WASHINGTON — The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that met this October identified some of the challenges facing Catholic families in the modern world.

When the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops meets next October in Vatican City, the participating bishops and delegates will be looking to propose specific pastoral guidelines and initiatives to care for families.

“The synod is not to make new legislation. They are simply proposals,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.

Archbishop Kurtz, also the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Register that the year between the synod gatherings in Rome will be an extremely busy time of preparation. Over the next several months, bishops across the world will be consulting with priests and lay faithful in their dioceses as part of the process of preparing a working document for the next synod.

“It will be a challenging time for us as bishops to receive the consultation within our dioceses and to allow that to influence properly the way in which we respond to the document that is called the lineamenta,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

The lineamenta, which the Vatican distributed Dec. 9 to bishops’ conferences around the world, will help them get ready for the 2015 synod, which will be held Oct. 4-25 in Vatican City. The synod will mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

The lineamenta is comprised of the relatio, the 62-paragraph final document that the Vatican published upon the conclusion of the extraordinary synod, which met Oct. 5-19 in Rome and reflected on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”

The lineamenta — which was sent to bishops' conferences, the synods of Eastern Catholic Churches, the Union of Religious Superiors and the dicasteries of the Roman Curia — also includes a series of 46 questions that ask for reflections on promoting authentic family values, training clergy in family ministry and on how the Church can be present to individuals whose lives do not comport to Catholic moral teachings, such as those who are cohabitating or in same-sex relationships.

The 2015 synod’s theme will be the “Vocation and the Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.”

“One synod was concentrating on challenges. Now, we’re looking on concentrating on the vocation and mission of the family,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

 

‘Series of Points’

According to a Nov. 20 Vatican statement, the lineamenta’s “series of points” were to help Catholics understand the relatio’s “reception and depth.”

The next year “should take the path already done as a starting point and take this special opportunity to study issues and promote discussion at the level of episcopal conferences, finding the means and the tools necessary to further involve also the different ecclesial bodies in the synodal reflection on the family,” the Vatican said.

The lineamenta for the 2014 extraordinary synod that the Vatican distributed in October 2013 also included a questionnaire.

“I’ll be sharing [the lineamenta] with each of the bishops throughout the United States,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

“Just as occurred last year, since it is a synod of bishops, the consultation is primarily to each of the bishops. Each bishop knows his diocese the best, and he can then discover the best way to receive consultation, and that will differ from diocese to diocese,” Archbishop Kurtz added.

Each individual bishop will decide how they receive consultation from others, whether that comes from diocesan presbyteral councils, parish representatives, diocesan staff gatherings, people involved in family-related ministry or ordinary lay faithful living out their vocations to family life in the world.

Last year, in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Archbishop Kurtz said he consulted the archdiocesan priests and pastoral councils as part of the process of preparing the instrumentum laboris, the initial working document for the 2014 synod. Archbishop Kurtz said the archdiocese also posted the questionnaire online; he added that he had a listening schedule, linked to his parish visitations, where people could share their thoughts and concerns.

“A good thing would be for each of the Catholic faithful to keep his or her eyes open within their own dioceses, either on the website or in parish bulletins or in diocesan newspapers, on the instructions on how to participate in the consultation,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

 

Important Interim

The year between the two synod gatherings is “very important,” according to the Vatican statement, which added that the two assemblies are “unprecedented in the history of the synodal institution.”

The results of the consultation must be returned April 15 to the synod secretariat, which will then compile the working document for the 2015 synod before next summer.

“What I tell people to do is read the instrumentum laboris and see how much of what was said in the consultations was captured,” said Archbishop Kurtz, who sought additional comments from people in his archdiocese last summer after the Vatican released the previous working document.

Bishops’ conferences will elect most of the delegates who will attend the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is open not only to presidents of bishops’ conferences, but also other bishops. Catholic News Agency reported that the USCCB selected Archbishop Kurtz, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as delegates to the 2015 synod. The delegates’ names were sent to Rome for approval.

Pope Francis will also be selecting delegates, each of whom will be given the opportunity to develop an intervention, a five-minute oral presentation, which the Vatican typically asks to be submitted in written form three to four weeks before the synod begins.

When the synod assembly meets next October, the interventions and speeches during the first two weeks are expected to focus on pastoral solutions to challenges facing the family, which include the question of divorce, remarriage and annulments, how to cope in societies and cultures that are hostile to family life and raising children, engaging loved ones with same-sex attraction and encouraging young people to recognize that marriage is worthwhile, among other difficulties.

 

Post-Synodal Document

Debating the pastoral applications will take place mostly in small groups, said Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., who writes frequently on Church affairs.

“Normally in the past, there have been propositions given to the Holy Father for him to consider in his writing of the apostolic exhortation that follows the synod,” Father Landry said. “What may happen this time? [Synod delegates] may produce a document instead of a list of propositions. Pope Francis may also do something different. He will quite freely decide what he does with the conclusions of the synod.”

After past synods, popes have written apostolic exhortations synthesizing the synods’ work while adding their own insights. The exhortations have been written anywhere from eight to 16 months after the synod, though Father Landry told the Register that Pope Francis may do something “totally different.”

“It’s hard to predict the future based on past synods, because Pope Francis is trying to reform the ways that the synod goes about its practices,” Father Landry said.

Archbishop Kurtz also said that Pope Francis “could do things differently,” but added that it is likely he will follow a “very similar path” taken by his predecessors.

The apostolic exhortation and the synod’s recommendations are not expected to create new Church laws, but they could chart new policies and directives that will filter to the diocesan level.

For example, Father Landry said the synod could recommend that the Church do a better job of preparing engaged couples for married life. Those recommendations would be sent to episcopal conferences, with each bishop implementing new diocesan marriage-preparatory programs.

 

Implementation

Also, if the synod were to recommend changes in the annulment process, such as eliminating an automatic appeal to a second tribunal as some 2014 synod delegates suggested, the policy could go into immediate effect unless a party asks for an appeal.

“There might be some things that are handled in a legislative way, but in terms of solutions that require implementation at the parish level or the chaplaincy level across the world, those will happen through bishops in their own dioceses taking the recommendations of the ordinary synod and implementing them in their own local Churches,” Father Landry said.

Archbishop Kurtz said he hopes the 2015 synod will successfully cover the “beauty of Jesus’ teachings on marriage and family,” as well as restoring people’s confidence in their ability to have a successful marriage and be good witnesses. He also hopes the synod will refine the “art of accompaniment,” accompanying people in a way that leads them closer to Christ.

Throughout the whole synod process, up to and including next year’s assembly in Rome, Father Landry added that Catholics can contribute by praying for Pope Francis, the bishops and the family, as well as studying the presented issues and authentically living their vocations.

Said Father Landry: “Married couples can live out their marriage in a compelling way so that the young, those confused about marriage will be able to see them living their family life in Christian joy, rather than reading about it in a document that would be dry if it’s not seen in Christians putting the teachings on marriage and family into practice.”

Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.