VATICAN CITY – Upholding the Christian ideal of marriage and family life while also reaching out to those whose lives do not reflect that ideal is a pastoral challenge faced by all Christian communities, said the Anglican representative to the Synod of Bishops.
Anglican Bishop Paul Butler of Durham, England, and “fraternal delegates” from seven other Christian communities addressed the synod Oct. 10. Bishop Butler also spoke to Vatican Radio Oct. 15 as synod members worked in small groups to amend the assembly’s midterm report.
He told members of the synod that he and his wife have been married 32 years and have four grown children. Although Anglicans have married bishops and clergy, “like you,” he told them, Anglicans “are wrestling with how best to respond” to the challenges facing family life around the world.
“As part of this response,” he said, “we want to speak more of the promise of and hope from the family than focus on the threats,” while also making it clear that “marriage is between a man and a woman and is intended to be for life.”
Still, he told the synod, “families of all types” exist in society and within the church. “We have to minister to and with cohabiting, single-parent and same-sex families. This demands listening, understanding, compassion and care rather than condemnation.”
In the Vatican Radio interview, he said that participating in a synod working group and making suggestions, he was looking first of all at “the tone” the synod report would take. “It’s about being as positive as we possibly can to families of all make ups, recognizing that within the Catholic confession marriage is a sacrament, but how can the church be as welcoming as it is possible to be to those whose family life is not the ideal.”
Being welcoming, he said, “is a way of offering hope to people and introducing them to the Christian doctrine. If we are seen as completely negative, then people won’t come near us and they will just dismiss the Christian Gospel.”
Lutheran Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswana of South Africa, representing the Lutheran World Federation, also told the synod that his community has been having “lively discussions” about how to respond to “new forms of family and marital relationships.” The process, he said, has “created tensions” within the federation.
On behalf of the federation, he thanked the Catholic Church for inviting him to observe the synod’s “discernment process and to learn from your discussions on this subject.”