Synod on the Family

Embracing the Joy of Love
The Challenge to Witness to Both the Beauty and Realism of the Catholic Vision of Marriage and Family Life
The Challenge to Form a Culture of Invitation and Hospitality to Unmarried Couples
The Challenge to Welcome, Nurture and Form Children
The Challenge to Provide Pastoral Support for Those Who Are Divorced
The Challenge to Bring Spiritual Depth to Family Life
A Prayer for the Family and the Synod
Embracing the Joy of Love

A Pastoral Message to the People of the Diocese of San Diego

Most Reverend Robert W. McElroy
Bishop of San Diego

Last month, Pope Francis issued an authoritative teaching document on marriage and family life Which I Entitled The Joy of Love . The Joy of Love seeks to invite dioceses THROUGHOUT the world to Enhance Their promotion of marriage and family life, Precisely Because family lies at the heart of the Christian life in the world.

For some time, I Have Been discussing With the Presbyteral Council, the Deans of the diocese, pastoral and lay leadership acerca how best to Respond to Pope Francis’ call to renew marriage and family life in our home church.

THUS in October of this year I will convene a diocesan synod Which Focuses exclusively on the topics of marriage and family life That Pope Francis has raised in The Joy of Love .

A diocesan synod embraces the dimensions of theological reflection, pastoral insight, visioning and governing, All Within the context of a deep spiritual orientation to the wider life of the Church. The Joy of Love : witnessing to the beauty and realism of the Catholic vision of marriage;

AGENDA FOR THE JOY OF LOVE ON THE Synod

The Challenge to Witness to Both the Beauty and Realism of the Catholic Vision of Marriage and Family Life

The Joy of Love is breathtaking in Its portrait of the beauty of married love.

The Church defines marriage as “a community of life and love … love at the center of the family Placing.”

This friendship has Such depth Because It includes a life-time commitment and fidelity.

It is easy to behold this magnificent vision of the nature of married love, and close up commercial The Joy of Love contains an immensely rich reflection on the need for realism in married love.

The growing societal challenges to the Catholic vision of marriage make it all the more essential for the Church to witness to the reality and vision of married love, Most Effectively through the witness of family life itself.

Questions for Deliberation at the Diocesan Synod:
  • How can the Church of the Local San Diego to witness the MOST Effectively Both beauty and the realism of married life and family?
  • Which societal challenges to marriage and culture are powerful in our diocese MOST?
  • What steps can take to support the parishes permanence of the commitment of married life?
The Challenge to Form a Culture of Invitation and Hospitality to Unmarried Couples

The declining number of Catholics WHO marry in the Church is pastoral an enormous problem in the diocese of San Diego and THROUGHOUT the nation.

The chief obstacle to building a culture Such Effectively Is That MOST Catholic young adults are not Involved in the life of the Church.

Another obstacle That the Church faces in forming a Catholic Effectively culture of marriage That is immense numbers of young Catholic couples intend to marry WHO fully in the Church live together before marriage Their Catholic.

In approaching couples in all of These Situations, Pope Francis That we must be states consistently clear That Catholic marriage in the fullness of moral Its vision remains the requirement for all.

In order to Achieve balance esta Toward the invitational outreach of the Church to couples in civil marriage or cohabiting, The Joy of Love states That must be Such couples “welcomed and guided patiently and discretely.”

The principle of gradualness Reaches far beyond the question of marriage to embrace all elements of the Christian moral life, for it really is an Embodiment of the pastoral method of the Lord himself.

The challenge to build a culture of invitation and hospitality for couples Who are not yet married requires us to examine practices Which, while They Have A Certain legitimacy, alienate young couples and leave them feeling That They are unwanted in the life of the Church.

In forming couples for marriage, Pope Francis challenges parishes to provide “a pedagogy of love, attuned to the feelings and needs of young people and capable of helping them to grow interiorly.”

For This very reason, Francis Pope calls upon parish Communities to ponder more deeply How They May Provide supportive structures and resources to couples to Sustain Their love and vows in the earliest years of Their marriage.

