Pope Francis announced that he is calling for two opportunities to reflect on the pastoral challenges to the family. The first opportunity is an Extraordinary General Assembly of bishops (also called an Extraordinary Synod) planned for October, 2014 which will provide analysis of the situation of marriage and family throughout the world. The second opportunity will be an Ordinary Synod in the fall of 2015, which will seek to formulate “working guidelines” in the pastoral care of persons and families.
In preparation for the synod, the U.S. bishops have been provided a preparatory document and have been asked to invite as many people as possible to respond to the questionnaire that is part of the document. Bishop Richard Pates invites clergy, religious and laity to be a part of the preparatory process by completing the survey, which helps to define the state of marriage and family life. The survey also asks for statistical data and for a comparison of the Church’s teaching with the practice in the local culture. The questionnaire can be completed electronically in English or in Spanish. Responses can also be submitted in writing. The document is available on the diocesan website under Family Ministry, where individuals can download and printout the questionnaire.
“Providing bishops with a preparatory document before a synod is not a new practice,” said Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates. “What is new, however, and quite in keeping with our Holy Father’s collegial and collaborative emphasis is his desire that the questionnaire be distributed universally.”
The survey covers such issues as cohabitation, Catholics entering civil marriages, divorce and remarriage, contraception and same-sex marriage.
“It is important to note, however, that the questionnaire and the meeting of bishops are in no way an indication that the Church is considering a departure from the Church’s teaching on marriage and family,” said Bishop Pates. “On the contrary, the Holy Father seeks to pass on this teaching with greater clarity, effectiveness and in light of the spirit and love of the Gospel.”
The language of the questions may seem different than what we are used to, Bishop Pates said. This is because the questionnaire was created for the universal Church. He is confident, however, that people will be able to understand the thrust of the inquiry and provide responses.
The Diocese of Des Moines will forward the responses as submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All responses, whether submitted electronically or via mail, must be received by the Diocese of Des Moines by Dec. 20, 2013.