Vatican Releases Working Document Ahead of Synod of Family

Bishops Compile Summary of Responses to Questionnaire

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In the lead up to the forthcoming Synod on the Family, the Vatican has released the results of a worldwide consultation addressing a variety of pastoral topics, such as same-sex “marriage,” reception of the sacraments for divorced and remarried couples, and the promotion of openness to life.

The Instrumentum Laboris (working document), which has been made available on the Vatican website, is based on questions in a Preparatory Document which was sent out to dioceses around the world about a month after Pope Francis called for the Synod on the family.

The “questionnaire” was divided into 8 groups of questions pertaining to marriage and the family. According to the introduction to the working document signed by General Secretary for the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri, the questions contained in the Preparatory Document “generated significant reflection among the People of God.”

The working document notes that many responses were “submitted by the synods of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the episcopal conferences, the departments of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General. In addition, other responses — categorized as observations — were sent directly to the General Secretariat by a significant number of dioceses, parishes, movements, groups, ecclesial associations and families, not to mention academic institutions, specialists, both Catholic and non-Catholic, all interested in sharing their reflections.”

Convoked by Pope Francis on 8 October 2013, the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place October 2014, will focus on the theme: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. Over the course of the Assembly, the working document reads, “the synod fathers will thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family.”

The 75 page document is divided into three parts, reflecting the eight primary subjects addressed the questionnaire. Part one, the Gospel of the Family, “treats the divine plan and the vocation of the person in Christ.

“Within this perspective, the section gives indications — positive as well as negative — of the faithful’s knowledge and acceptance of pertinent teachings on the family from the Bible and the documents of the Church’s Magisterium as well as the faithful’s understanding of the natural law.”

The second part of the document, entitled “The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges, addresses “various challenges and actual situations related to the pastoral care of the family.”

Finally, part three is dedicated to the “topic of an openness to life and the responsibility of parents in the upbringing of their children — characteristic of marriage between a man and a woman — with particular reference to difficult pastoral situations.”

Included among the themes which the working document addressed are the issues pertaining to homosexual partnerships, the reception of the sacraments for divorced and remarried couples, cohabitation, and the promotion of openness to life.

The document also addresses the issue of diversified acceptance of Church teaching on matters pertaining to the family and sexual morality.

“A good number of episcopal conferences mention that, when the teaching of the Church is clearly communicated in its authentic, human and Christian beauty, it is enthusiastically received for the most part by the faithful,” the document reads, adding: “Church teaching is more widely accepted, when the faithful are engaged in a real journey of faith and are not just casually curious in what might be the Church’s thinking in the matter of sexual morality.

In the converse, the document notes that many respondents to the questionnaire “confirmed that, even when the Church’s teaching about marriage and the family is known, many Christians have difficulty accepting it in its entirety.” Examples of this difficulty pertain to acceptance of Church teaching on contraception, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, etc. “However, many responses recount how Church teaching on the dignity of human life and respect for human life might be more widely and readily accepted, at least in principle.”

In the follow-up to October’s Synod on the Family, an Ordinary General Assembly will be held in 2015, “representing a great part of the episcopate and continuing the work of the previous synod, will reflect further on the points discussed so as to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines.”

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Ann Schneible

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