Questions for Deliberation at the Diocesan Synod:
  • In the light of the work of the Task Force on Young Adults, what direction to deepen ADOPTED Should be the Involvement of young adults in the life of the Church?
  • How can our church Local truly embody the principle of graduality in reaching out to and supporting couples in civil marriages or cohabiting Who are?
  • What practices in our parishes and diocese alienate or couples seeking to frustrate marry in the Church?
  • How can our diocesan and parish Efforts to Provide effective marriage preparation be enhanced?
  • Is there a realistic pathway to building structures of support for married couples They are after?
The Challenge to Welcome, Nurture and Form Children

Marriage by Its very nature contains a desire to bring children into the world, to love them, to sustain them, to educate them, to treasure them.

As every parent knows, the birth of a child fundamentally the lives of mothers and fathers Changes and Their marriages.

The Joy of Love .

,,, Moreover, parents must struggle With The Difficulties created “by current lifestyles, work schedules and the complexity of today’s world, many people Where to keep up frenetic pace just to survive.”

One of the MOST That splendid perspectives The Joy of Love displays That is the understanding the nuclear family is embedded in wider familial relationships Substantially Which can assist the forming of children.

Questions for Deliberation at the Synod:
  • How can the Church in the diocese of San Diego more Effectively communicate to our people the sense of parenting balanced Expressed in The Joy of Love, while helping parents to turn into reality Past That balance?
  • What are the principal cultural distortions healthy parenting Which limit in Imperial and San Diego counties?
  • Specifically, how can we as a Church more Effectively empower our parents as the first teachers in the ways of faith, hope and love?
  • How can the Church better support families in the absence of extended family?
The Challenge to Provide Pastoral Support for Those Who Are Divorced

The Joy of Love makes clear that “special discernment is indispensable for the pastoral care of those who are separated, divorced or abandoned.” This care entails supporting reconciliation in marriages whenever possible and just, but also in recognizing that there are all too many situations of abuse, selfishness and egregious immaturity where divorce is necessary for the protection of a spouse or of children. The Church is called to make more effective pastoral programs of caring, sensitive support available for those undergoing divorce. Special tenderness is prescribed for those who have been unjustly abandoned. Priests and parishes should make every effort to heal the wounds of divorced men and women through the sacraments, catechesis and social outreach. In particular, the Church is called to minister to children who have experienced the divorce of their parents, by bringing sensitivity, faith and hope.

Catholics who are divorced but have not remarried should clearly understand that the existence of a divorce does not preclude them in any way from full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist.

But what of Catholics who have remarried civilly after a divorce?

The Joy of Love powerfully asserts that the Church’s pastoral care for those in second marriages must “allow them not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it …. Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel.”

A central pathway for the Church in providing such pastoral care lies in the ministry of the marriage tribunals in each diocese. Many times, one or both parties to a marriage do not have the intention or capacity to live out the commitments to permanence, fidelity, an openness to children and forming a community of life and love which are essential for entering into a valid Catholic marriage. In such cases, the Church can make a formal declaration that the marriage was never a valid Catholic marriage; this is popularly called an annulment. As a result of the efforts which the Church has taken to simplify procedural elements of the annulment process after the first synod on marriage in 2014, the number of annulment cases in the Diocese of San Diego has doubled. In addition, the diocese has eliminated all fees for annulments in order to remove any possible financial obstacles for Catholics in San Diego and Imperial counties. The granting of an annulment is the optimal step for Catholics who have been divorced and remarried, since it provides an official Church declaration that an individual is free to marry in the Church.

But many Catholics who have been divorced and remarried conclude for a variety of legitimate reasons — many of them arising out of caring concern for the effects that an annulment process might have on the feelings of adult children or former spouses — that they cannot initiate the annulment process. What is their status in the Church?

The Joy of Love emphasizes that no abstract rule can embody the many complexities of the circumstances, intentions, levels of understanding and maturity which originally surrounded the action of a man or woman in entering their first marriage, or which surround the new moral obligations to a spouse or children which have already been produced by a second marriage. Thus, Pope Francis rejects the validity of any blanket assertion that “all those in any [second marriage without benefit of annulment] are living in a state of mortal sin and deprived of sanctifying grace.”

