A new initiative to develop a pastoral plan that would offer more support for Catholic marriages and families was approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during their Fall General Assembly in Baltimore Nov. 14. Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo presented the case before the bishops, calling on the body to take a new look at the issue.
"The challenges facing young people, marriages and families are many, as we so well know, and our pastoral outreach needs to respond in ever new and engaging ways," Bishop Malone said.
As a member of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, Bishop Malone spoke for Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, committee chair, who was attending meetings at the Vatican in Rome. The committee wants to develop a statement on marriage and family life that supports Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," "The Joy of Love." Bishop Malone noted they are creating "a" statement, not "the" statement that would bind Catholic communities.
"It would be a framework and resource to assist pastoral planning efforts in diocese and parishes," Bishop Malone said. "(It would also) galvanize leaders and all those who work on behalf of marriage and family life."
The five-part statement will feature introductions into the joy of love and Gospel of the family, rededicate itself to marriage and family life, a pastoral plan and framework, implementation and conclusion. The plan hopes to include prayer and faithful witness, pastoral ministry and accompaniment, education on marriage and family life, and public policy and advocacy.
Bishop Malone called it a "broad, comprehensive vision in light of 'Amoris Laetitia.'"
"The aim of the statement would be to assist this missionary conversion on behalf of the gospel of the family," he said. "The audience would be everyone, with primary emphasis on Catholic leaders, as well as on married couples and families themselves."
Many Catholic leaders voiced support for the development of the pastoral plan.
"It's been a tragedy that the reception of this document ('Amoris Laetitia') has been so poor," said Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles. "If you get a web search about it, you get a mountain of literature, and it's all about a particular chapter and a particular footnote in that chapter. It's overlooking this extraordinarily rich document, so it's good for us to seize control of that process, because we've been positioned by an awful lot of people in the blogosphere who are forcing people on how to read the document in a particular way. I would strongly support this move."
Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI, bishop emeritus of San Antonio, called for special emphasis placed on young people, a demographic who is disappearing from the Church. Bishop Malone said the plan would be a base document that would develop best online practices to help target young adults and other groups.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento noted that economic inequality also becomes marriage inequality, as "all of a sudden the well-to-do are able to get married and see marriage as stability, but the poor don't have the means to make lifelong commitments. It's a two-fold poverty. I hope this document will lift up some of those social concerns and the importance, as a church of how we should address that."
"I assure you that consideration about the economic challenges to people, and therefore to marriages, will be part of our work," Bishop Malone replied.
The motion to develop the pastoral plan was approved by a vote of 223 to 12.