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November 18, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
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Bishops eager to hear
Catholics' input for synod
 

Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

U.S. bishops are excited and happy to be able to consult everyday Catholics about the challenges to family life.

"We like the topic. It's extremely timely for the life of the Church in Oakland and the United States," said Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, of Oakland on Nov. 13. Bishop Barber was attending the U.S. conference of bishops meeting in Baltimore through Nov. 14.

"All the bishops are excited by the upcoming Synod on Marriage and Family Life, especially with the interest shown by lay people and the clergy in the Catholic Church around the world," he said.

The meeting, or synod, of bishops was called by Pope Francis for next October. The Vatican sent out a worldwide query to gather information about family life. While not a poll, there has been great interest from Catholics, many of whom are anxious to weigh in on questions the Vatican has sent out in preparation for the session.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan told the bishops he's awaiting clarification from the Holy See about how preparatory material, such as the answers to a questionnaire sent to the world's bishops' conferences, will be used.

 
Oakland diocese
The Diocese of Oakland, like other dioceses and organizations, is considering the best ways to respond to the call to identify pastoral challenges to the family in advance of the Synod of Bishops in October.

Tentatively, in one of two ways:

• Via link on the websites of The Catholic Voice www.catholicvoiceoakland.org
or the diocese www.oakdiocese.org

• Or via a written and mailed questionnaire available at your parish.

Click here for related story.
 
Bishop Barber noted the 250 bishops at the conference discussed the challenges — converting the eight pages of questions into a document easily answerable by the people. Many of the questions are essay-type and "presume a theological background that may not be easily understood by everyone. That said, we still want to make a consultation," Bishop Barber said.

All the people's responses will be taken seriously, he said.

He said the bishops agreed they wanted a broad consultation from the people, and they would not try to interpret the data collected.

"People are looking right now at us and wondering what are we going to do. We're not (US dioceses) all going to do it in the same way," Bishop Barber said.

One problem, the bishop said, was that after two hours of meetings, the bishops appeared to be going different ways with no single format on gathering data. The other problem is time. All dioceses must have their reports to the USCCB in Washington by Dec. 31.

"Some dioceses are having each parish council answer the questions, then send them to the bishop," he said. Others like Chicago, have questions on the diocesan website, and ask people to print them out, answer them and mail them back. Others are using an online survey service.

Bishop Barber said the diocese was adopting a two-pronged approach.

• A link on the diocesan website to provide input online. "This is our concrete way of providing the widest possible consultation possible."

• For those who prefer, people can collect a questionnaire from their parish, fill it out and either give it back to the parish to be mailed in, or mail it directly to the Department for Evangelization and Catechesis at the Chancery, 2121 Harrison St., Suite 100, Oakland 94612.

The bishop added that Keith Borchers, director of DEC, is in charge of the consultation process for the diocese. The bishop will send in the diocese's collected results to the USCCB in Washington for compilation with the other USA dioceses, which will then be sent to Rome for the synod.

Cardinal Dolan said he didn't think it would constitute skating on thin ice to say that any bishop could rework the questions from the Vatican so that they are clear to the general public.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said he has asked for the questionnaire to be made available on the archdiocesan website.

Archbishop Chaput observed that the bishops of Great Britain have created a website to be used nationwide for people to weigh in on the questions for the synod.

"I've had emails saying people expect to do this," Archbishop Chaput said.

Cardinal Dolan and Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who has participated in numerous synods, bantered a bit about how the preparatory questions are sort of an antipasto before the main course of the full synod and the "dolce" or dessert course, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation that typically follows.

(Catholic News Service contributed to this report.)

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