Last Thursday, June 26, the Office of the Synod in Rome released the text of the Instrumentum laboris which is the basic working document for the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place in the Vatican for two weeks this coming of October. This Extraordinary Synod is preparatory for an Ordinary Synod which will be convened a year later for four weeks in the Vatican.

This Working Document is the product of the first consultation on the subject that was sent out to the bishops in November of last year. Shortly after sending it out, Cardinal Baldisseri, the Synod Secretary, announced that the Holy Father wanted the bishops not only to offer their comments but also to invite anyone else who so wished to offer their comments. At the meeting of the U.S. Bishops later that month we discussed this and, although the time for doing this was very limited, did our best to invite people to respond if they wished. In our diocese we placed the document on a special website to make it easier for those who wished to respond. Some fifty responses came from our diocese, each of which was transmitted in its entirety to the Synod Office along with my own comments.

The Instrumentum laboris will be the document used by the bishops in Synod as a reference point for their discussions. Participating from our country will be the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, along with two members of the Synod Council, Cardinals Donald Wuerl and Timothy Dolan

Over the weekend I had a chance to read the document closely. It is a fine piece of work. Those of you who read or scan the National Catholic  Reporter will note that Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, calls the document boring and joyless. He can say what he wants, but it is anything but. First, it is truthful and accurate in two ways. One is that it presents the Church’s teaching on marriage and family faithfully and clearly. Second, it does not hide any of the challenges that marriage and family face in today’s world. The beauty of marriage in the teaching of Jesus and the Church’s tradition is present throughout. The challenges that many people face entering into marriage, living out their marriage, and raising children are also recognized. With a great sense of pastoral care and understanding, the authors have invited the bishops to look at the challenges and commit themselves to honest discussions, holding to the truths, but seeking to make the Church’s teaching better understood and finding the ways to be pastorally more attentive to the legitimate questions and difficulties married couples and couples seeking to be married have in today’s society.

I have no idea if the Synod Office is going to ask for reactions from bishops and/or lay faithful about this Working Document. I would guess not. If I am wrong, I’ll do my best to solicit your thoughts and responses. In the meantime, you can read the Instrumentum laboris yourself by going on line to www.vatican.va.  Don’t worry, the title is in Latin but the text is in all the major languages, including English.

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