TORONTO (CCN) — With another, bigger synod coming next October to discuss Christian family life, Canadian bishops are beginning to ask themselves: “What next?”
The executive committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops met via conference call Oct. 24 to be briefed on the just-completed synod by CCCB president Archbishop Paul-André Durocher. Durocher was the sole Canadian representative at the extraordinary synod. So far there are no instructions from the synod of Bishops in Rome to the CCCB on next steps — whether another set of survey questions on family issues or other forms of consultation.
Durocher and the permanent council of the CCCB will be in Rome the last week of November and will have a chance to ask the Vatican’s synod of bishops about its expectations of bishops’ conferences in preparing for next year’s synod.
It is usual for the CCCB to allow individual dioceses “a lot of latitude” when it comes to fulfilling Vatican requirements for synods and other projects, said Durocher. From Arctic dioceses to big cities, both the issues and the logistics of collecting data and opinion are widely divergent.
The title of the upcoming ordinary synod is adjusted slightly from the title of the one just completed. It will consider The Vocation and the Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.
The topic of both synods is “another brilliant move on the part of (Pope) Francis,” said Durocher.
“It touches all of us. We all know happy families and we know broken families . . . It touches us so viscerally that whether you are a theologian or not, you have deep convictions about the family,” Durocher said.
Bishops, priests and lay people have expressed enthusiasm for the free-wheeling debate they witnessed at the synod, Durocher said. He expects the passionate conversation will continue.
In his own Archdiocese of Gatineau, Durocher plans to involve his Roundtable On Family Ministry and the priests’ council in a discussion about how to involve parishioners in an ongoing dialogue.
From Newfoundland to British Columbia, bishops said there’s nothing to fear in open debate and even disagreement.
“Within that definition of Catholic is a broad range of opinion, which when you throw it all together and sift it all out you get the wisest way of proceeding,” said Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan. “I’m delighted that we have lay people invited to continue their participation. I have no fears about that. There will be no floodgates let loose that are going to drown us all.”
Though several bishops expressed reservations about media coverage of the synod, they have all watched the process with keen interest and are anxious to see it continue.
“It fires me up, especially when we deal with marriage,” said Archbishop Martin Currie of St. John’s, Nfld.
Currie would like to see Catholics everywhere learn from the debate that unfolded over two weeks in Rome. For the pastoral Currie, the news wasn’t so much disagreements among bishops over how the church speaks about and to gays, or the best way to help divorced and remarried Catholics, as it was its willingness to tackle crucial challenges with open, transparent debate.
“I have a fear sometimes that nothing will happen and we will let people down,” he said. “But I feel we’re moving and we can do something to excite an interest in people — at least, you know, that the church can create an atmosphere of welcoming and acceptance, which is very challenging. I think that’s where we would like to go, where we have to go in some way.”
In Newfoundland, discussion starters and study guides on the St. John’s archdiocesan website might be one way to encourage ordinary Catholics to maintain their engagement with the synod.
“Some people are fearful of one or two changes and other people want to change everything,” Currie said. “But how do we listen faithfully, without fear and being open to what may come?”
Engaging people on questions of evangelizing and family life is already part of the program Bishop Stephen Jenson has put together over the last year-and-a-half that he’s been bishop of Prince George, B.C. Last year saw a diocesan gathering to discuss evangelization and Jenson has launched an Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.
“Evangelizing is happening in the family, where everything needs to happen,” Jenson said. “It’s such a crucial place for human development and for faith development.”
In PEI, Charlottetown Bishop Richard Grecco wants an ever-widening discussion among all Catholics.
“You don’t want the pastors going to the same six people who always volunteer for everything in their parish,” he said.
Grecco is especially attentive to the word “accompaniment” repeated over and over in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. It’s a word that comes up frequently in the pope’s homilies and public remarks.
“You can’t accompany anybody down the road if there’s no hope at the end of the road. You want to accompany them by giving them hope. You want to accompany them by being faithful to your tradition and where you think the road goes,” said Grecco.
While doctrine remains unchanged, the language used to express the doctrine matters, the former professor of moral theology said.
“You can’t walk down the road just barking truth and barking judgments. You have to walk down that road of life and love giving hope, accompanying everybody. Because the holy church is a church of sinners — we’re all sinners. You have to walk down that road in hope. Don’t compromise the church’s teaching,” he said.
In Hamilton, where the 39 questions of the synod preparatory documents were posted online last year, the diocese received more than 1,500 responses. Writing a report based on those responses in a very limited time frame was a nearly impossible task, said Bishop Douglas Crosby. This time Crosby hopes for a process that engages both regular churchgoers and others who are suddenly tuning in to the Catholic conversation.
“I think the discussion is good for us and the engagement of people is good for us,” he said.
In Regina, Bohan laughs off commentaries that said Pope Francis launched a chaotic process that is spinning out of control.
“No, no, no. He knew exactly what was going on and it all fits into his purpose of transparency and dialogue. When Francis talks about the freedom to allow people to express an opinion, I think he’s given us a wonderful example of exactly that in this extraordinary synod. I don’t think there’s been a time since the Second Vatican Council when bishops have come together and had the freedom to say what they truly felt or believed. I think this is a wonderful advancement and it shows there’s nothing there to be afraid of.”