This does not mean that there is not a deep level of contradiction in the life of Catholics who are divorced and remarried, as the Lord Himself noted in the Gospel of Matthew. But Pope Francis explains that, even in the face of substantial contradictions between the Gospel and the existential life of a disciple, the inexorable logic of divine grace seeks ever more progressive reintegration into the full life of the Church. The Joy of Love says: “There are two ways of thinking which recur throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” Pope Francis, following the suggestion of the synod, locates this way of mercy and reinstatement in the discerning conscience of the believer.

Catholic theology and law have long located a role for the discernment of conscience on the question of participation in the life of the Church and the reception of the Eucharist. But the sole question for discernment in this tradition of “the internal forum of conscience” revolved around whether one of the essential elements of the Catholic understanding of marriage had been missing at the time of the first marriage.

Pope Francis widens the focus for this internal reflection of conscience for a Catholic who is divorced and remarried by underscoring that the central question for conscience is “What is my situation before God?” In conversation with a priest, the believer with humility, discretion, and love for the Church and its teachings seeks to reflect upon their level of responsibility for the failure of the first marriage, their care and love for the children of that marriage, the moral obligations which have arisen in their new marriage, and possible harm which their returning to the sacraments might have by undermining the indissolubility of marriage. It is important to underscore that the role of the priest is one of accompaniment, meant to inform the conscience of the discerner on principles of Catholic faith. The priest is not to make decisions for the believer, for as Pope Francis emphasizes in The Joy of Love, the Church is “called to form consciences, not replace them.”

Catholics participating authentically in this discernment of conscience should keep in mind both the permanence of marriage and the teaching of the Church that “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but medicine and nourishment for the weak.” Most importantly, this discernment must always place at the very center the question “What is God asking of me now?”

Many Catholics engaging in this process of discernment will conclude that God is calling them to return to full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist. Many others will conclude that they should wait, or that their return would hurt others.

In pointing to the pathway of conscience for the divorced and remarried, Pope Francis is not enlisting an element of the Christian moral life which is exceptional. For the realm of conscience is precisely where the Christian disciple is called to discern every important moral decision that he or she makes. Rules have an essential role in the life of the believer in conveying the wisdom and grace of the Church and providing a firm check on rationalization. But it is in the act of conscience, well-formed and profoundly considered, that the believer is most Christlike in carrying out his moral mission in the world.

Questions for Deliberation at the Synod:
  1. What are the elements necessary for a robust program of pastoral and spiritual support for those undergoing divorce, both during the process and afterward?
  2. How can the diocese make the annulment process, especially the newly revised process, more accessible for our people?
  3. How should we bring an understanding of the internal forum and conscience to our people, not only regarding the topic of participation for those who are divorced and remarried, but for all Catholics in their moral and spiritual lives?
The Challenge to Bring Spiritual Depth to Family Life

One of the great losses in family life during the past 50 years has been the diminishing role that family prayer and spirituality have in the home. The progressive loss of communal time spent together as a family leaves far fewer opportunities for reflecting upon the central elements of faith and grace. So many couples and families have lost the culture of prayer that enriched family life in the past. Parents find it harder to share with their children the traditions of faith which enriched their own childhood because in their young adult and early married years these prayers and traditions have come to seem distant and foreign to them. Moreover, increasing numbers of young couples are unable to build and sustain a spiritual dimension in their marriage.

The Joy of Love challenges the Church to renew and deepen the spiritual life of families in three ways.

The first is to integrate regular shared prayer into the life of the family. “A few minutes can be found each day to come together before the living God, to tell Him our worries, to ask for the needs of our family, to pray for someone experiencing difficulty, to ask for help in sowing love, to give thanks for life and its blessings, and to ask Our Lady to protect us beneath her maternal mantle. With a few simple words, this moment of prayer can do immense good for our families.”

