The purpose of the Synod on the Family is to discern pastoral responses to the questions that a dynamic world has about marriage and sexuality. Today, Bondings 2.0 ruminates on the key question of just why the church exists and how it can respond to families today.
As was reported in December, the Vatican has released a second questionnaire to better understand the realities of family today. Its impact, however, is unknown. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told The Advocate:
” ‘Regardless of the merits or drawbacks of these questions, the real import will be in whether bishops actually do the wide consultation that is called for by this document.’
” ‘In 2013, the U.S. bishops did very little in terms of consulting the laity in preparation for the 2014 synod. Now that they have had more time to consider options, they should have no excuse not to do the wide consultation the Vatican requests.’ “
Few dioceses have actively elicited responses from Catholics, though there are exceptions such as Australia’s Archdiocese of Sydney, which has made a questionnaire available online.
Sr. Mary Ann Walsh of America considers alternative questions for reflection on family life, tackling issues including:
“How do family members support one another even when some choose lifestyles at variance from the norm? Norms change…
“How can children of gay couples feel welcomed by families and neighbors that are not configured as theirs?”
While admitting the church “needs a plan to gather data,” Walsh notes there are obstacles such as the challenges of reaching to certain demographic groups that may not be a part of parish life. However, Walsh hints that part of Synod preparations might include a major shift for the conversation about marriage and family in the United States:
“A whole new approach to synod preparation may lie in seeking what each can do individually to promote healthy families. Should I view what I do this year through a family filter? How can I help my own family as I consider the younger generation, grandparents, newlyweds and singles—who mean so much to me?…
“The Synod on the Family offers challenges and opportunities. Time is moving rapidly as the church considers Pope Francis’ request for input. If the U.S. church can change the conversation to what we can do to empower families, we will have made a needed statement on unity and what it means to be Catholic today.”
A conversation about how to empower families would certainly be different from the American bishops’ current strategy of opposing LGBT rights, specifically same-gender marriages. This, however, mandates that US Catholics answer the question about just why and for what our church exists. Mark Tedesco poses the question well in America where he writes:
“The church isn’t for those who are saved but for those who are in need of salvation. The argument that the purpose of the church is to defend the traditional family simply boils down to semi-pelegianism; it doesn’t meet men and women where they are in their real lives. Nor does this position invite men and women in diverse circumstances to participate in the drama of salvation history.
“When the synod’s midterm report affirmed that gays bring unique gifts to the church community and that same-sex unions reflect positive aspects of support for each partner, the synod captured the reality of what the church is for. If the grace of the church cannot reach out and embrace individuals in the myriad of non-traditional situations in the world today, then it has lost its mission…
“The triumph of the Synod on the Family is that it began to unearth the very nature of salvation and its relevance to real peoples’ lives. Pope Francis is to be applauded for helping us to remember the church’s very purpose.”
With almost ten months before bishops gather again in Rome, Catholics worldwide must consider how our church can support families of all varieties, including those with LGBT members and those led by same-gender partners. This will require that all levels of the institution internalize Pope Francis’ wisdom that the church is a field hospital which welcomes all with mercy. Recognizing this reality will help the 2015 Synod more accurately reflect on family amid the particulars of history and society found today.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the 2015 Synod on the Family, click here or subscribe to the blog in the upper right hand corner for daily Catholic LGBT updates in the coming year.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry