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The Church in the World
The Vatican has urged Catholic bishops around the world to “take the pulse” of their people on even the thorniest issues concerning marriage and family life, saying it is essential for planning next year’s extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Pastoral Challenges of the Family.
“We don’t just want the bishops sitting around a table and drawing up a report,” said Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, whom Pope Francis recently named secretary general of the synod. At a press conference on Tuesday to present the preparatory document for the extraordinary assembly, which is scheduled for 5-19 October 2014, the archbishop said he wants Catholic lay people to say “openly and with all sincerity, what they really think” about the current state of marriage and the family.
In an effort to stimulate that process he has already sent the preparatory document to all the national episcopal conferences. It includes 38 questions that seek out the laity’s “experience” of dealing with such things as divorced and remarried Catholics, unmarried couples who cohabit, stable same-sex relationships and attitudes toward the Church’s longstanding ban on the use of artificial contraception.
“I would be most grateful if you would distribute the document to the dioceses and ask them to share it immediately, as widely as possible, to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received,” he wrote to conference presidents on 18 October.
He asked them to send a “synthesis” of those responses to his office by the end of January. Those, in turn, will be used to compile the synod assembly’s instrumentum laboris or working document. Archbishop Baldisseri told reporters on Tuesday he hoped that the new text would then be ready by the end of May. “Since the time available is short, I would appreciate it if you would follow the most brief and practical process,” the archbishop wrote to the bishops’ conferences. The Bishops of England and Wales posted the synod questionnaire on their website, offering Catholics the opportunity to respond online. It appears to be the only conference to have done so.
Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdö, the extraordinary synod assembly’s general relator, told reporters the responses to the questionnaire would not prompt a change in the Church’s Magisterium. “We don’t want to reopen a discussion on Catholic doctrine, but look at all situations based on a pastoral approach,” he said. Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte, the assembly’s special secretary, offered a slight note of openness. “We must take a risk, as Pope Francis has shown us,” he said, noting that church teachings “develop” over time.
Next year’s assembly is the first part of a two-phase process. Archbishop Baldisseri said its aim was to “ascertain the status quaestionis and gather testimonies and proposals” on pastoral challenges to the family. The second phase will be marked in October 2015 when an ordinary assembly of the synod hopes to hammer out concrete pastoral guidelines. The archbishop said that he expected a “large number of women” and laymen to participate as experts and observers.