The Church Doing Theology

Sex, marriage, infidelity, behind the scene politicking, leaked documents.  Is this the plot of a  cable TV blockbuster? No, actually, it is some of how the Synod on the Family, taking place in Rome this month is being described! Synods don’t usually create this much attention from religious and secular media alike.  The last two synods focused on Scripture and the New Evangelization and so were watched closely only by the most serious church geeks!

Night view at St. Peter's cathedral in Rome, Italy

Night view at St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome, Italy

The Synod on the Family, however is capturing world-wide attention because it is seeking to address some of the most hotly debated topics of the day; the definition of marriage, the pastoral care of persons with same-sex attraction, the reception of Eucharist by men and who are divorced and remarried outside of the Church and ministry of families caught in the destructive cycle of addiction and domestic violence. Pope Francis, in his address to the participants in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia said “The family has a divine identity card. Do you see what I mean? God gave the family an identity card, so that families could be places in our world where his truth, love and beauty could continue to take root and grow.”

The Church is concerned for the state of marriage and family because spouses and families are at the heart of the mission of the Church in the World. If this were not reason enough to follow the work of the synod, following this synod, under the leadership of Pope Francis gives us a window to how the Church does theology.  A Synod “is an assembly of bishops from around the world who assist the Holy Father by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church in a manner that preserves the Church’s teaching and strengthens her internal discipline” (, “Basic Information About The Synod of Bishops”).

Last December Pope Francis asked that a questionnaire on issues related to marriage and family life be sent to every diocese in the world and that it be made available for Catholics to read and contribute to a series of questions related to the joys and challenges of family life.  As the person who compiled the data for the report from the Archdiocese of Washington, I know how seriously and enthusiastically people responded to the request for insight on the real-life experience of spouses and families. All of those reports from all over the globe were then collated and shaped into the Instrumentum Laboris which is the working document for the bishops and cardinals participating in the 2015 Synod.

Over the next couple of weeks there will be prayer, presentations, small group discussion by language and geographical groups and large group reflections and discussion, all aimed at affirming the truth of God’s plan for marriage and family and identifying pastoral practices that will best serve the vocation and mission of the family today and into the future.

Plan to follow the developments by checking in with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at or the Vatican website at and watch the Church turn to the world with the good news of the Gospel.

Susan Timoney is Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

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