input for the next synod for the family

Roman Catholic bishops are preparing for the second of two consecutive synods on the family. The first, the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, took place in October 2014 and addressed the topic, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. The document from that synod has become the working document (lineamenta) for the October 2015 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops titled “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world”.

The lineamenta for the first synod included a questionnaire. Unlike past questionnaires, this one was meant for all the people of God not just bishops. Sadly, the questionnaire was criticized for its lack of clarity and simplicity. Also, there was a lack of consistency in the solicitation of responses from lay women and men. Some bishops welcomed input from all. Some didn’t.

Enter lineamenta and questionnaire #2. I first read about it on our Archdiocesan web-site last week. There was a letter of introduction from our Archbishop dated January 28th. The online publication date was February 3rd. It was also announced in our Archdiocesan newspaper (received in our parish yesterday – Sunday, February 15th).

The deadline for submissions? February 16, 2015!

How easy is this set of questions? Here are the original questions, included in the last section of the lineamenta. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has published an edited version (eight pages!) to be distributed to dioceses across the country. This is the questionnaire that Canadian Catholics were invited to respond to.

I wanted to shake my head in disbelief, but it would have worsened the headache I got after reading both sets of questions. Keen Vatican watchers could have found the document on the Vatican web-site weeks ago and taken the necessary time to reflect and ponder on the questions in order to give a thoughtful response.

Granted, no one was expected to answer all the questions. In our archdiocese it was suggested that we answer three questions. The CCCB also left it to the discretion of each bishop whom to invite to respond to the survey, and which questions to address. There is also the option to respond to an “open question” at the end of each section.

An honest survey must be attentive to the day to day life of the average Catholic; those same women and men who form the many and varied families that the bishops are attempting to study.  I wonder how many responses will be received? How inclusive will these voices be? Will we hear from those on the fringes of church life? What about those who have already exited her doors because their family was no longer welcomed to the table?

A rhetorical question is one to which you do not expect a response. Is this merely a rhetorical survey?

More to come….

canadian bishops optimistic about synod

I was away from writing during the recent Synod on the Family, but I tried to stay on top of the news coming from the Vatican. Pope Francis promised a more open synodal format, encouraging dialogue and debate rather than the usual litany of speeches towing the party line. By all accounts, there was dialogue and debate. And disagreement. And grumbling. And dire predictions of divisions and schisms.

The open negativity of some conservative bishops during and after the synod was astonishing. Their fear of any movement from doctrinal certainty to pastoral compassion was not surprising. Most were outspoken cultural warriors whose names have graced media headlines in the past. What was surprising was their open criticism of the pope.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, was “very disturbed” by the synod’s open discussions of current church practices towards gay people and divorced and remarried person. The discussions, he believed, sent a confusing message and “confusion is of the devil.”

“Pope Francis is fond of ‘creating a mess,’ ” said Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I. “Mission accomplished.”

The loudest voice of discontent came from Cardinal Raymond Burke, he of Vatican high fashion fame, who said “At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,”

Sadly, these were the voices that garnered most headlines. Meanwhile, here in Canada the bishops are much more optimistic.

Michael Swan , of the Catholic Register, writes,

From Newfoundland to British Columbia, bishops said there’s nothing to fear in open debate and even disagreement.

“Within that definition of Catholic is a broad range of opinion, which when you throw it all together and sift it all out you get the wisest way of proceeding,” said Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan. “I’m delighted that we have lay people invited to continue their participation. I have no fears about that. There will be no floodgates let loose that are going to drown us all.”

Swan also quotes PEI, Charlottetown Bishop Richard Grecco who wants an ever-widening discussion among all Catholics while remaining true to core beliefs.

“You can’t walk down the road just barking truth and barking judgments. You have to walk down that road of life and love giving hope, accompanying everybody. Because the holy church is a church of sinners — we’re all sinners. You have to walk down that road in hope. Don’t compromise the church’s teaching,” (Read more…)

Francis’s greatest achievement with this synod was one of process. Yes, there were opposing voices. There always are. But, this time all voices were heard without threat of censure or silencing. I share the optimism of our Canadian bishops and others around the world who see this as a golden opportunity to reignite the spirit of renewal begun at Vatican II.

I hope that these and all voices speaking out for greater pastoral compassion and understanding do not remain too polite and quiet. It’s time to drown out the naysayers and doomsday predictors in our church.