By Nicholas Halliday
Calling Bishops and representatives from all over the world, the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been convoked to discuss the “family in the context of evangelization,” according to the Vatican News Agency.
One year prior, Pope Francis declared there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops; one year later they are meeting at Vatican City. The Synod started on October 5th 2014 and is planned to go until the 19th of this month.
According to the Vatican website it will include, “253 men and women representing the Universal Church” to discuss "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization."
When asked about her reaction to the Synod, Veola Burchett, the director of the Family and Pro-life office at the Diocese of Salt Lake said, “This was exciting, but not unexpected. Over the past few years the Bishops have been really looking at and strengthening family and marriage issues.”
In addition, Fr. James OSB, the procurator and vocations director at St. Procopius Abbey commented that he expected “very little, to be honest, beyond a general hope that God would work through the Synod for the good of the Church.”
What will the Synod focus on?
In the preparatory document entitled Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization it outlines some of the issues that the Synod will discuss, such as “the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children…”
“…mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste system; a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the reformulation of the very concept of the family; relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage.”
“The influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right.”
What is an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?
According to the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) site “the Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution of the Catholic Church. It was establish by Pope Paul VI in 1965, shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council.”
An Extraordinary General Assembly is “called ‘"Extraordinary"’ when it is convened to deal with matters "which require a speedy solution"’ and which demand "immediate attention for the good of the entire Church.”’
But keep in mind, this Synod is not here to change doctrine and dogma or to alter the Catholic Church’s truths. It is an “assembly of bishops from around the world who assist the Holy Father by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church in a manner that preserves the Church's teaching and strengthens her internal discipline.”
The goal of this Synod is not to create something different but as Burchett pointed out, it is more about “creating an awareness of the Church’s teachings on the family” than having a different Pastoral approach to family and evangelization.
According to Fr. James he feels that “too many are drifting from the sacraments, especially among the young. How to get across the Gospel more effectively is a challenge for the Church in every age and place, but we seem to be doing especially poorly now. So in that sense, obviously something different is needed.”
What will the outcome of the Synod be?
While no one can know for sure of what the Synod will come up with, it is best to trust that the Holy Spirit will guide them in the way of truth. Burchett’s hope “is that there will be similar initiatives come from this that came from the Marriage Initiative…I would also hope there would be a great push for families to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015.”
We can be sure that the Synod will be doing its best to find a better pastoral approach to family issues and evangelization, and we must remain open to hear what the Synod of Bishops has to say.
Fr. James expects, “Long documents, some new committees, and disappointment. I hope that’s not merely the cynicism of an older fellow, but I am skeptical about the likelihood (maybe even the desirability) of instant solutions.”
Many people over social media sites such as Facebook have been commenting and have made comments on the Synod and calling Cardinal Kasper “a heretic.”
While some of his views might be considered liberal “there needs to remain open dialogue, because even in the loudest of uproar, there is something that needs to be heard…We need to listen, to help heal, and to bring about peace. We can also learn from the negatives,” remarked Burchett.
Part of the conflict is based on the reception of Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
Fr. James says that “should Cardinal Kasper or anyone else have a solution that would genuinely help them, well and good, if the Synod determines it be God’s will. But how to go about this without seeming to devalue the sanctity of marriage, that will be the difficulty.”
Burchett said that we won’t have much information about what the Synod has decided for a few weeks after the meetings have closed. In the meantime like Fr. James said, “St. John XXIII used to close his nightly prayers occasionally by saying, ‘“Okay, it’s your Church, God. You work it out. I’m going to sleep.”’