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Concerns regarding the 2014 Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

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This letter expresses the thoughts of many concerning the 2014 Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The pastoral care of families in the context of evangelisation.” 

Dear Pope Francis,

We trust that our proposals, in letters dated September 19 and November 27, 2013 and signed by Catholic organizations and individuals throughout the world, have been helpful to you. In anticipation of your third Advisory Council meeting, we now send this letter concerning the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to be held in October 2014.

We welcome your decision to convene this Synod and to engage the pressing pastoral challenges of the family in the context of the Gospel. In a recent homily you asked: “How do we keep our faith as a family?” We have struggled with this very question as a critical aspect of our own lives and for those of so many in our Church communities. We all see our Church at a crossroads where you offer hope for compassionate renewal.

We particularly welcome your unprecedented call for “input from local sources” via the distribution of the questionnaire from Archbishop Baldisseri, recognizing the importance of the sensus fideliumto the teaching authority of the universal Church. This initiative begins to address the need you identified in Evangelii Gaudium to promote the growth of the responsibility of the laity, so often kept “away from decision-making” by “an excessive clericalism.” In our opinion, we would hope this survey might go even further, with the Holy Spirit’s expression through the voices of the faithful entering into the entire process which lies ahead.

You are no doubt aware that there are very different approaches by bishops and their conferences to the Synod’s request for local input on the 39 questions contained in the questionnaire. While some conferences have facilitated some participation among the faithful in this challenging survey, most have made minimal attempts to engage communities of parishioners in this vital dialogue.

It is our deeply held conviction that in addition to the information that may be gathered through questionnaires, an effective Synod on the Family requires the participation of committed Catholic women and men from the diverse regions of the universal Church at all stages of the Synod. For example, in order to allow for research, discussion, debate, and recommendations, we would suggest that you call on every diocese in the world to hold a diocesan synod in 2014 to discuss the topic, and direct every diocesan bishop to encourage every Catholic in the diocese to offer input. Discussion at these synods should be open and respectful. The conclusions and recommendations of each diocesan synod would then be submitted either directly to the Synod of Bishops preparatory commission, or, preferably, to a specially convened National or Plenary Synod with lay participants constituting at least half of all the synod members, and with a high proportion of women to offset the lack of female input in Church governance. We anticipate that this process would lead naturally into meaningful representation from the laity at the ultimate Synod of the Family. After all, what would a “Family Synod” be without those living as families being included?

Pope Francis, we respectfully offer our assistance and experience gained from living Christian lives as families in all their various forms. We look forward to confirmation of your receipt of this letter, and, in due course, your response to our proposal for the involvement of committed Catholic women and men in the Extraordinary Synod and its formal preparations. We again assure you of our prayers for you and our deep concern for making visible Christ’s mission of love and justice among the families of our world. 

Yours in Christ,

A worldwide network of Catholics and Catholic Organizations
[list of signers and organizations attached]

CC: Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Vatican City state administration
Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, Archbishop Emeritus of Santiago, Chile
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, India
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Congo
Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, USA
Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia
Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras

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