November 2, 2013 – Another “Extraordinary” Vatican Move

Well us Cardinal fans have had a few days to let the sting of the World Series defeat wear off, and I think we will all be OK.  I personally think it was an amazing year considering that we had a total of 20 rookies play at some point during the year – with some of them playing very prominent roles.  I can’t help but be downright giddy about the near future, and hope that a few more World Series appearances are in the offing.  I have nothing against the Red Sox or their fans.  In fact, they kind of remind me of the Cardinals.  They have a very loyal fan base and they had a team that may not have had the most talent, but played together as a team.  I guess the one thing I really couldn’t figure out was the beards that so many of them grew.  Did they think they were the Robertson family from Duck Dynasty?  Did they think it gave them some sort of magical powers?  Well, there actually may have been something to it.  There is a group of Franciscan Friars who say that their beards are a way to help them bring Christ to other people.  Check out the video below:

OK, back to church business.  A few weeks ago the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will host an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss the topic, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”  The meeting will take place in Rome on October 5-14, 2014.  There have only been two previous such Extraordinary Synods since Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965.  The Synod of Bishops is a general assembly gathering that was created as part of the Vatican II reforms, and regular (i.e., non-extraordinary) synods meet every couple years. The synod’s role, Pope Paul VI said, is to examine  “the signs of the times” and “to provide a deeper interpretation of divine designs and the constitution of the Catholic Church” in order to “foster the unity and cooperation of bishops around the world with the Holy See.”

For Francis, issues of family and marriage are the ones that require deeper interpretation given the signs of the times, and dedicating a synod to the topic suggests he wants to unify church teaching about them.  When local church offices around the world make their own decisions about marriage and family—especially about serving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics—the global church as whole becomes divided. “It is very important that an extraordinary Synod has been convoked on the theme of the pastoral of the family,” Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said. “This is the way in which the Pope intends to promote reflection and to guide the path of the community of the Church, with the responsible participation of the episcopate from different parts of the world.”

Calling an Extraordinary Synod versus a regular Synod means that the issues are even more urgent. The participants are more select, and the heads of the Eastern Churches attend, as well as presidents of bishops conferences and heads of curia offices. The First Extraordinary Synod was held in 1969 and titled, “Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences.” Pope John Paul II called the Second Extraordinary Synod of 1985 around the theme, “The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.” This Third Extraordinary Synod is a result of Pope Francis’ meeting with the Council of Cardinals, who met in the Vatican about a month ago.

In addition to this step of an “extraordinary” Synod, another unusual step is being taken.  The Vatican is conducting a worldwide survey on how parishes deal with sensitive issues such as birth control, divorce and gay marriage, seeking input ahead of the Synod.  The poll was sent in mid-October to every national conference of bishops with a request to “share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.”  The survey reflects the pope’s pledges to move away from what he calls a “Vatican-centric” approach toward one where local church leaders are more involved in decision-making.

The National Catholic Reporter has obtained a copy of the questionaire that was sent to bishops worldwide.

Among topics bishops’ conferences are asked in the Vatican document to question their Catholic populations about:

  • How the church’s teaching on “the value of the family” is understood today. “In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?” the document asks. “If so, what are they?”
  • Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks. “How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?”
  • How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
  • Whether married couples have “openness” to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. “Is this moral teaching accepted?” it asks. “What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?”

If you would like to see the full questionaire, here is a link to the copy:

This appears to be another example of Pope Francis’ desire to not condemn those who have gone against the teachings of the church, but to show them mercy and an opportunity to come home to the Catholic faith.  It will certainly be interesting to see how this “extraordinary” move plays out in the next year or so.

Have a great week.  Enjoy the beautiful fall colors while they last!  Peace.

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