By Paul Dobbyn
BRISBANE’S Paul and Libby Blom are in some senses the typical modern family raising their four children while juggling all the demands of an increasingly frantic society.
Yet, as members of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council (ACMFC), an advisory body to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the couple are also required to stand above their immediate concerns and look to the bigger picture.
“As members of the ACMFC, we are required to be the voice of the people speaking directly to the bishops,” Mrs Blom said.
“We need to be evaluating the stresses and strains on families and giving input into various ways in which the Church can give support.”
The Bloms, like many others around the world, are awaiting the outcome of this year’s Vatican inquiry into the modern family with considerable interest.
Last year Pope Francis announced he had convened the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held from October 5 to 19, on the theme “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”.
Bishops around the world then received a Preparatory Document (questionnaire) seeking worldwide responses to gauge pastoral challenges relating to the family.
The Bloms were among representatives of Catholic family councils around the world who gave input into the document. Responses also came from other interested parties in parishes.
Among topics they have wrestled with are the Church’s responsibility to families and why many members of the Church do not understand what the Church teaches on family.
“There’s also the question of what are the real, practical formation programs through which the truths of faith on the family might be presented,” Mr Blom said.
One of the couple’s guiding principles is Pope Francis’ statement that: “We must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity”.
“Which brings us to the modern secular challenge to traditional notions of family,” Mr Blom said.
“In the modern world the Church has taken a back seat on many issues because secular teachings and understanding are preferred by many people, particularly since the 1960s.
“Society has progressed to accept and even embrace many different notions that were not seen as acceptable pre-1960, for example homosexuality, child birth outside of marriage, cohabiting before marriage, divorce, birth control, just to name a few.”
Recently, the Instrumentum Laboris (Working Document) for the synod of was released.
Director of the Queensland Bioethics Centre and John Paul II Centre for Family and Life Dr Ray Campbell said “the purpose of the document is primarily to highlight the challenges which face the family and the Church’s mission to the family today”.
“But it also indicates some responses to the challenges,” he said.
“It is a mixture of theology, reporting of the responses, some commentary and suggestions for the future.
“The document recognises a ‘widespread cultural, social and spiritual crisis’ which poses ‘a challenge in the Church’s work of evangelising the family’.”
Dr Campbell said the document also noted “a general lack of understanding of the meaning of natural law, and because of that we tend to lose ‘the interconnection of love, sexuality and fertility, which is understood to be the essence of marriage’.”
The Bloms acknowledge the considerable challenges facing the Church on this mission of support and education.
They also have a clear vision of what would represent some good outcomes from the Vatican’s October assembly on the family.
“We would like to see the reaffirmation of the unique value to society of the mutual and complementary roles of a mother and father,” they said.
“There also needs to be more practical ways of encouraging and supporting couples who are committed to a loving and life-long relationship to each other in marriage.
“At the same time there needs to be more merciful ways to respond to what is happening in society when addressing the areas of homosexuality, child birth outside of marriage, cohabiting before marriage, divorce, birth control, just to name a few.”