Vatican Connections: June 27, 2014

Most priests are not adequately prepared to deal with difficult pastoral situations, according to Vatican officials studying the pastoral challenges to the family.

This was one of the topics included in the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, for the upcoming Synod on the family. The document was the result of a consultation process, which involved sending questionnaires to bishops conferences around the world.

Although the intent was to have as many faithful as possible respond to the survey, it  did not receive the same distribution in all parts of the world.  The end result, however,  appears to be a comprehensive picture of the current openness to the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, sexuality, and related issues.

The questionnaire appears to have revealed a fundamental problem: lack of education on the part of both lay people, and priests.

The working document cites a lack of knowledge of church teaching as the fundamental challenge in several areas. Most Catholics have not read any of the Vatican II documents, or post-Vatican II encyclicals related to marriage and the family. Marriage preparation classes are often perfunctory, a “missed opportunity” for evangelization, and many divorced Catholics do not seek an annulment because they assume their first marriage was valid. Similarly, Natural Family Planning is touted as ineffective, but few people actually know what that method of family planning entails.

When it comes to difficult pastoral situations, like same sex unions, there are few concrete guidelines for priests to follow. This leads to a wide range of responses from priests, not all of which are effective. The working document states that priests themselves asked for the formulation of pastoral guidelines for these situations.

Challenges to family go beyond education, however. Poverty and unemployment are cited as two factors that can breakdown of a marriage, or move young people to cohabitate instead of marrying. “The Church is called to offer real support for decent jobs, just wages and a fiscal policy favouring the family as well as programmes of assistance to families and children,” according to the synod of bishops.

While the content of the working document is, in many cases, exactly what the faithful have been saying amongst themselves for years, this is the first time those views and assessments are being stated openly in a Vatican document.

The Vatican has not yet named the experts who will participate in the Synod.


A late breaking development from Rome regarding clerical sex abuse:

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, has been found guilty of sex abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The sentence: laicization. He will no longer be able to minister as a priest. The former nuncio has two months to appeal the decision.

The Vatican Gendarme is still conducting a criminal investigation. The Vatican said on Friday that the archbishop has been able to move freely until now. Given the findings of the CDF, “appropriate measures” will be taken to ensure he cannot flee before the criminal investigation is completed.



Vatican Connections: November 8, 2013

This week we look at the preparations for the Extraordinary Synod on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family. CNS brings us an interview with Cardinal Peter Erdo, the Relator General for the Synod. We look at the pope’s agenda, what Cardinal Dziwisz says about the Roman Curia, and we give you an in depth look at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
Nov. 8, 2013

Shakin’ up the Synod of Bishops: the pastoral challenge


By Sebastian Gomes

It seems that no event or program of the Vatican or the Pope can occur without the question of continuity being raised.  With Tuesday’s release of the Preparatory Document for next October’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization, already there has been considerable discussion around questions of continuity.  Is this preparatory document different from previous preparatory documents?  How are they different?  How much of the difference is coming directly from Pope Francis?  What does this mean for future Synods and collegiality in general?

These are very legitimate questions in the context of the pontificate of Pope Francis.  While he has continually advocated the practice of discernment and warned against an ultra-efficiency model that would turn the church into an NGO, he himself has moved strategically and decisively in matters of bureaucratic reform, especially regarding the Vatican bank and the Office of the Synod of Bishops.  He has made it clear that he is operating from an explicit mandate, given to the successor of Pope Benedict XVI by the Cardinals during the congregation meetings leading up to the conclave.

The varying reactions to these and other “changes” in the Catholic Church today are striking in this regard: they expose a kind of collective perception that the institutional church is a static entity.  Whether you think change is good or not, experience has probably taught you that the Catholic Church does not change.  In one sense, this perception is accurate.  For example, in the centuries leading up to the Second Vatican Council one of the mantras of the hierarchy, especially in the church’s response to modernism, was “always the same.”  But in another sense, this perception is false.  When Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops near the end of Vatican II, he likened it to a “human institution,” that, “can be improved upon with the passing of time.” (Apostolica Sollicitudo)  The only honest answer seems to be that the church does and doesn’t change. So far, Pope Francis’ pontificate has served as a tangible reminder of this.

