In its preparation for the October 2014 Extraordinary General Synod of Bishops on the theme "The Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization," the Holy See is asking the world's bishops to consult "widely" among the Catholic faithful. So it is that there is a questionnaire, provided by the Vatican, available on this website. I will be most grateful for your taking time to share your reflections on any of the survey questions that interest you.
While bishops are always consulted prior to a synod, this wider consultation is an innovation. Synods - from the Greek meaning "a coming together" - are an ancient form of church council in both the Eastern and Western traditions. Dioceses have synods; our last synod in the Diocese of Buffalo was in 1954.
Synods of bishops were encouraged by the Second Vatican Council as a way for a representation of the world's bishops to exercise collegial leadership of the Church in communion with the Holy Father. Synods in recent decades have focused on pressing pastoral themes, e.g., the 2008 Synod on the Word of God, and the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization. At the conclusion of a synod, a number of propositions are presented to the pope for his consideration, and then an apostolic exhortation by the Holy Father is published. The apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization was promulgated on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 24.
Next year's synod on the family - to be followed in 2015 by a second synod designed to further the work of the first - is intended to respond to the urgent challenges in the Church's evangelizing mission concerning the family, "the vital building block of society and of the ecclesial community." These challenges include cohabitation, same-sex unions, a "culture of non-commitment" and "a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary," the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life, and a weakening sense of the sacramentality of marriage.
The Church's teaching on marriage and family is beautiful, noble and life-giving. Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical "Lumen Fidei" ("Light of Faith)," writes "The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God's own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator's goodness, wisdom and loving plan" (LF52).
The purpose of the synod, and of this survey, is to bring together the finest wisdom of the Catholic faithful on the best ways to confront real challenges the Church faces in promoting its vision of marriage and family. This is not about changes in Church teaching. It is about articulating that teaching in the most authentic, compelling ways.
It will be my task to collate and summarize all of your input, as well as that of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council and other groups, and send a report to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offices in Washington, where they will be collected from all U.S. dioceses and then sent to Rome.
My report is due in Washington by Dec. 31, so I thank you in advance for your timely response to this request that I make in the name of the Holy See. We are being given a unique opportunity to add our voices to the preparations for this special synod. Thank you for your participation.