CATHOLICS in Brisbane archdiocese and throughout the universal Church can give input into 38 questions on how Church teaching on marriage and family is promoted and how well it is accepted.
Responses are to be summarised and sent to the Vatican by the end of January. The questions are part of a preparatory document for the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, which will be held in October 2014.
Challenges to the traditional family structure including same-sex unions, divorce, surrogate motherhood and polygamy are mentioned in the document.
A summary of the responses will in turn feed into a second gathering – a world Synod of Bishops on the family, held in 2015 to seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said at this stage he had made no decision on how the consultation process would be handled in Brisbane.
“However, I’m happy for a consultation to take place as widely as reasonably possible,” he said.
“The matter will also be discussed at the Bishops’ (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference) meeting at the end of this month.
“Discussions may produce an approach which is national rather than purely local.
“That would make sense, given the key issues in the area of marriage and family are national rather than local.”
The extraordinary synod on Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelisation was convoked by Pope Francis for October 5-19 and will bring together presidents of bishops’ conferences, heads of Eastern Catholic churches and heads of Holy See offices.
The questionnaire asks bishops to describe how people understand Church teaching, how their local churches and Catholic movements try to promote it and what difficulties people face in accepting the teaching.
Synod organisers ask the bishops to estimate the percentage of local Catholics living together without being married, the percentage of those divorced and remarried, and the proportion of children and adolescents in their dioceses who are living in families in those situations.
Bishops are asked for suggestions about the advisability of simplifying Church annulment procedures and for suggestions on how that might be done. The questionnaire surveys the bishops about the legal status of same-sex unions in their area and efforts to defend traditional marriage.
It also asks them what kind of “pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live” in same-sex unions and, in places where they can adopt children, what can be done to transmit the faith to them.
Several questions focus on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae and Church teaching on family and life and the use of artificial contraception.
The document notes that: “Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.” It speaks of a consequent “urgency with which the worldwide episcopate is called to address such challenges”.