Synod on family is opportunity for teaching faith, archbishop says

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville takes part in a press conference at the USCCB's Fall General Assembly in Baltimore on Nov. 12, 2013. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.

A consultation regarding the upcoming synod on the family highlights the need for a better teaching of the faith, the president of the U.S. bishops' conference said.

“Unsurprisingly, we still have much ground to cover in sharing the good news of marriage and the family with our Catholic faithful,” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville said June 11.

“We know there is a need for greater, effective teaching on key tenets of the faith, such as the indissolubility of marriage, the importance of sexual difference for marriage, the natural law, and the married couple's call to be open to life.”

The archbishop addressed his fellow bishops as they gathered in New Orleans for their Spring General Assembly.

He presented a report on the upcoming Oct. 5-19 extraordinary synod of bishops – a meeting of bishops from around the world – which will address “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”

He noted that “as with past synods,” the bishops had been asked to consult with the faithful about the topic. The U.S. bishops “responded generously” to this request, he observed, while the faithful “were happy to assist the bishops by offering their feedback, and many bishops noted the enthusiasm of the laity and their gratitude at being asked for their thoughts on the subject of the family.”

Archbishop Kurtz proceeded to offer a “very general view” of the consultation’s results, balancing a desire of the Holy See for confidentiality, as it was intended “solely for use in preparation for the extraordinary synod.”

“Pastoral care for the faithful who are separated and divorced continues to be a great need. Many divorced and remarried persons seem to feel a sense of alienation from the Church.”

He said the faithful tended to indicate “a great desire to hear the Church's teaching on marriage,” adding that “many noted distractions caused by inaccurate portrayals” of that teaching.

The consultation also revealed that families are feeling the pressure of “economic instability, being overly busy, and living in a culture often hostile to the faith and excessively focused on material gain,” and that parents often find it difficult to pass on the faith, “because they themselves have not been fully catechized or evangelized.”

The archbishop noted that while many Catholics “understand what the Church teaches” about same-sex unions, “there remains a great desire to go further and understand why.”

Marriage preparation programs “have become more intentionally evangelistic and catechetical,” he added, though there remains a need “for more remote and proximate formation,” as well as continuing formation for couples after their wedding.

The consultation also found that when couples are in crisis, they see their parish and priest as key “first responders,” and that families witnessing to other families about being a domestic church is a “great opportunity” for evangelization.

Archbishop Kurtz' final note was that there is a “vibrant existence of many small, faith-centered groups, such as those fostered by various ecclesial movements,” which are helping their members live out their vocation to marriage and family.

The U.S. bishops' conference president then invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C., a member of the synod of bishops' permanent council, to speak about the preparations for the synod.

Cardinal Wuerl explained that the synod council is responsible for “sifting through” the consultations sent in by the bishops' conferences around the world, from which they developed an “instrumentum laboris,” or working document.

“Our Holy Father comes to the council meetings, he participates,” the cardinal noted. “Over the last several sessions he has spent a total of six hours over two days every time we meet. It's clear he wants to be involved in the development of the instrumentum laboris.”

The council has completed the instrumentum laboris in its Italian original, he said, and it is in the process of being translated into other languages, and will be distributed to the bishops world-wide by the end of June.

“We'll all have an opportunity to reflect on that,” he told the assembled bishops. “That material all goes back into the synod offices, and it becomes the task of the synod office to pool that, together with the council, so that at beginning of the synod we can say 'this is what we’ve heard from bishops around the world.'”

The synod itself will be “streamlined,” Cardinal Wuerl said, noting that while it will last only two weeks, there should be “more opportunities for interaction.”

The last synod, held in October 2013 and concerning the new evangelization, had lasted three full weeks.

“The Holy Father has made it clear that this is a process,” Cardinal Wuerl noted in conclusion. “The 2014 synod is to be seen in relation to the 2015 synod,” which will also regard the family.

“All of this is supposed to be a process of listening, as (Pope Francis) said, of invoking the Holy Spirit in guiding us as we move forward.”


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