Catholics in San Diego, the bishop wants to hear about your family life.
Bishop Robert McElroy announced Wednesday he will host a diocesan-wide Synod on the Family, inspired by two summits of bishops in Rome in 2014 and 2015 that culminated last month with the release of “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ much-discussed document drawing conclusions from the process.
Among other items on the agenda will be the contentious issue of welcoming divorced and remarried Catholics back to communion, with an apparent endorsement from McElroy for the path of return to the sacrament laid out by the pope.
The San Diego synod will be held in October, comprised of mostly lay representatives from the diocese’s 100 parishes. The meeting will cover five “major challenges” identified by the bishop, which in addition to the issue of divorced Catholics, include witnessing to the Catholic understanding of marriage, Church resources for unmarried couples, raising kids, and spirituality within families.
In a statement published Tuesday, McElroy indicated that everything was up for discussion.
“During the diocesan synod in October, existing rules and practices which are alienating must be examined, and creative new pathways to inviting couples to the full commitment of Catholic married life must be explored,” he wrote.
The synod, he said, will bring “together the bishop, the priestly leadership and lay and religious representatives from throughout the diocese to wrestle with the most important questions that a diocese faces.”
McElroy was installed to lead the San Diego church in 2015, and he has frequently been described as a “Pope Francis Bishop,” those prelates who have advocated a greater openness in the church and a shift away from the culture wars.
He was previously an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco, his home diocese, and he has written frequently about income inequality, immigration reform, and combating poverty.
He hit on some of those themes in his letter announcing the local synod.
In a section on why young couples move in together without first getting married, for instance, he highlighted societal issues that could drive such decisions.
“The obstacles of poverty, unemployment and past debt also lead couples to put off marriage in our society,” he wrote.
He also gave a thumbs-up to the so-called law of “gradualism,” a theological concept that says welcoming Catholics who may not live the Church’s ideal in a number of areas should nonetheless be invited to be participants in Catholic life, with the idea that they may eventually progress closer to that ideal.
The concept was hotly debated during the Rome synods, promoted by progressive bishops but derided by conservatives who see it as an attempt to water down church law.
McElroy insisted in his letter that the concept could help welcome back some Catholics who don’t feel welcome in the Church.
“The principle of gradualness reaches far beyond the question of marriage to embrace all elements of the Christian moral life, for it really is an embodiment of the pastoral method of the Lord himself,” McElroy wrote.
“Pope Francis repeatedly cites the example of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well as a prism through which to construct the Church’s outreach to young couples, a prism which embraces them in their humanity and their love, rather than categorizing them as living in sin,” he continued.
On the divorced and remarried, McElroy seemed to endorse the view that Pope Francis has offered an opening to communion after a lengthy period of discernment and reflection.
“In conversation with a priest, the believer with humility, discretion, and love for the Church and its teachings seeks to reflect upon their level of responsibility for the failure of the first marriage, their care and love for the children of that marriage, the moral obligations which have arisen in their new marriage, and possible harm which their returning to the sacraments might have by undermining the indissolubility of marriage,” he wrote.
“Some Catholics engaging in this process of discernment will conclude that God is calling them to return to full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist,” he continued. “Others will conclude that they should wait, or that their return would hurt others.”
McElroy concluded his letter by asking Catholics to find a balance between the demands of the Church and the lived realities of modern families.
“Such a spirituality preserves the beautiful aspirations of marriage while embracing the prudence which consoles and confirms family members in the recognition that the presence of shortcomings in our family life is not a sign of family failure, but rather a sign of our humanity,” he wrote.