The Church Addresses the Challenges Facing Families Today

In October of 2013, Pope Francis announced that in October 2014 there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on topics related to the family and evangelizations. From October 5 – 19, 2014, a global meeting, or synod, of Catholic bishops began their meetings in Rome. The specific theme for this Synod of Bishops is: “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”

The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution of the Catholic Church. It was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965, shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, to continue the spirit of collegiality and communion that was present at the Council. The Synod 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 reason this General Assembly is called Extraordinary” is because it was convened to deal with matters which require a “speedy solution.” See Code of Canon Law; Canon 346 sec 2) and which demand “immediate attention for the good of the entire Church.” (sec. 4).

The Preparatory Document described the purpose of the III Extraordinary General Assembly as “to define the ‘status quaestionis’ [current situation] and to collect the bishops’ experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner.” The Instrumentum Laboris said that the III Extraordinary General Assembly “will thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies, and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family.” The Preparatory Document. . . outlined the purpose of both the Extraordinary and Ordinary General Assemblies, provided a basic catechesis on the Gospel of the Family, and requested input from the world’s bishops on nine questions about the current state of pastoral care for marriages and families. The Instrumentum Laboris. . . contained the results of the consultation achieved via the Preparatory Document’s questionnaire. This document provides a substantive reflection on the major challenges facing the family today and outlines the topics that will be discussed at the Extraordinary General Assembly.

It is wonderful that Pope Francis called this Synod and that the Church is coming together to discuss, define and seek good responses to the challenges facing the family today. This is important work. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation of society. It must be loved with great mercy and compassion and it is so important that the pastoral responses to the challenges of today are considered, discussed, and developed. At the same time, there must also be a clear understanding of the Gospel of the Family as it has been developed through Church doctrine. The responses and doctrine must go hand in hand. I will be praying.