ROME — As the Synod of Bishops on the family enters its final phase, some participants believe too much attention is being given to a handful of what Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin called the “celebrity issues,” such as divorce and re-marriage, homosexuality, and contraception.
These three issues, though important because of controversies that arise in Western countries, take up just eight paragraphs in the synod’s 83-page cornerstone document. Called Instrumentum Laboris, its content was formed with the responses to a questionnaire sent out by Pope Francis to every diocese in the world last year.
In a pre-Synod interview, British Cardinal Vincent Nichols told Crux that “in some ways, it’s easy to say that there are key clashes and let’s not talk about anything else. But we will be coming back to the title of the synod, which is ‘the pastoral care of the family in the context of evangelization.’”
“People are looking for support in the highest values they aspire to, and helping passing them on to the next generation,” Nichols said, describing that as the real purpose of the present synod.
“I think that it’s with this in mind that we need to rediscover the sacramentality of marriage and family life, the home as a holy place,” he said.
According to Nichols, financial pressure, the balancing act of sustaining a family with very high cost for housing and transport, and the need of both parents working outside the home to make ends meet generates “an evident tension between the spouses and it reflects to their children” and is another issue that the synod should reflect upon.
“The home is a reason for pride, is a place for popular devotion,” Nichols said. “We have a lot to do, and it’s a very exciting moment.”
Maria Llanos, a Spaniard and one of the lay people in the synod, told Crux that as of Friday, “there was some uneasiness from some bishops that believe the issue of the divorce and remarriage got more attention than it deserved and that other, more pressing matters, were left out.”
In her opinion, the Church should be focusing more on the decrease of marriages, not on the increase of divorces.
“Why is it that people don’t get married anymore? Why is it that Catholic families have the same problems than the rest?”
Addressing the Synod of Bishop on Friday morning, Llanos urged the prelates to focus particularly on the formation of priests to ensure they are prepared to assist families.
“Not only in the wedding, in challenging pastoral situations or after divorce,” she said. “The attention should be on keeping families together.”
Polish Bishop Marek Mendyk, from the diocese of Legnica, has a similar view. He says the synod should draw attention to the preparation for marriage, raising awareness and a sense of responsibility between spouses for the future of the family they build.
“Clearly there is a need for a reliable catechesis before marriage,” Mendyk said, referring to teaching people the content of the Catholic faith.
The U.K. saw this after a government-backed study found that encouraging couples to go to marriage courses or relationship counselling sessions could ultimately save taxpayers billions of pounds a year by reducing family break-up.
Divorce and separation cost England an average of 30 billion pounds in benefits for single parents, housing, health care, and the criminal justice system. The numbers are even higher if the statistics of the British Youth Justice Board are included. According to the board, 70 percent of young inmates in custody have an absent father.
Researchers also found that the most statistically significant effects in keeping marriages together could be found among those who attended marriage preparation courses run by the Roman Catholic charity Marriage Care.
During the synod, bishops from Middle East and African countries have shared their preoccupation over families torn apart as a result of immigration, yet based on the information given through Vatican daily briefings, the topic was barely considered by European bishops.
On a press conference held on Saturday, Martin said that the prelates are conscious of the problem and the necessity to address it, but “no ideas have been given.”
“We need an international pressure, with an emphasis on the family, to put an end to this tragedy,” he said.
According to Frontex, the European Union border agency, 42,000 illegal immigrants reached the EU between January and April, four times more than in the same period last year.
Additionally, Italian authorities have reported that during May a further 14,000 migrants have arrived in the country’s territory – through key central Mediterranean routes for illegal immigration – bringing the total so far this year to at least 55,000.
This causes thousands of families to break apart, with one of the spouses leaving the other behind, or both parents fleeing the country, making grandparents responsible for the minors, or entire families leaving a country, leaving the grandparents behind because they wouldn’t survive the trip. In many cases, it’s the children who travel alone as a desperate attempt from their parents to save them from war, hunger or religious oppression.
Mendyk told Crux that the synod’s final document, to be drawn after next year’s summit, should receive a particular directory from the pastoral care of families.
For the Polish prelate, it should take into account the mentality, the culture, the degree of religiosity together with the awareness and the sensitivity of faith, but also paying attention to the language and the way its communicated to people, particularly the young,
“We are aware that it will be a huge job in many aspects of life of the Church: the teaching of religion at schools, parish catechesis, pastoral work with parents and their families, the formation of the clergy and laity who will undertake the work with families.”
“But it needs to be done,” said Mendyk.