That leaves us with the question of what exactly is different at this initial stage of a forthcoming Synod.  Three bishops spoke at the press conference yesterday.  Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops acknowledged that the process is moving quickly, and all the more so because of the structural, methodological and functional reforms that Francis is pushing.  This Synod will run differently from previous Synods.

The Relator General for the Synod, Cardinal Péter Erdo made the important point that this Extraordinary Synod will act as a bridge between the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization and the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family.  Linking Synods is nothing new, except for the fact that no Apostolic Exhortation was written after the New Evangelization Synod last fall (Pope Benedict resigned before writing it and Pope Francis has said he will not write it).  If there was a kind of strategic and thematic bridge between previous Synods, as there was between the Eucharist in 2005 and the Word of God in 2008, the bridge between these Synods, whatever it looks like, will look different.

A very significant reflection came from Archbishop Bruno Forte who will serve as Special Secretary for the Synod.  He highlighted the pastoral nature of the theme: the Family.  This is clearly seen in the Preparatory Document, which offers a series of reflection questions to the particular churches around the world.  They are extremely pastoral and practical in nature.  For example, in the section entitled “The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization,” a question reads: “What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?”  Such questions open the Synod up to the lives and experiences of the people on the ground.  We can assume that whatever results from the Synod, it will have very practical application.  That is new.

At the end of the Synod on the New Evangelization in 2012, the bishops wrote a pastoral message to the People of God in which they reflected on the current crises of marriage and family life.  After reiterating the importance of family life in the church and society, the bishops addressed those living in irregular, often difficult family situations:

To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the Church loves them, too, that the Church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the Church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist. May our Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation. (Message, 7)

This type of language is reflective of the pastoral approach about which Archbishop Forte spoke.  It is powerful language that contains a hint of the Franciscan spirit that has subsequently taken the world by storm over the past seven months.  With the very pastoral and practical emphases Francis has given to the Synod of Bishops, we might expect more language of this kind in the coming years, and more importantly, strategies for living it at the ground level.

Pastoral Challenges to the Family: Synod Preparation


At a press conference in Rome this morning, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri formally presented the preparatory document for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization. Archbishop Baldisseri, the head of the Synod of Bishops, said the family is an area that the church will work on for the next two years. Next year’s extraordinary Synod will be the first of two synods looking at the pastoral care of families.

The Extraordinary Synod scheduled for 2014 will focus on getting a clear picture of the situation families find themselves in today. An Ordinary Synod scheduled for 2015 will focus on finding new approaches to ministering to families.

To prepare for the Extraordinary Synod, the Vatican sent the preparatory document to Bishops Conferences around the world, along with a list of questions. The bishops were asked to circulate the preparatory document and the questions to priests and parishioners. Bishops Conferences must submit their findings to the Vatican by the end of January 2014.

 Read the Synod Preparatory Document and the consultation questions here

Photo Courtesy of CNS

Perspectives Daily – Monday, Nov. 4th

Tonight on Perspectives: We look back at a weekend full of liturgical celebrations with Pope Francis, the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches continues in Korea, and new Cardinals will be made February 22nd.

Vatican Connections: October 11, 2013


Pope Francis has been invited to visit and speak at the European Parliament. Martin Schultz, president of the EU Parliament made the invitation when he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday.

If he were to accept, Pope Francis would be the second pope to address the European Parliament. Pope John Paul II visited the European Parliament in 1988 during a four day visit to France.

Pope Benedict XVI was invited to speak at the European Parliament, but never accepted the invitation.


Another Canadian religious woman is on her way to sainthood. Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of Servant of God Marie Elisabeth Turgeon. The Quebec-born religious founded the Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of St. Germain in Rimouski Quebec.

The order dedicated itself to teaching and training other women to become teachers. She died in 1881 in Rimouski, Quebec. The Congregation of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary is still active today in Quebec, Labrador, the United States, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Archbishop Gilles Ouellet of Rimouski approved the opening of Turgeon’s sainthood cause at the diocesan level in 1989.

