Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began its 2015 General Assembly in St. Louis today.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky presented 12 general findings from the family surveys that each diocese circulated to local Catholics. The results are revealing, and, in some cases, echo broader concerns regarding the substance of the Synod relatio. Some of the key points:
1. The Catholic faithful are eager to assist their bishops. The framing of the survey questions left something to be desired, respondents said.
2. The survey was incomplete. The question was raised: "What was missing from relatio?" The answer: "The absence of marriage as a vocation." Also, a significant number mentioned Pope St. John Paul II and said that his teachings should receive more attention. And some said that certain specific difficulties -- the impact of pornography, the challenge of blended families, and issue of single adults -- needed more attention from the Church.
3. The gospel of the family. Some respondents said that pastors have much ground to cover in sharing the "gospel of the family". Especially needed are a more effective proclamation of the meaning of marriage, a call to be open to life, and the communication of the dignity and responsibility of married couples.
4. WItness of married couples. As in the 2014 Synod Assembly, the witness of married couples, and the importance of married couples and families as witnesses and evangelizers of other married couples, was emphasized.
5. Priestly formation. Seminarians need deeper formation in the pastoral care of families, and the families should have a role in the formation of priests, especially on the level of the parish.
6. Education in prayer. There's an ongoing desire among married couples and families for education and formation in prayer. Homilies need to catechize families about marriage, using more practical examples.
7. Parish focus on families. Concepts such as a "parish intentionality" around the family and a consideration of intergenerational families, were featured, keeping in mind those without families or in fragile circumstances.
8. Personal encounter. It was emphasized that mercy is communicated through personal encounters -- especially encounters between priests and lay faithful, but also encounters among those who are married and their families themselves.
9. Current challenges. Among the challenges are the increasing hostility towards marriage and family. The Church's public witness needs to convey a sense of hope.
10. Divorce. Pastoral care for Catholics who are separated, divorced or remarried is needed to keep them from feeling separation from the Church.
11. Nullity. Some called for a fresh look at the process and a removal of obstacles deemed to be no longer necessary.
12. Parents as primary educators. There is a great need on behalf of parents to understand and embrace their role as primary educators.
Mary Rezac (EWTN/Catholic News Agency) contributed to this report.