In preparation for the 2015 Ordinary Synod of Bishops that will take place October 4-25 in Rome, the Archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office assisted Cardinal Dolan by soliciting and synthesizing input from the faithful for His Eminence’s review and reflection. A preparatory document called the Lineamenta, which included 46 questions on the pastoral care related to families, was sent to the world’s bishops’ conferences. The bishops were then asked to deliberate over these, and to also involve the faithful in sharing their input.
The 2015 Synod, which will address “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World,” is a follow-up to last October’s Extraordinary Synod. In both cases, since the timeframes to complete responses for this Vatican initiative were very short, two different approaches were used to gather feedback for the Cardinal’s use at each Synod.
In preparation for the 2014 Synod, Cardinal Dolan asked three distinct and specific groups of pastoral/ministerial leaders to assist in his response to the 39 questions from the Vatican. For this year’s Synod, the Cardinal wanted to involve a broader reach of the faithful of the Archdiocese by use of an online questionnaire. As such, a team of consulters from the Family Life/Respect Life Office, the Catechetical Office, the Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs Office and the Hispanic Ministry Office streamlined the 46 questions into smaller sets of questions delineated for response by either pastoral/ministerial leaders (16 questions), or for the “people in the pews” (19 questions).
2015 Solicitation of Feedback
Thirty-plus pastoral/ministerial leaders within the Archdiocese recognized for possessing insight, knowledge and/or experience on the issues of marriage and family were invited to respond to the 16 questions in writing. They were asked to provide answers to only those questions relevant to their work within the Church. The responses of those who participated were summarized and provided in a separate report to the Cardinal for his review and reflection.
For the “people in the pews,” a 19-question online survey was published on Feb. 20 (in both English and Spanish) on a special “Synod” webpage that the Family Life/Respect Life Office created at nyfamilylife.org/synod. Pastors were encouraged to invite the faithful to participate in sharing their input with the Cardinal through this questionnaire. Before submitting answers, the respondents were also asked to familiarize themselves with the synod documentation (especially the Lineamenta, which included the final report from last year’s Extraordinary Synod, the Relatio Synodi). The Synod webpage was also a venue for engaging the faithful and informing them about various aspects of the upcoming Synod.
The 2015 Questions
The original 46 Lineamenta questions seemed to be written more for bishops’ discussion and not necessarily for surveying the general laity. Since the questions were dense and technical, making them difficult to understand for most readers, rephrasing the questions was a necessary task.
In reformulating the questions, the archdiocesan team sought to retain the intent of the author of the Lineamenta questions. As such, much of the original language was used in the online questionnaire. Review and study of other (arch)diocesan approaches and questionnaires, as well as collaboration with neighboring dioceses, helped in the development of more easily understandable questions. Below is a sampling of some of the questions included in the Archdiocese of New York’s online questionnaire:
• How do you and your family experience God in your lives?
• How can your parish help you or your family experience God?
• How do you or your family incorporate Sacred Scripture in your lives?
• Are you aware of the sustaining grace that comes from the sacrament of marriage?
• How do you or your family experience God’s mercy?
• How can your parish help you or your family experience God’s mercy?
• What initiatives does your parish have in place to support and strengthen the bonds of marriage, including supporting newly married couples during their early years of marriage?
• How do economic and social factors impact your family? Families in your parish? Families in general?
• How can the Church and Christian community help pastorally guide couples civilly married or living together toward growth and conversion into the Sacrament of Marriage?
• How can the Church and Christian community give pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies and their families?
Once the online questionnaire was closed on March 7, the team of consulters synthesized and summarized the responses. This summary was incorporated into a more comprehensive report that would assist Cardinal Dolan when he participates in the October Synod on the Family.
This year between the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, highlighted by the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, is a time for the entire Church to pray and reflect on its pastoral care of the family. The Archdiocese, and especially the Family Life/Respect Life Office, anticipates with the joy the fruitfulness that will emerge from the two synods. Following the October Synod of Bishops in Rome, the Archdiocese will engage in a period of re-evaluation and refocusing of its programs and outreach to families.
Dr. Wither is director of the Archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office.