Turgeon will now be known as Venerable Marie Elisabeth Turgeon.. In order to be declared “Blessed” a miracle must be attributed to Turgeon’s intercession

New documentary on Synod of Bishops premieres Sept. 22

Fotor090994025Find all information on Go and Teach including broadcast times at

It’s not often that outsiders are allowed into the engine room of the Vatican. Sure, each day thousands of people march along the prescribed tourist routes that take them around St. Peter’s Square and into the Basilica and museums. But how many get a chance to see, and speak to, and share meals with the people on the inside who run the show? That’s a rare opportunity and typically only happens discreetly when the visitors are family members or close friends. It’s even rarer when there’s a major event taking place, like a conclave or a synod of bishops.

At this time last year, I was getting ready for one of those rare experiences. The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization was coming up in October and I was going to see it all up close from the inside. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what kind of access we would get, or how the bishops and the Vatican staff would treat us. This was, after all, the first time anyone from the outside was allowed on the inside.

In return for the “backstage pass,” we agreed with the office of the Synod of Bishops to produce a full-length documentary on the event. I knew right away this was going to be a difficult commitment to keep. A powerful and provocative documentary can only happen when there are powerful and provocative images to capture. And I wasn’t convinced that a room filled with four hundred people (262 of them bishops) speaking one after the other for five minutes each was the most exhilarating script for a feature film. In any case, the sheer novelty of our access proved to be all the inspiration we needed.Fotor090994256

The other “X factor” for me was the fact that the bishops were going to be talking about the New Evangelization. It didn’t take a Vatican insider to sense the heaviness hanging over the Vatican at the time. It was almost like the institutional church was in a mud-bog. The hopes of so many people, Catholics and non-Catholics, were hinged on the notion that something new, joyful and inspirational would come out of this!

Well, little did any of us know that a major shake up was coming four months later. On the night of February 28th, after the doors of Castel Gandalfo closed and the Swiss Guards left the side of Pope Benedict XVI, I had the chance to speak to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington and the Relator General (or moderator) of the October 2012 Synod. The mood was dark, everyone in Vatican City was sad. I asked the Cardinal how he felt, and to my surprise he said, “You know Sebastian, I have so much hope! What Pope Benedict has taught us with this gesture is that we can and should do things differently!”

That for me is the essence of the New Evangelization. And that’s what we’ve tried to communicate with our latest documentary Go and Teach: Inside the Synod on the New Evangelization. Through in depth interviews with cardinals, bishops, delegates and journalists, we tell the story of what happened on the inside: of how humility and joy became prerequisites for evangelization; of how the implementation of the Second Vatican Council must continue; of how recapturing the personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the only real answer to our complex global reality.

Perspectives Daily – Family Day

Tonight on Perspectives: It’s Family Day in Ontario and we welcome Cardinal John Onaiyekan to our studios.

Photo of the Day: Interviewing Cardinal Wuerl


Sebastian prepares to interview Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. Look for the interview to be featured in an upcoming S+L documentary about the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. Cardinal Wuerl served as Relator General during the 2012 Synod.


The Synod, the Year of Faith, and the Council: What’s Happening? Pt.2


Near the end of last year I wrote about the attitude of openness and adaptation to the modern world which permeated the ecclesiology of John XXIII and Paul VI, and found concrete expression at Vatican II and in the creation of the permanent Synod of Bishops. (Read it here) From there we now jump forward fifty years to get our bearings in the current context of the discussion: The Synod on the New Evangelization.  While the work of the Synod assembly is over, the final product has yet to arrive in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation written by the Pope (which may take up to two years).  And it will be necessary in the third and final instalment of these essays to look forward, as far as possible, not only to the Exhortation but beyond, to follow the line of thinking of the Bishops who participated in the Synod and infer where we might be headed over the next fifty years.  Chesterton said that “Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision.”  From my experience of the Synod I propose that we have enough information about the vision to reflect on the progress being made.

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