Despite media buzz that has focused on “unconventionalcouples,” divorce,and annulments,the aim of next month’s meeting of bishops in Rome is to “propose to today’sworld the beauty and the values of the family,” according to CardinalLorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.
The title for the assembly, which will take place fromOctober 5-19, is “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”These challenges do, in fact, include the problems mentioned above, accordingto the workingdocument for the meeting, but the September 8 statement dispels the idea that theVatican is taking a defeatist attitude toward marriage in today’s society.
In a curious mixed metaphor, Baldisseri said that thecriterion for renewal “is that of first painting the picture and then addingthe frame” while the rules in force “provide the track along which the train ofrenewal proceeds.” What this seems to mean is that the Vatican has revamped itsmethodology for this sort of meeting by first seeking a clear understanding ofwhat marriage looks like for Catholics in today’s world before debating whatshould be done about it.
In an unprecedented and somewhat controversialmove, last October the Vatican sent out a questionnaireto bishops, which was often passed along to rankand file Catholics for their response. The questionnaire addressed topicsas diverse as how Catholics understand the sacrament of marriage to same-sexcouples to openness to life and contraception. The responses received by theVatican were then used as an aid to preparing the synod’s working document fordiscussion by the bishops.
In the address, Cardinal Baldisseri said the synodwill be divided into two phases, one taking place next month and the finalmeeting scheduled for 2015. He also said that a new working methodology wouldrender the synod process “more dynamic and participatory,” with “speeches andtestimonials.” The final synod document will not be published until after the 2015meeting.
Baldisseri also announced the release of the fulllist of participants for October’s meeting. The significance of the list,Baldisseri said, was that the names “correspond to people from all over theworld,” suggesting a universality in the Vatican’s approach to the issue. Amongthe “auditors” for the meeting are 13 married couples, another first for thissynod.