The Vatican wants to know how families are dealing with the rocky shoals of contemporary life.

The Vatican wants to know how families are dealing with the rocky shoals of contemporary life.

November 11, 2013

Preparations for the 2014 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will include an assessment of Catholics' attitudes toward relevant Church teachings, said Vatican officials.

The synod's work, however, will be based on Catholic doctrine and not on current public opinion, they told a Nov. 5 Vatican news conference.

"Certainly the doctrine of the magisterium must be the basis of the common reasoning of the synod," said Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary. "It is not a question of public opinion."

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 39 questions for the world's bishops.

Those questions focus on 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.

Among the topics of the questionnaire were divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, same-sex unions and contraception.

"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."

Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, asked bishops to distribute the document and questionnaire "as widely as possible" to deaneries and parishes.

After getting input, they should summarize the responses and send them to the Vatican by the end of January, he said.

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.

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.

Asked at the Nov. 5 news conference whether that action was something other bishops' conferences should emulate, Baldisseri said the "question answers itself" and was "not worth considering."

The archbishop said that pastors were expected to provide summaries of the views and experiences of parishioners, and that their findings would be "channeled" in turn through national bishops' conferences for ultimate consideration by the synod.


However, Baldisseri said, individual Catholics are also welcome to communicate their views directly to the synod's offices at the Vatican, for consideration by his staff during preparation of the synod's working document, which should be published in May 2014.

Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, special secretary of the 2014 synod, was asked if consultation might encourage a "rift" between Catholics who accept or reject controversial Church teachings.

"Listening so openly naturally means running these risks," Forte said. "What we know in the Church is that there is an ultimate reference point, which is the discernment of Peter."

The synod will document any such disagreements as honestly as possible, he said, and "propose to the Holy Father the questions and possibilities that open up."