Archbishop prepares for synod on family

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Cathy Blandford, a pastoral associate at St. Peter the Apostle Church, spoke about the challenges of family life during a consultation with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz Sept. 4. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)
Cathy Blandford, a pastoral associate at St. Peter the Apostle Church, spoke about the challenges of family life during a consultation with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz Sept. 4. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz heads to Rome at the end of this month and he plans to take the insights of local Catholics with him.

In preparation for the October extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family — in which he’ll serve as a delegate — the archbishop has asked people around the Archdiocese of Louisville to share with him their concerns related to family life.

“I’m asking people to help me,” the archbishop said during an interview Sept. 5. “It’s a synod on the  challenges of the family in the context of the new evangelization. It’s being called by the pope precisely because he’s being guided by the Holy Spirit to form responses to the many challenges we have today.”

The archbishop has held several consultations recently with lay people, clergy and religious and has asked them four questions to help guide the dialogue. (All Catholics in the archdiocese are invited to respond to the same four questions in the “Synod Consultation” available at until Sept. 15. In order to answer the questions, one must read the synod’s Instrumentum Laboris.)

The questions are:

– What issues from the Instrumentum Laboris are most important to you?

– The Instrumentum Laboris speaks of the “Gospel of the Family” and describes the beauty of the vocation of marriage. In light of this statement, what opportunities and challenges exist for the renewal of marriage and the family?

– What pastoral attention do you recommend can be given by the Church to accompany people who are in painful marital or family situations?

– What do you most hope for as an outcome of the upcoming Synod?

The archbishop heard answers to these questions — offered by parish leaders, clergy and archdiocesan staff — on Sept. 4 during the Archdiocesan Leadership Institute (ALI).

Concerns related to marriage, divorce and annulments were raised by several people during that consultation.

Dawn Della Bella, director of lifelong formation at St. Albert the Great Church, told the archbishop: “Every year on average, 10 people come to me who want to join the church. And then they find out about the ‘marriage issue’ and never return.”

She expressed hope that the synod will address the annulment process and perhaps make it less painful for people. In response, a majority of the 200 people in attendance applauded.

Archbishop Kurtz said during the program, “That’s going to be one of the most challenging topics.”

Later, in a telephone interview, the archbishop said that in the short term, the church needs to seek ways to “reach out and touch the hearts of people who are hurting,” such as those navigating divorce and remarriage.

In the long-term, he said, “We need to find ways to promote within our culture the gift of fidelity.”

During the ALI consultation, Deacon Lucio Caruso, who works at Catholic Charities, noted, “In so many of the families’ realities we face at Catholic Charities, there is a lot of pain. We have our ideal, but we need to name and acclaim people who are doing their best.”

Father Joseph Graffis, pastor of St. Edward Church, suggested the synod carefully consider the language the church uses.

“We have always used a lot of theological language,” he said. “We need to correct with love and use loving, merciful language, especially with divorce and homosexuality.”

Deacon Mark Rougeux of St. Patrick Church, echoed these calls for mercy.

“How do we hold at the same time the value of marriage and yet bring the most important virtue — mercy?” he asked. “There are so many families and marriages that are broken apart. How do we bring (to) them the mercy we talk about?”

The archbishop said these insights will help him as he enters into dialogue at the synod next month.

He added that the work of the synod won’t, and indeed can’t, alter church doctrine, but it can shape how the church responds to challenges of the day.

This synod, he said, will lead to a more refined working document to guide the larger ordinary Synod of Bishops in the fall of 2015. That synod, which will also focus on the family, is likely to provide Pope Francis with guidance for an apostolic exhortation on the family.

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