Are We Teaching Families What They’re Supposed to Be?


Did you get the questionnaire from the Vatican?

Even saying that is sort of strange.

Has there ever been a questionnaire from the Vatican? I love Pope Francis!

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, I’ll fill you in.

A different kind of synod

In October 2014, Pope Francis will convene an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops. The theme is “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” To begin the process, the Synod General Secretary sent out a preparatory document with questions asking feedback on a number of issues surrounding marriage and family life.

You can still see it here but the response collection is all done.

I’m sure asking for consultation to prepare for a synod  is pretty standard…for bishops. That I get consulted in preparation for a synod is not. The questionnaire went out to all the faithful for input. I think this is fantastic. How can you know how to serve your people unless you hear their problems and concerns?

An opportunity to hear from the people

The questionnaire was handled in different ways by different bishops around the country.

The General Secretary said he expected pastors to provide summaries for their parishioners which would then be funneled to bishop’s conferences for use by the synod.

That’s how I got it. Our diocese asked pastors to respond. My pastor asked me and few people from my RCIA team to weigh in as well. The responses were going to the diocese and then to the U.S. Bishop’s Conference for further compilation and processing.

However, individuals were welcome to respond directly with the synod, as well. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to hear from the people. One bishop in St. Petersburg, FL disseminated it across his diocese and got 6800 responses.

A different kind of questionnaire…

The questionnaire wasn’t at all what I expected.

It was actually kind of weird…almost not like a questionnaire at all. Many of the questions were more like test questions and they were very difficult to answer. One of the people I asked to help said she didn’t feel qualified to answer. Another said he needed a dictionary to figure out what was being asked.

Here’s an example:

Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?

What place does the idea of natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

How are the Church’s teachings on family understood by people? I’d say they aren’t. What place does natural law have among the people? Basically none.

My experience is that most average Catholics don’t know any of this. And I haven’t been teaching them. I asked some people in the office if they knew what Gaudium et Spes or Familiaris Consortio were. They had no clue. Really, only theology geeks like me know this.

That left me questioning

So the questionnaire really got me kind of down…and got me thinking.

Is the Vatican so out of touch with the faithful? These are very intellectual questions that assume a lot of knowledge. Do they really think most Catholics read and understand these documents and terms?

But the other thing I thought was–should I have been teaching them this stuff? I’ve never even considered having a class for families on who and what they’re supposed to be. Parents would never come.

But if we don’t somehow teach them, how will they know? How will families understand themselves and what they’re called to be?

I don’t really have answers. I mean, I know parents absolutely should understand the Church’s teaching on family. It’s beautiful. How to make that happen is another matter.

Do you ever considered educating families on their calling and being? If you’ve done it, what did you do and how did it work out? I’d love to know. 

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc


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  1. Suzanne Walsh says:

    Marc, really like the conclusion you have come to here, and I agree, yes, we should be thinking about teaching families these things. Would love to see some dialog on how to make these works more accessible to the general population. Thanks for thinking this through and making this suggestion. Looking forward to the dialog that will follow.

    • Thanks Suzanne. It would be a good topic to figure out how to make these documents more accessible to families. Maybe the first step is the same as it always is and always was…they need to be converted. Once that happens, families will be hungry to understand the Church’s teaching and will be eager to live by it. Have to keep up that prayer I guess.

      • Suzanne Walsh says:

        Maybe this is less about making documents available and more about packaging the messages contained within them so that the teachings are easy to understand, compelling, attainable and attractive. We have a great model for this in Pope Francis and the approach he has taken.

        • I really think you’re on to something there Suzanne. That’s the key. I’m working on getting a parish blog set up with email distribution to start getting that kind of content out to parishioners. Teachings on the family would be a great theme to use as part of that initiative. I’m going to file that away. Thanks!

  2. Hi Marc. I also love the conclusion you have come to. I also agree with you that parents are not going to come to a class on what families are supposed to be. But they will come for baptismal prep for their babies. So what if we added a segment to the usual prep process on “How to raise your child to by holy”? And that would not include any quotes from the Catechism or other church documents. Rather, as Suzanne suggests, it would be more about “packaging the messages contained within them so that the teachings are easy to understand, compelling, attainable and attractive.”

    One way to do *that* is through mentoring. If we could pair up parents of newborns with “sponsor” families, the new parents could see Catholic families in action and learn from their modeling.

    We could do similar mentoring with first communion families, confirmation families, and newly engaged couples.

    Great post! It obviously got me thinking.

    • These are great ideas Nick. Baptismal Prep classes would be an ideal time to get this message across. Perhaps in regular correspondence after the Baptism too, if the parish stayed in contact with the families and continued to send them stuff. Mentoring with sponsor families would be an excellent idea as well. Thanks for the feedback!

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