What do you want to say to the 2015 Synod on the Family?

Mar 6, 2015 | 19 comments

Papa: basta mondanità Chiesa,cancro che uccide

What do ACI members most want to say to their bishops on the subject of the Family?

Catholic bishops are due to meet again in Rome in October 2015 to address important issues affecting the Family. The proposed agenda for this upcoming synod, and 46 associated questions, are already compiled in a Vatican document known as the Lineamenta.

The ACI steering group has written to Archbishop Eamon Martin on the subject of consultation with lay people on this document, as requested by Pope Francis. Archbishop Martin has responded warmly, saying “I would be very interested to hear the thought of the Association on the Lineamenta and its questions.”

To be able to respond effectively to this invitation the ACI steering group now needs to hear as soon as possible from members of ACI on the subject of the family and the upcoming synod. The full text of the Lineamenta can be found by clicking this word wherever it appears on this page.

This document gives the background to the bishops’ intended agenda for October, and finishes with 46 questions for discussion. It is not expected that everyone will want to respond on all of them, but some may be of special interest just now, (e.g. Q 38 on pastoral practice in relation to people who are divorced and remarried; Q40 on the pastoral care of people with homosexual orientations; Q41 on Humanae Vitae, the papal teaching that forbids contraception.)

So the ACI steering group would like to hear now from ACI members on the subject of the family and the upcoming 2015 synod of Catholic bishops. What do you most want to say to the bishops on these matters? If you have any hope or expectation for the 2015 Family synod in Rome, what is it exactly? Are there particular questions in the Lineamenta that you have especially strong feelings about? If so, why is that?

If you do wish to respond, please do not delay in writing back to us. Irish bishops have a deadline to respond to Rome with feedback from their people of April 2015, so the sooner we can receive, read and process your response the better. Response options:

  1. Maximum 2000 characters in the ‘Comment’ box below, OR
  2. Extended response via email to info@acireland.ie  OR
  3. By ordinary post to:  ACI  – re Family Synod, c/o 41 Woodcliffe Village,  Howth, Co Dublin

If you find the Lineamenta questions impossible to respond to, this in itself is important for us to know, so please tell us.

Members may also make use of the forthcoming ‘Alternative Living Poll’ – promised by Catholic Church Reform International .  However, use of this last option will bypass the ACI Steering Group and Archbishop Martin, so we would ask everyone to consider options 1-3 first of all.

In an effort to make the Lineamenta questions more accessible, and to simplify the response process, the Australian Catholic bishops have arranged a survey for their flocks on the Internet.  You can view this by clicking here.  If you prefer you can send us your responses to some of these questions, as they are extracted from the wording of the Lineamenta.


  1. Teresa Mee

    As an introduction to reflection and discussion on the Synod Lineamenta, the above questions accurately reflect the general tenor, tone and perspective of the body of the Synod Questionnaire. But the tenor and tone of the Questionnaire, centred on Magisterium and Church doctrine is far removed from the clear, challenging force of Francis’s call to focus on the vocation and pastoral mission of family in the world.
    It seems to me that in the forthcoming ACI local group meetings across Ireland, ACI on-line, and ACI forthcoming National Meeting for reflection and discussion on Family and the Synod, we might find it helpful to choose between the following (and other?) options as starting point for sharing, discussion and decision making.
    Family life( not explicitly embracing also priestly life both here in Ireland and in the world at large) is full of problems, largely due to failure to observe Church doctrine and dogma. What is the role of the celibate priest in providing essential pastoral care and support?
    Family life in the world with its inevitable periods of joy, of challenge, of suffering and grief is a vocation and God empowered mission to live in mutual love, share and procreate life, and share with and communicate life to the world. With its inevitable periods of joy, of challenge, of failures, of suffering, of grief and of threatened instability, how is it best supported and enriched?

