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Churches must do more to embrace “unconventional” families, bishops in England said this weekend at Masses to mark the feast of the Holy Family.
The Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, said that the Church should be “slow to judge and quick to embrace” people who avoided church because they “they fear they are not perfect”.
“The family of the parish must always offer a place of welcome for those who no longer find themselves in stable or conventional family situations,” he said.
Those who had experienced family breakdown or had become estranged from their closest relatives were in special need of understanding and compassion, he said.
The Bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon, noted that following church teaching on marriage and family life was not easy. “I am well aware that living according to the teaching of the Church, which is rooted in that of Christ himself, on matters to do with relationships and marriage is not simple,” he said.
He also noted that families were under threat from war and migration, and from a society that no longer valued marriage in the traditional sense of a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman. But, he added, living a Christian life was made possible by the example of God’s love.
Both bishops looked forward to next October’s Synod of Bishops, convened by Pope Francis to discuss Church teaching on the family.
Archbishop Longley said that preparations for the Synod had highlighted some of the difficulties faced by families.
Bishop McMahon added: “My prayer is that the work of the Synod will give all of us new inspiration as to how we can support and enrich family life.” He said the the Synod would “find new ways of deepening the way in which the Catholic Church cares for families, whatever their circumstances.”
Meanwhile the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton criticised society’s “limited image of family” as a unit of solely parents and children, rather than a structure that included grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
Bishop Kieran Conry said in his homily yesterday that this narrower understanding was alienating, particularly at Christmas.
“What about people who do not have families and may be spending these days alone? Is Christmas not about them too? In fact, is it not possibly more about them, and including them?” he asked.
He urged people to involve their extended family in celebrations, particularly older people.
Archbishop Bernard Longley, pictured here at a Travellers' Mass in Walsingham, has said that the Church must defend families and be more welcoming Picture: ©Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk