evidence and he said: “It preserves the integrity of the system”. This is sinisterly identical to what an Irish bishop said when asked how Church representatives could have interviewed a child about abusive sexual activity without his parents or even his own parish priest present and then bound him to scary oaths about not telling. (Frankly, if that is what canon law requires then canon law is not fit for purpose).

Again, at his trial Jesus said: “I have spoken openly to the world. I have said nothing in secret”.

We are disgraced in both senses of the word by the habit of secrecy.