By Elise Harris
-- Divided into three parts, the Vatican's newly released outline that will drive discussion during the upcoming synod touches on the nature of families and current challenges they face.
Press conference on June 26, 2014 at the Vatican Press Office to release the instrumentum laboris for the upcoming Synod on the Family. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Reflecting on the theme of “the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” the Oct. 5-19 third extraordinary synod of bishops was called by Pope Francis last fall in order to prepare the ordinary synod in 2015.
Present at the June 26 press conference announcing the “Instrumentum Laboris” was Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, and relator general of the 3rd extraordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops.
In his address, Cardinal Baldisseri revealed that the outline for the bishops’ October discussion is divided into three parts, the first focusing on the communication of the Gospel in today’s world, while the second part addresses the pastoral program for the family in light of new challenges.
The instrumentum concludes with the third part, which centers on an openness to life and parental responsibility in the upbringing of children.
“Dedicated to the Gospel of the family,” the first part of the outline “relates to God's plan, biblical and magisterial knowledge and their reception, natural law and the vocation of the person in Christ,” the cardinal explained.
“The difficulties that arise in relation to natural law can be overcome through more attentive reference to the biblical world, to its language and narrative forms, and to the proposal to thematise and deepen the biblically-inspired concept of the ‘order of creation’,” he explained.
Moving on to the second part, the cardinal stated that it “relates to the pastoral challenges inherent in the family, such as the crisis of faith, critical internal situations, external pressures and other problems.”
Preparing couples for marriage is a responsibility among pastors that is “increasingly necessary” in modern times, he observed, adding that special attention is to be given to difficult pastoral situations regarding married couples.
Among these pastoral challenges will be unmarried couples who live together and de facto unions, separated and divorced couples, remarried divorcees and their eventual further children, single mothers, those who are in canonically irregular situations and non-believers or non-practicing Catholics who wish to marry, he said.
In regards to the increasing number of unmarried couples who cohabitate, the cardinal pointed out that “the Church has the duty to accompany these couples in the trust that they are able to bear a responsibility, such as that of marriage, that is not too great for them.”
He also gave special note that the instrumentum “offers real knowledge” of the situation of remarried divorcees, stating that from this knowledge “the Church is required to find solutions compatible with her teaching and which lead to a serene and reconciled life.”
“In this respect, the need to simplify the judicial procedures for the annulment of marriage would appear relevant.”
Also drawing attention to the topic of same-sex unions, the cardinal explained that within the outline “a distinction is made between the contexts in which civil legislation is more or less in favor.”
He emphasized that “There is a need for pastoral care on the part of the particular Churches in these situations, including matters relating to children who may be present.”
Going on, Cardinal Baldisseri turned to the third part of the outline, stating that the focus on topics connected to openness to life includes “knowledge and difficulties in receiving the Magisterium, pastoral suggestions, sacramental praxis and the promotion of a mentality open to life.”
“With regard to the educative responsibility of parents, difficulty emerges in terms of transmitting faith to children, which is then made concrete in Christian initiation,” he said.
“This is a matter of Christian education in difficult family situations, in which the effects on the children extend to the sphere of faith and methods of celebration of the sacraments.”
Following his explanation of the outline’s contents, Cardinal Baldisseri revealed that the concluding documents of the extraordinary synod this fall will be used to form the Instrumentum Laboris for the ordinary synod in 2015.
After the closing of the ordinary synod, which he announced will reflect on the theme “Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the family,” Pope Francis will use the conclusions to draft his first Post-Synodal Exhortation, which can be expected in 2016.
The cardinal also announced that due to its importance, a day of prayer for the synod will be held Sunday, Sept. 28, and daily Mass is to be celebrated each day during the work of the Synod in the Salus Populi Romanii Chapel in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.