The bishops of the world have started sending Rome their responses to the questionnaire put out by the preparation committee for the Extraordinary Synod on "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization" that will take place next October.
In many countries, bishops have taken the unprecedented step of inviting the participation of the entire local Church in formulating the response.
The bishops of the German-speaking countries have recently attracted international attention because their reports make it clear that while the People of God in their countries are committed to the Church, they do not fully understand or accept various teachings that touch upon sex, especially those concerning birth control, remarriage after the failure of a previous marriage and cohabitation before marriage.
As more responses are submitted and made public, we will probably find that the same is true of Catholics in many countries, certainly in the West, though increasingly elsewhere as well. It may be that the Spirit-infused sensus fidelium (consensus of the faithful, laity as well as clergy) is calling for a reexamination of the ways in which we live as sexual people in the Church, even though some of those ways are ancient. The Synod will have to take these attitudes into account, even if ultimately the bishops reject them in part or in toto.
Readers of ucanews.com will, of course, be interested in knowing what our bishops in Asia are presenting to Rome in preparation for the Synod. But, will we know? While at least some of Asia’s bishops have already sent their responses to Rome, I am not aware of any bishops’ conference from this continent that has published those responses.
It would be a mistake, bad manners and even an injustice not to do so.
After all, the bishops are speaking as leaders of local Churches, speaking about those local Churches. They are presenting to the other Synod participants a picture of the reality faced by the People of God in their various countries. Surely those people have a right to know what is being said about them and on their behalf. Telling them is simply good manners.
Reading the bishops’ summary of the situation in any country can, if accurate, give the people of that place an organized, thought-out overview of their own lives that will become matter for reflection, discussion and prayer. As is often the case, we do not really know important things about ourselves until someone points them out to us.
If people were to know not only their own bishops’ responses, but those of bishops from other nations, it might deepen their sense of communion with fellow Catholics in other places as they see how their situations, concerns and hopes are either shared or differ.
Knowing the input of their bishops will, after the Synod is over, enable the people about whom the Synod deliberates to know how much attention the bishops gathered in Rome actually gave to their concerns and situations. In other words, will the responses shape the Synod’s agenda and content, or have they merely been a pro forma exercise, simply one more step, an unimportant one at that, in the process?
And, finally, giving the bishops’ reports to the lay people about whom the reports have been written will provide readers an opportunity to see if their bishops really see, understand and care about the actual situation of the people entrusted to their pastoral ministry. A common critique of bishops is that they are more focused on Rome and institutional concerns than on their own people. Publishing their responses to a questionnaire so intimately concerned with the lives of their people will provide either refutation or proof of that criticism. That would either give Catholics deeper confidence in their leaders or challenge those leaders to change their focus.
Local Catholic media will undoubtedly be happy to disseminate those responses in local languages and UCAN is ready to make English-language versions available to an international audience.
So, bishops of Asia, share with us your insights, observations and comments as you have prepared them for the Synod.
Fr William Grimm is publisher of ucanews.com, based in Tokyo.