Pope Francis’ second spiritual challenge is for the family to integrate at its heart a spirituality of care and consolation. In all of its many activities and identities, the family is at its core called to be a reflection on the grace of God present as compassion and care in the lives of each member of the family and reaching far beyond it. “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy.”

The Pope’s final challenge is for families to seek constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love, while not seeking perfection in family life. We must “see in proper perspective the historical journey which we make as families and in this way to stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a consistency which we will only encounter in the Kingdom to come.” Such a spirituality preserves the beautiful aspirations of marriage while embracing the prudence which consoles and confirms family members in the recognition that the presence of shortcomings in our family life is not a sign of family failure, but rather a sign of our humanity.

Questions for Deliberation at the Diocesan Synod:
  1. How can our parishes bring prayer more into the center of family life, with specific attention to the multicultural dimensions of this challenge?
  2. What steps can our Local Church take to increase the participation of families at Mass, particularly in their identities as families?
  3. What specific steps can the diocese take to build a spirituality of care, consolation, love and realism in our families?
  4. How can we promote a substantial spiritual life shared between husbands and wives?
A Prayer for the Family and the Synod
In the final page of The Joy of Love, Pope Francis offers a prayer to the Holy Family which asks:
  • Holy Family of Nazareth
  • Grant that our Families too
  • May Be Places of Communion and Prayer
  • Authentic Schools of the Gospel
  • And Small Domestic Churches

As the Diocese of San Diego moves toward a Synod on the Family this October to culminate our celebration of this Year of Mercy, may we provide leadership in transforming our families ever more fully into authentic schools of the Gospel. May we identify new ways to witness to the beauty and realism of married life which is exclusive, permanent and fruitful. May we build a culture which lovingly invites and prepares men and women to accept ever more deeply in their lives a robust embrace of marriage in its fullness. May we build pathways to enhancing the spiritual depth of family life in San Diego and Imperial counties. And may we minister caringly, effectively and authentically to our brothers and sisters who have experienced divorce.

Holy Family of Nazareth, sustain us in this journey of faith and love.

About Us

Synod History and Update
Objectives
Areas of Discernment / Challenges
Participants
Phases
Synod History and Update

On October 8, 2013, Pope Francis announced that in October 2014 there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on topics related to the family and evangelization. Subsequent communications made clear that the Extraordinary General Assembly would be followed by an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015, on the same topics. On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis issued an his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), which is a result of his prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of both synods.

In anticipation of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Bishop McElroy began discussions between January and March 2016 with the Deans and the Priests’ Council on an appropriate follow-up to this timely topic and important pastoral need in the local church. Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Exhortation in April 2016. With good advice and consent of these two important advisory groups and The Joy of Love in hand, Bishop wrote a Pastoral Message to the People of the Diocese of San Diego in May, 2016, Embracing the Joy of Love. In this document, Bishop called for a Diocesan Synod which would be held in fall of 2016. Although various bishops in the United States have issued statements in response to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, the Diocese of San Diego is the first to have a Synod to come up with ways to implement key pastoral insights of the Holy Father in the local church.

Goal of the synod: to “provide a moment of profound renewal and growth in our ecclesial support of families in San Diego and Imperial Counties. It will also provide leadership in transforming our families ever more fully into authentic schools of the Gospel and be a genuine reflection of mercy and compassion of God in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.”

Objectives

Objectives: The synod will:

  1. Identify new ways to witness to the beauty and realism of married life which is exclusive, permanent and fruitful
  2. Build a culture which lovingly invites and prepares men and women to accept ever more deeply in their lives a robust embrace of marriage in its fullness
  3. Build pathways to enhancing the spiritual depth of family life in San Diego and Imperial Counties
  4. Minister caringly, effectively and authentically to our brothers and sisters who have experienced divorce
Areas of Discernment / Challenges

Areas of Discernment: The synod will discern the following five challenges in five challenge working groups and answer the respective questions:

