The Synod of Bishops has released the instrumentum laboris, or working document, for its upcoming 3rd extraordinary general assembly, which will take place from October 5 to 19.
The instrumentum laboris acknowledges the severe difficulties facing the family today, and “the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church” and those prevailing in contemporary societies. The 75-page document suggests that most people— including many Catholics—are not acquainted with the Christian vision of marriage.
While showing clear support for Church teachings on controversial issues such as birth control, divorce, remarriage, and same-sex unions, the document underlines the need for respectful treatment of those who do not share the Church’s vision, and pastoral care for those Catholics who find themselves in difficult marital situations.
The synod, announced by Pope Francis on October 8, is devoted to “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” In November, the Synod of Bishops sent a preparatory document in which the world’s bishops were asked to respond to questions related to nine different topics, from “the diffusion of the teachings on the family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium” to “the relationship between the family and the person.”
The instrumentum laboris, dated June 24 and published on June 26, is a 159-paragraph summary of the responses received from the world’s bishops, as well as from individuals and institutions.
The document repeatedly acknowledges that many Catholics are unaware of or reject certain aspects of Catholic teaching on the family. It also summarizes the bishops’ varied proposals to address various pastoral challenges.
For example, the document states that “very many responses, especially in Europe and North America request streamlining the procedure for marriage annulments” (no. 96), although “some responses urge caution and point out the following risks in streamlining, simplifying or reducing the process: injustices and errors could result; the impression might be given that the indissolubility of the Sacrament is not respected; the change might lead to abuses and create in young people’s minds the idea that marriage is not a life-long commitment; and the action might bolster the mistaken idea that an annulment is simply ‘Catholic divorce’” (no. 99).
The document has three parts.
The document’s first part, “Communicating the Gospel of the Family in Today’s World,” offers a brief overview of biblical teaching and recent magisterial documents on the family (nos. 1-7) before surveying “the knowledge and acceptance of the teachings on marriage and the family from Sacred Scripture and Church documents” (nos. 8-19). The document found that “in places with a vibrant Christian tradition and a well-organized pastoral program, people are responsive to the Christian doctrine on marriage and the family. In other places, many Christians, for various reasons, are found to be unaware of the very existence of this teaching” (no. 8).
In its summary of “the Gospel of the Family and the natural law” (nos. 20-30), the working document states that “very few responses and observations demonstrated an adequate, popular understanding of the natural law … The demise of the concept of the natural law tends to eliminate the interconnection of love, sexuality and fertility, which is understood to be the essence of marriage. Consequently, many aspects of the Church’s sexual morality are not understood today. This is also a result of a certain criticism of the natural law, even by a number of theologians” (nos. 21, 26).
The first part concludes with an examination of “the family and vocation of the person in Christ” (nos. 31-49).