Catholic World News

Vatican outlines plans for 'urgent' Synod discussion of family

November 05, 2013

The Vatican has unveiled the preparatory document for the extraordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will meet in October 2014 to discuss pastoral challenges for the family.

At a November 5 press conference introducing the document, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldiserri, the secretary-general of the Synod, remarked that the world’s bishops will consider the topic at two meetings: the extraordinary assembly in 2014 and a subsequent “ordinary” general assembly, scheduled for 2015, which will also focus on the family. The preparation for the 2014 session may be somewhat unusual, he said—both because it will be an extraordinary session and because of plans by Pope Francis to revise the workings of the Synod.

The extraordinary meeting of the Synod, the archbishop said, reflects the Pope’s judgment that the question under discussion—in this case, pastoral care for the family—“requires rapid definition.” He said that the crisis of family live “creates a situation of genuine pastoral urgency.”

Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, who has been chosen by Pope Francis to be relator-general for the 2014 Synod meeting, also addressed the November 5 press conference. He observed that the preparatory document for the Synod meeting sees the issue of family life as closely connected with marriage. The Church, he said, sees the family as an institution of divine origin. He said: “It is not, therefore, a mere invention of human society or, much less, of some purely human power, but rather a natural reality that has been elevated by Christ the Lord in the context of divine grace.”

The preparatory document clearly sounds a note of urgency about the decline of family life. “Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family in this context been more urgent and necessary,” the document states.

The document lists a large number of major concerns about contemporary family life: the rise in acceptance of divorce, the increase in cohabitation, the influence of feminist ideologies hostile to Christian marriage, the “culture of non-commitment,” the corrosive effect of migration on family ties, the spread of contraceptive practices, the use of artificial forms of reproduction, the recognition of same-sex unions. The document goes on to explain the Christian understanding of marriage, and explore how that understanding can be communicated effectively today.

The preparatory document examines specifically the role of natural-law teaching in clarifying the meaning of marriage and family, the pastoral care of families as a form of effective evangelization, and the proper responses to families living in difficult situations or illicit arrangements. The document concludes by asking the world’s bishops for information on attitudes toward the family in their own particular societies.

At the November 5 press conference in Rome, Archbishop Bruno Forte, who will be the special secretary for the extraordinary session in October 2014, addressed popular misunderstandings of the questions that are directed in the preparatory document to the world’s bishops. These questions, he said, are intended to elicit discussion of pastoral strategies, rather than debate on Church teachings. The archbishop explained: “It is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions, which have in any case been clarified by the magisterium recently.”


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  • Posted by: Bai Macfarlane (Mary's Advocates) - Nov. 06, 2013 1:07 PM ET USA

    The document lists as concerning “the rise in acceptance of divorce.” Publishers of most U.S. Catholic websites teach it is not wrong to force divorce on one’s family. They teach nothing about the distinction between morally legitimate reasons for separation in contrast to the grave immoral act of marital abandonment. In 2010, a group wrote to 100 bishops and the Secretary of the Congregation of the Faith about this problem. Google search “examples of inconsistent teaching on divorce.”