14 November 2014, The Tablet

Bishops urge laity to make voices heard ahead of next family synod

The bishops’ conference of England and Wales plans to launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.

Following their biannual plenary meeting in Leeds this week, the bishops would like a period of spiritual reflection in each parish and, separately, to hear the experiences of clergy on the main “pastoral challenges” they encounter with families.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.

“It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony,” Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London.

“You will recall that the two great features of the synod in October was on the one hand for it to give a resounding trumpet call in support of marriage and stability of family life, and on the other hand express and strengthen the pastoral response of the Church in a wide variety of difficult and pressurised situations. We hope the material we prepare will find that same balance.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols at Ecumenical Vespers Leeds 2014The cardinal said he saw no reason why the reflections in parishes and by clergy should not be made public.

Before last month’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Catholics were sent out a questionnaire asking them for their views around church teaching on marriage and family life, including contraception, same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

Under instructions from the Vatican, the questionnaire results were not published.

Last month’s synod saw a desire for the Church to find a less harsh language when talking about divorced and remarried, same-sex relationships and cohabiting couples.

Speaking of the Synod, the cardinal said told the press conference: “I don’t think there were new things being said. I think there are things well embedded in the tradition in the Church that need to be brought to the surface.”

Cardinal Nichols said that the bishops had decided that he and the Bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, should represent the English and Welsh hierarchy at the next synod.

The Ordinary Synod next October will be made up of delegates from bishops’ conferences across the world, and the leaders of departments of the Roman Curia.

Separately, Cardinal Nichols said that on 5 and 6 December police chiefs from 25 countries and church representatives – many of them women religious – will meet in London to discuss combating human trafficking. The gathering is at the invitation of the cardinal, Home Secretary Theresa May, and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police commissioner. The Santa Marta Group, named after the house in the Vatican where the signatories stayed during the two-day conference, was formed following a conference on trafficking in the Vatican last year organised by the bishops of England and Wales. Those attending that conference stayed in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis’ residence.

The cardinal is also travelling to the Holy Land next week where he will visit the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and say Mass for the Catholic community in Gaza.

And the bishops today announced the appointment of Canon John O’Toole, the dean of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, as the new National Ecumenical Officer for England and Wales. He succeeds Bishop Robert Byrne, now an auxiliary bishop in Birmingham.

Top: Bishops attended an ecumenical Vespers service during the week's meetings. Above: Cardinal Nichols. Photo: CBCEW

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