Pope Francis has announced an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops for October 2014 on the theme, “Pastoral Challenges for the Family in the Context of Evangelisation”. This Synod of Bishops reflects the Pope‘s personal concerns about the many-sided problems around questions concerning partnership, marriage and the family.
The preparatory document sent to the Bishops includes a questionnaire, which should enable local churches to prepare actively for the Synod. It is the express wish that this questionnaire will be distributed to communities and individuals and that their responses and suggestions will be considered in the text that each Bishops’ Conference will send to the Vatican by January 2014. The preparatory document can be found on the Vatican’s homepage for the Bishops’ Synod (www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod) ready to be downloaded in various languages including English.
The questionnaire shows great awareness of the problems as it identifies the many difficult situations facing marriage, and it is aware of the tension that exists because church teaching on partnership, marriage and the family is insufficiently known by many of the faithful, and in some cases not received by them. In many of the countries of Europe, this teaching, with hindsight, has – in different degrees – alienated many of the faithful (including those active in the church) from the church hierarchy in recent decades. This alienation has had negative effects on the life of the church and must be overcome. The procedure of involving communities and individuals, as well as the wish that their responses and suggestions be included in any document, so that the Bishops’ Synod should finally serve as a “working instrument”, is, in this form, something new. This is to be welcomed and supported as a way of presenting church teaching on the sense of the faithful.
The preparatory document and the questionnaire also provide a good starting-point for the dialogue between the church’s teaching office and theology, in which to stimulate important questions about human life in the areas of sexual morality and pastoral ethics concerning marriage and the family, as well as how to overcome the damage to the value and relevance of faith that the church has suffered in this area of life throughout Europe and further afield. We are convinced that for the good of theology and its academic specialisms, an interchange is necessary between the teaching office of the church and theology, in the form of a critical but loyal dialogue. In our response as theologians, we want to support the process of reflexion on these important topics that Pope Francis has desired. This is also important because in the past difficult problems of teaching in many places in particular thematic areas have led to a standstill in the conversation between the church’s teaching office and theologians.
To all of you and especially those of you who work in theological ethics and pastoral theology may we direct an invitation and request to you:
Go to your local Bishops and offer them your active help. Put your theological and pastoral expertise at their disposal and involve yourself actively in responding to the questionnaire. And please consider whether and how you can network with colleagues in your own faculties, as well as within your specialist disciplines.
At the same time we invite you to send us short comments from your field of expertise on the themes of the questionnaire. Then we will collect these reports and send them in a suitable form – anonymously, if you wish (in this case ask our advice) – to the Secretariat of the Bishops’ Synod. Please send us your comments by email and by 13 December 2013 to: ESCT@theo.kuleuven.be.
We believe that as theologians we should use this opportunity to support the dialogue between the church’s teaching office and theology, in the cause of proclaiming the gospel and presenting it before people, especially in these important areas of life: partnership, marriage and the family.
With best wishes from the Presidium of the European Society for Catholic Theology,
Martin M. Lintner, President
Pierre van Hecke, Vice-President
Brixen, 19 November 2013