  1. The challenge to witness to both the beauty and realism of the Catholic vision of marriage and family life
    1. How can the local Church of San Diego witness most effectively to both the beauty and the realism of married life and family?
    2. Which societal and cultural challenges to marriage are most powerful in our diocese?
    3. What steps can parishes take to support the permanence of the commitment of married life?
  2. The challenge to form a culture of invitation and hospitality to unmarried couples
    1. In the light of the work of the Task Force on Young Adults, what direction should be adopted to deepen the involvement of young adults in the life of the Church?
    2. How can our local church truly embody the principle of gradually in reaching out to and supporting couples who are in civil marriages or cohabiting?
    3. What practice in our parishes and diocese alienate or frustrate couples seeking to marry in the Church?
    4. How can our diocesan and parish efforts to provide effective marriage preparation be enhanced?
    5. Is there a realistic pathway to building structures of support for couples after they are married?
  3. The challenge to welcome, nurture and form children
    1. How can the Church in the Diocese of San Diego more effectively communicate to our people the balanced sense of parenting expressed in The Joy of Love, while also helping parents to turn that balance into reality?
    2. What are the principal cultural distortions which limit healthy parenting in Imperial and San Diego Counties?
    3. Specifically, how can we as a Church more effectively empower our parents as first teachers in the ways of faith, hope and love?
    4. How can the Church better support families in the absence of extended family?
  4. Challenge to provide authentic pastoral support for those who are divorced
    1. What are the elements necessary for a robust program of pastoral and spiritual support for those undergoing divorce, both during the process and afterward?
    2. How can the diocese make the annulment process more accessible for our people?
    3. How should we bring an understanding of the internal forum and conscience to our people, not only regarding the topic of participation for those who are divorced and remarried, but for all Catholics in their moral and spiritual lives?
  5. Challenge to bring spiritual depth to family life
    1. How can our parishes bring prayer more into the center of family life, with specific attention to the multi-cultural dimensions of this challenge?
    2. What steps can our local church take to increase the participation of families at Mass, particularly in their identities as families?
    3. What specific steps can the diocese take to build a spirituality of care, consolation, love and realism in our families?
    4. How can we promote a substantial spiritual life shared between husbands and wives?
    5. What can lead to a spirituality of evangelization and solidarity in family life rather than a spirituality of insularity?

Process: The diocesan synod is the most significant level of dialogue, discernment and decision in the life of the diocese. In a deep spiritual orientation to the wider life of the Church, the synod will embrace:

  1. Theological reflection
  2. Pastoral insight
  3. Visioning
  4. Governance
Participants

Participants: All 100 parishes in the diocese will be represented with the majority overwhelming lay men and women. Deans and members of the Priests’ Council (24) will represent their parishes. All other parishes will have one lay person designated (76). Approximately 10 at-large delegates are appointed by Bishop.

In addition to delegates, six local theologians from within the Diocese are appointed by Bishop. Theologians will share their theological reflection, pastoral insight and visioning throughout the working groups process leading towards goals. They are: from the Franciscan School of Theology, Maureen Day, PhD, from the University of San Diego, Msgr. Daniel Dillabough, STD, Emily Reimer-Barry, PhD, Sr. Tobie Tondi, SHCJ, STD, and serving leadership roles in the diocese, Fr. Michael Murphy, STL and Bernadeane Carr, STL. Each local theologian is assigned to one of the five Challenge Working Groups.

Ten facilitators from within the Diocese of San Diego are appointed by Bishop. Two facilitators are appointed to work in each of the five Challenge Working Groups and work closely with the Synod Coordinator. Each of them is serving in leadership roles as directors and associate directors of diocesan ministries. The facilitators keep the working groups focusing on coming up with SMART goals and assist in processing the feedback from the general sessions. They will also record any input from the general sessions for their particular working group.

Five recorders are appointed to serve in the five Challenge Working Groups. Each recorder will have the proposals from their particular Saturday working groups. They will edit any input from the working group for presentation to the general sessions. During the breaks, they will make copies to be distributed to all of the delegates.

In addition, Msgr. John Strynkowski, former Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, is appointed by Bishop to serve as theologian to the General Assembly. Fr. John Hurley, CSP, former Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Evangelization, is serving as Synod Coordinator and will serve as facilitator for the General Assembly.

