VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Bishops around the world are being asked to take a realistic look at the situation of families under their care and at how effective pastoral and educational programs have been at promoting church teaching on sexuality, marriage and family life.
The preparatory document for the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, which will be held in October 2014, ends with 38 questions about how church teaching is promoted, how well it is accepted and ways in which modern people and societies challenge the Catholic view of marriage and family.
Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, asked bishops to distribute the document and questionnaire “as widely as possible” to deaneries and parishes, summarize the responses and send them to the Vatican by the end of January.
Distributing an outline of the chosen topic and related questions, seeking responses from bishops, religious orders and interested Catholic groups is a normal part of the preparation for a synod. Archbishop Baldisseri, encouraging even wider consultation, did not specify how bishops should seek input.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales put the questionnaire online in late October, leading to news stories about “polling” Catholics for their opinions and suggestions.
The extraordinary synod on “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization” was convoked by Pope Francis for Oct. 5-19 and will bring together presidents of bishops’ conferences, the heads of Eastern Catholic churches and the heads of Vatican offices to describe the current situation and “to collect the bishops’ experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the family in a credible manner,” the document said.
A second gathering, a world Synod of Bishops on the family, will be held in 2015 “to seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family,” it said.
“Vast expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family,” the document said.
Some people may believe changes in church teaching are in store given Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy, forgiveness and not judging others, and his specific comments on helping divorced and civilly remarried couples who cannot receive Communion. However, the document said, “the teaching of the faith on marriage is to be presented in an articulate and efficacious manner so that it might reach hearts and transform them in accordance with God’s will.”
Church teaching always has been clear that marriage is a lifelong bond between one man and one woman open to having and educating children, it said, and the synod’s goal will be “to communicate this message with greater incisiveness.”
The preparatory document specifically mentioned modern contributions to church teaching, including the Second Vatican Council’s defense of the dignity of marriage and family, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on fidelity and procreation in marriage, and Blessed John Paul II’s teaching on God’s plan for married love.
“The church’s pastoral ministry,” it said, “finds inspiration in the truth of marriage viewed as part of the plan of God, who created man and woman and, in the fullness of time, revealed in Jesus the completeness of spousal love elevated to the level of sacrament.”
The questionnaire asks bishops to describe how people understand church teaching, how their local churches and Catholic movements try to promote it and what difficulties people face in accepting the teaching.
Synod organizers ask the bishops to estimate the percentage of local Catholics living together without being married, the percentage of those divorced and remarried, and the proportion of children and adolescents in their dioceses who are living in families in those situations.
Bishops are asked for their suggestions about the advisability of simplifying church annulment procedures and for suggestions on how that might be done.
The questionnaire surveys the bishops about the legal status of same-sex unions in their local area and church efforts to defend traditional marriage, but also asks them what kind of “pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live” in same-sex unions and, in places where they can adopt children, what can be done to transmit the faith to them.
Several questions focus on “Humanae Vitae” and church teaching against the use of artificial contraception. The bishops are asked if people understand the teaching and know how to evaluate the morality of different methods of family planning. They also are asked if the question comes up in confessions and if they have suggestions for fostering “a more open attitude toward having children.”