Synod examines Pastoral Challenges of Families

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Thu, Oct 23rd 2014 02:45 pm

The recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops garnered the attention of the media, but for the wrong reasons. The Catholic Church will not be discussing same-sex marriages as some reports have stated, and the topic of people who have divorced and remarried receiving Holy Communion needs more discernment.

Media was buzzing with reports that Pope Francis, who has surprised many by being welcoming to homosexuals in the Church, was open to discussing gay marriage at the gathering of world bishops, which took place Oct. 5-19, 2014, in Vatican City. The fact is those two hot button issues were discussed, even debated, but failed to pass a vote. Misperceptions by the media may be attributed to a mistranslation of the Italian-text midterm report.

The theme of the Extraordinary Synod, "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization," dealt with proclaiming the Gospel to the family of today in its many forms - including couples preparing for marriage, couples cohabitating, divorced, remarried and homosexual. The 183 bishops who gathered were encouraged by Pope Francis to speak their minds with freedom.

"The focus was, I think, on the standard traditional understanding of family as married people with kids. There are other ways of understanding family that go beyond that," said Bishop Richard J. Malone. "The Holy Father's instinct in calling the synod was, I think, in our world now, it's challenging for a lot of people to live a full faithful, fruitful, happy married life and family life. The Church wants to know better, how do we strengthen our support of families."

Bishop Malone did not attend the Synod and has not yet received any document regarding the outcome from the Vatican. He expects the Synod to be discussed at a November meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Zenit has printed a midterm report on its website. A three-paragraph section titled "Welcoming Homosexual Persons" asks more than it says. "Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community," the chapter starts. "Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" The section goes on to state, "The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman." Reports have said that the final report, or Relatio Synodi, will differ greatly.

The Relatio Synodi will serve as a working document for the Ordinary Synod that will take place next October. The results of that Synod are expected to be the basis of an Apostolic Exhortation designed to guide the clergy and faithful in caring for families.  The Relatio Synodi is voted on by the Synod Fathers and each paragraph must receive a two-thirds vote to be included. Three paragraphs dealing with divorcees and homosexuals that did not meet with a majority vote, were still included by Pope Francis' request.

"The whole theme of the Synod was more than the question of people with same-sex attraction and the situation of people who are divorced and remarried," Bishop Malone said. "Somehow or other, that became the focus. I think probably because of some very public debates, sometimes kind of tense debates, between even some cardinals that got very public, taking different positions on things. For example, access to Holy Communion for people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment. At this time they are still members of the Church; they're not excommunicated as some people think, but they are not to receive Holy Communion because they're in an irregular marriage situation."

While agreeing they are important issues, the bishop said news of the debates have caused the media to "over focus" on those two topics.

The Synod follows a survey on pastoral challenges facing the family that the Holy See sent to all Catholic dioceses last December. The purpose was to define the current situation and to collect the bishops' experience and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner. This information will be analyzed in order to respond to the new challenges of the family.

"The key is the New Evangelization," Bishop Malone said. "In other words, how can we, as Church, touch people's lives with the Good News of Jesus Christ, His saving news. How can the Church help people in family life who are married, and in family life live out that marriage in a way that is full and happy and maturing and holy? That is the theme. It was to come up with better ways of pastoral care for families. Certainly, a piece of that is, and just about every family is impacted either by gay people in the family or people in the family who are divorced and/or remarried. Families are all impacted by that. But, that was not the main focus of the Synod."

Buffalo's diocesan Family Life Office offers a caring, compassionate pastoral presence for families in all dimensions including traditional, blended, single-parent and international families, as well as single persons, adopted, disabled and others who are hurting.

 "It's not that the Church isn't already making an effort to be pastorally supportive and caring for families, but the pope is saying we got to do even more," Bishop Malone said. "And to do that we need to bring the experience of family life from all around the world - family life in Africa is going to be different in many ways from family life here. There are so many different factors that can impact family. - And the Church is trying to say we're trying to get our arms around this in an embrace of pastoral care and the pope's constant theme of compassion and mercy."

The Synod Fathers, as the participants are known, are leaders in each Episcopal conference, along with invited guests of the pope. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, of Louisville, Ky., and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York; and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, from Washington, D.C., attended.   

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