- Where do we go from here?
Tomorrow sees the re-convening of bishops in Rome to consider marriage, divorce and sexuality. Last year’s meeting brought bitter disagreements out into the open and the rows have continued to simmer ever since
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Pope Francis has assured Catholic laypeople that the Synod of Bishops will take their views seriously in October when it holds the first of two gatherings aimed at forging a fresh pastoral response to the rapidly changing state of the family and married life.
“This important meeting will involve all the People of God – bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular Churches of the entire world – all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer,” the Pope says in a personal letter to families, published on Tuesday. He says the support and input of families are “especially significant and more necessary than ever”.
The world’s bishops were sent a questionnaire late last year and asked to canvass their people’s understanding and acceptance of Catholic teaching on family and married life. Some 80 per cent of the national episcopal conferences have sent back their findings, according to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the synod’s general secretary. In an interview in the 21 February edition of L’Osservatore Romano, he said his office had also received 700 responses from groups and individuals.
“We see a lot of suffering in the responses, especially among those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church because they are in a state of life that does not correspond with its doctrine or discipline,” the cardinal said. On the other hand, he noted that the questionnaire had “opened a path of trust for many who had lost” trust, especially because Pope Francis has shown a “new human and Christian approach” to listening to people.
The synod’s general secretary was one of some 150 members of the College of Cardinals that gathered on 20-21 February with the Pope freely to discuss challenges to the Church’s teaching and ministry concerning the family. Nearly half of those present made interventions. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the former head of the Vatican’s ecumenical office, opened the meeting with a keynote address that was not made public. Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, cautiously explained that the two-hour-long talk was only meant to help frame the discussions, but he admitted that it touched upon key issues such as Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, the canonical process of annulments, “structures of sin” in the family and God’s plan for marriage in Creation. He insisted church doctrine was “not up for discussion” and that the cardinals’ meeting in no way sought to condition the synod.
At the end of the two-day gathering, Pope Francis announced that Cardinals André Vingt-Trois (Paris), Luis Tagle (Manila) and Raymundo Damesceno Assis (Aparecida) would serve as the three president-delegates for the 5-19 October synod.
(For the full text, visit www.thetablet.co.uk)