Dec. 6, 2013
It has been all over the news (both secular and religious) that the Holy See (the Vatican) has asked for a consultation on marriage and family life in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome in 2014. The theme of this extraordinary synod will be The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.

First and foremost I want to say that I am extremely grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for assigning this theme to the next extraordinary synod. Marriage and family life are at the core and foundation of the life of the Church and of society at large. To focus here in the context of evangelization is, in my humble opinion, right on target.

Secondly, I am very happy to consult with the local Church here in Western Oregon to the widest degree possible in the short amount of time I have been given to collate and submit our information. This input and consultation is very important for the fruitfulness of the synod’s work and I take it very seriously.

Unfortunately, as often happens, much of the media misreported or misrepresented the exact nature of this consultation. I know this to be true because our offices have received calls from some of the folks asking, “When am I going to get my survey?”

Because I want the members of the Church here to understand what is happening in this context and not to be confused or feel like they have been left out of the consultation, I want to take this opportunity to explain the process. So please bear with me!

It is important to understand that this synod in 2014 is a meeting of representative bishops from all over the world. This consultation that has garnered so much media attention is a consultation of the bishops of the world in order to help prepare for the synod’s work. In other words, I am the one in the Archdiocese of Portland, as your bishop, who is being consulted by means of the questionnaire that some of you have seen.

That said, bishops have been asked to share the questionnaire and accompanying material “as widely as possible to deaneries (vicariates) and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.” As an aside, this is not the first time such a consultation of the priests and laity has been requested by the Holy See in preparation for a synod, although this is undoubtedly a topic that hits very close to home.

In requesting that this wider consultation be a part of each bishop’s response, and given the very short time frame available, the Holy See has suggested that we use “the most brief and practical institutional process” to conduct our consultation. We were given only until the end of December to submit our response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops so that they can collate the national responses and submit them to the Vatican.

I therefore sent the material out to all of the members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (mostly lay representatives of the whole archdiocese) and to the members of the Presbyteral (Priest) Council. I asked the priests to consult as much as time allowed before the next meeting of the Council.

At the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council meeting on Nov. 16, we spent most of the day discussing the questions posed to each bishop in the questionnaire from the Holy See. At the Presbyteral Council meeting on Nov. 21, a similar lengthy discussion was held. I also intend to consult a group that helps in marriage preparation and also the members of the marriage tribunal who process applications for annulments.

In addition to the above, several parishes have had a group discussion and forwarded their observations to me through their pastor. These will also become part of my reflections and report to the Holy See.

There are nearly 422,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland, and it would be simply impossible to process and collate input from each individual interested in participating in this consultation. I have chosen the above method of consultation as the “most brief and practical institutional process,” as suggested by the Vatican. I will faithfully represent to the Holy what I have heard in this consultation. There will most likely be another opportunity for consultation before the actual synod in 2014.

A couple of more points need to be made on this synod on the family and the consultation preceding it. The consultation is not a “poll” of Catholics on issues of family and marriage, as has been reported by some even in the Catholic press. A close examination of the questions and accompanying documentation would make this clear.

The upcoming synod on the family is not a “doctrinal” synod but a “pastoral” synod. In other words, the purpose of the synod is not to examine Catholic doctrine on marriage and family with a view to possibly changing it. The purpose is to assess the current state of affairs as it concerns marriage and family life as to identify ways to pastorally care for the complex state of the family in light of the Church’s doctrine.

This Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 2014 will be the first of two synods that will examine these important issues of marriage and family life in the context of evangelization. The Ordinary Synod which will follow in 2015 will take the information gathered in this first synod and propose practical pastoral solutions to the Church’s mission to evangelize in and through the family.

In the consultation that I have been conducting two things have become clear to me. The Holy Father has chosen the right topic to address. Everyone seems to agree that marriage and family life needs this kind of pastoral attention at this time. Secondly, the right questions are being asked.

Please pray for me and the bishops of the world as we all together seek to help the Church address these important issues facing us at this time in history.