The General Assembly Theologian, Msgr. Strynkowski, is working on a “white paper” which will attempt to set the tone for discussion at the General Assembly synthesizing all the input for the 19 challenge questions presented by Bishop. This will not be done in isolation. Msgr. Strynkowski will receive all input from the listening sessions and initial work done by the five Challenge Working Groups on the five Saturdays preceding the General Assembly. His visioning and governance perspectives along with his theological and pastoral insights will then be shared with all the delegates two weeks prior to the General Assembly.

Phases

The synodal process is made up of seven phases.

  • Phase I: Selection of Delegates May – June 2016/Completed
  • Phase II: Assignment to Challenge Working Groups June – August 15/Completed
  • Phase III: Parish Listening Sessions August – September 2016
  • Phase IV: Synod Saturday Challenge Working Groups August 20 – October 1, 2016
  • Phase V: Synod General Assembly & Working Groups October 29-30, 2016
  • Phase VI: Bishop’s discernment with key leadership and pastoral message to the Diocese November 2016
  • Phase VII: Commission/Committee Implementation Begins November/December 2016

Phase I: Deans and members of the Priests’ Council (24) will be ex-officio delegates from their respective parishes. The pastors in the remaining 76 parishes will nominate a person from their parish to serve as a delegate to the Synod. In all cases, Bishop accepted these nominations. He also appointed a few additional delegates for pastoral considerations.

Phase II: All delegates will serve in one of the five Challenge Working Groups and were given the opportunity to submit up to three preferences. Delegates chose these working groups based on areas of interest and dates available. In most cases, first preference was granted and in some cases for balancing working groups, second preferences were assigned.

Phase III: Each delegate was encouraged to have a listening session in their respective parish given their particular assigned challenge. Bishop and the Synod Coordinator realized that this may be a challenge in itself given the summer months. However, it is estimated that at least 25% of parishes are conducting listening sessions with over 1500 participants. Executive Summaries from the listening sessions will be provided first to their respective Challenge Working Groups and then to all of the delegates for the General Assembly.

Phase IV: The Synod formally begins on August 20 with the meeting of the first Challenge Working Group. The last working group meets on October 1, 2016. Each of these groups will have 25-30 participants including theologians and facilitators. These groups will do preliminary work on goals given their personal interest, responses from parish listening sessions, and group discussion.

Phase V: After the opening ritual and prayer along with Bishop McElroy’s welcome, the facilitators from each of the five Challenge Working Groups will present the goals from the five previous Saturday sessions. The assembly will be divided into 13 groups of 10 for discussion. These groups will share affirmations, suggestions, and recommendations. This will be taken to the respective working groups for ongoing discernment. However, before returning to each working group, the General Assembly theologian will share his vision, theological, pastoral and governance reflections based on input from delegates. This process will be repeated throughout the two days. In the last session, all delegates will have the opportunity to select one or two of their top priorities. One major goal will be selected for each of the 19 challenge questions presented by Bishop in his pastoral message, Embracing the Joy of Love. All goals however, will be retained for implementation after each goal in one of the five respective challenge areas is completed.

Phase VI: After receiving the goals from the General Assembly, Bishop will take time to reflect on them and discuss with the Deans, Priests’ Council and other appropriate leadership in the diocese prior to his promulgation of priorities set forth in the Synod and its process.

Phase VII: Conversations are already in place for oversight on implementation of Synod goals It is also recognized that some goals may impact this implementation with regard to governance structures with some goals coming from the General Assembly. Cultural diversity will play a key role in this implementation process. More to come on this particular and important area as the Synod process continues.

Contacts

Ricardo J. Marquez, Ph.D
Associate Director
Phone: (858) 490-8295
rmarquezsdcatholic.org
Janelle Peregoy
Associate Director, Separated & Divorced Ministry
Phone: (858) 490-8292
JPeregoysdcatholic.org
Nora Mendez
Administrative Assistant
Phone: (858) 490-8299
nmendezsdcatholic.org
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