Upcoming Synod of Bishops seeks frank, open discussion of issues

VATICAN CITY — The extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will be shorter than a usual synod and will include new rules aimed at helping the bishops really grapple with the issues together, said the general secretary of the synod.

“We want a frank, open, civilized discussion,” Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri told Catholic News Service July 25.

The extraordinary synod will meet at the Vatican Oct. 5-19, bringing together the presidents of national bishops’ conferences, the heads of Eastern Catholic churches and Vatican officials. The world Synod of Bishops, which will include more bishops — many elected by their peers — will meet at the Vatican Oct. 4-25, 2015, to continue the discussion on pastoral approaches to the challenges facing families today.

Although the number of participants in the extraordinary synod is smaller, it will include a dozen or more voting members named by the pope, three priests chosen by the Union of Superiors General, a dozen or more expert advisers, about a dozen representatives of other Christian churches and up to 30 observers, more than half comprised of married couples — who will be encouraged to address the assembly, the cardinal said.

Cardinal Baldisseri said he is not surprised by all the attention the synod is getting in the Church and the media, because “the problems of the family are what people are dealing with every day.”

He knows there are “great expectations,” and he is pleased about that, although he has cautioned repeatedly that decisions about the church’s pastoral approach to families are not expected until after the 2015 synod gathering.

The synod is a gathering of bishops, he said, but the preparatory questionnaire distributed in October 2013 and summarized in the synod working document that was published in June demonstrated a desire to hear from the grassroots.

The big change from past synods is that the voting members of the extraordinary synod will be asked to submit their presentations in writing at least two weeks before the meeting opens, the cardinal said.

“This is not to limit the discussion, but to help organize it,” he said, adding that the report opening the synod, which used to be a rephrasing of the synod working document, now will be a first summary of the bishops’ submissions.

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