Argentina’s bishops are busy consulting their faithful in preparation for the October 2014 synod of bishops on the family.
Their consultation is taking place in parishes across this vast country, a third of the size of the USA, where the overwhelming majority of its 41.7 million population are Catholic.
Three years ago, the Argentinean bishops carried out an analysis of the family situation of the children who had come for catechesis in that year.
They estimated that, on average, out of every ten children, the parents of four of them were married in church, another four are children n of separated parents who are now in second unions, and the remaining two are in other family situations, either living with grandparents or other family relatives, or with their mothers or fathers only (single parent families).
Significantly, though, the analysis also revealed that the mothers and fathers of all ten children ask the Church to educate their children in the faith.
The results of this analysis were given by Mgr. Jorge Lozano, the bishop of Gualeguaychu’, to La Nación, one of Argentina’s main dailies. Pope Francis is well aware of this analysis.
The bishops here have welcomed his decision to invite the whole Church to focus on the crisis situation of the family today and the challenges this presents to the Church from a pastoral point of view, by making all this the subject-matter for discussion at the 2014 and 2015 synod of bishops.
Right now consultations are being carried out in parishes across Argentina, using the 39 questions that the Secretary General of the Synod, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, sent to Bishops’ Conferences worldwide on October 18.
The Argentinean bishops have also put the questionnaire on the internet, just as have their counterparts in Austria, in parts of the USA and in Germany, as well as in Belgium, Canada, England and Wales, as well as other countries, and they have opened channels to receive responses via internet too.
“The Questionnaire was very well received, and the direct and concrete style of the questions had a positive impact," Mgr. Andres Stanovik, the archbishop of Corrientes diocese, told La Nación.
The responses have to be ready by the end of the month will be collated by the Commission for the Pastoral Care of Families of the Bishops’ Conference, of which he is president.
He noted how the questions are not just seeking conceptual answers, they are also looking for concrete data, for example, they ask for the percentage of couples or families living in the different situations.
“Separations are on the increase. It’s reported that more than half of those who get married will later separate. We live in a culture that does not favor stable relationships," Archbishop Stanovik said. The questions seek to find out how the Church responds to these situations, and also asks what they ask from the Church. He believes that people in these situations want to be listened to, and then accompanied by the Church. “The request to have access to the sacraments is something that concerns them," he said.
The statistics reveal that each year “the number of marriages are less”, the Archbishop of Salta, Mario Cargniello said; there are many baptisms every year – “we fill up two books of baptisms each year”, but “less than 100 weddings each year.”
He welcomes the consultation, as does the Archbishop of Parana, Mgr. Mario Maulion who sees “the Pope’s invitation” as “a great challenge for us to reflect on the sacrament of matrimony."
The 39 questions seek to gain a thorough knowledge of the real pastoral situation, “they do not have a doctrinal or dogmatic aim”, Archbishop Agustin Radrizzani of the diocese of Mercedes-Lujan, told the national daily.
They focus on real-life themes and their final goal, from the Church’s point of view, is the diagnosis and adoption of a new pastoral approach to the family.
Given the present tendency of couples not to formalize their union in either a civil or religious way, he said it is necessary for the Church “to give greater attention to the actual de-facto families."
The Rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, who was a close friend and theological advisor to Bergoglio when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, explained that “For Francis, the great transformations, that endure over time, require the hard work of dialogue, reflection, and the creation of consensus. For this reason, one should not expect surprising and rapid decisions in the themes that relate to the family. The great novelty is to be found in the fact that the Pope has opened many channels of dialogue and is inviting us not to be afraid of expressing opinions. This new style creates the conditions in which the delicate questions can be put on the table too."