    Maybe there’s someone with experience of mutual friendship, celebrations, joys, sorrows and support in times of need within their local or wider community who could share with us on this.
    I wonder to what extend this 2nd alternative could embrace the first. It might even include responses to the bishops’ preoccupation with issues such as contraception, and the preference for marriage annulment over divorce. Maybe it could also include a discussion of the prohibition against second marriage of priest widower trying to earn a living while caring for young family

    • soconaill

      Teresa writes: “Family life … is full of problems, largely due to failure to observe Church doctrine and dogma.”

      I find this challenging and inscrutable, Teresa. Whose failure exactly? What doctrine and dogma? Could you provide an illustration of what you mean?

      And are there not far greater challenges to the family from forces external to the church – e.g. in secular failure to prevent the commercial exploitation of both men and women and to provide affordable child care when both parents work? As for the unaffordable cost of housing due to inveterate property speculation – why is the secular state so indifferent to that?

      For me our church is failing families at present especially by excluding parents, husbands, wives and even teenagers from its deliberative and decision-making structures – and these family synods are in illustration of this in their very composition, as well as in the wording of the Lineamenta.

      For me an ACI priority should be to seek to end this absurd male celibate monopolisation of initiative and teaching in the church (and especially of teaching ON the family)- to reshape the church as a functioning, caring, non-abusive family that will provide a model for the external secular too often family-hostile world.

  2. Jo O'Sullivan

    As someone who has walked away from Catholicism in recent times, I must confess that I find the Lineamenta absolutely overwhelming. It’s just too much!
    However, I have been following the conversation about it on Catholica, and find that a lot of it captures how I feel about it.
    The link below should lead you there if you’re interested.
    My basic feeling is that it’s asking me to follow a path from a starting point that I’ve never been to nor have I any desire to start from. It’s like the old Irish joke about the tourist who stopped to ask for directions to a certain spot and was answered with “If I wanted to go there, I wouldn’t start from here”.
    Oh, I have returned to my dysfunctional Catholic family – can’t live with it but can’t live without it either!

    • soconaill

      That phrase ‘dysfunctional Catholic family’ rings bells with me too, Jo. And the most dysfunctional aspect of it is the clerical denial of structures for open, regular discussion – what was promised by Vatican II but never happened. Until we sort out that dysfunction we cannot welcome alienated people into the church – or recommend it as a healing model for the many different kinds of families that now exist in wider society.

      • Jo O'Sullivan

        Hear! Hear! Seán. A vast number of the people whose views on the whole question of “family” are priceless in this exercise won’t even be aware that questions are being asked as they have long since walked away in utter despair that Catholicism has anything of value to offer in their lives. That is the saddest part of this whole mess.

  3. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    I can’t read one more “how can people be made to understand..?” or “how can people be helped to appreciate”, “lead people to appreciate” – this is desperate. To give an example – 12. How can people be made to understand that Christian marriage corresponds to the original plan of God and, thus, one of fulfillment and not confinement? (cf. n. 13)

    This question clearly points to the essence of the problem. We are led to believe that a “marriage” has a confinement to a certain set of principles based on an idea of human nature that in the minds of our Church’s Magisterium can’t for any reason differ from one person to the next. The actual confinement referred in this matter is portrayed as commitment and fulfillment is referring to God’s plan. Well God’s requirement within any relationship (whether it’s one that bears offspring or not) is love. When you start to proclaim that love can only be confined to a certain set of defined principles, that’s when people start to move away from your logic. This is no longer about whether society is secularized or not – it’s now about how far one authority can rigidly define a complex, abstract, often fluid human condition. Good luck with that!

    To experience a deeper understanding of the sacrifice that an unconventional relationship (LGBTQ) requires would be helpful to the Church’s Magisterium. The question is better asked : 12. How can the Church be made to understand that Christian marriage corresponds to the original plan of God and, thus, one of fulfillment and not confinement? (cf. n. 13) If the marriage fulfills the love it requires to foster itself and children, then who is to judge to what principles it must be confined? I think the Church could be made to understand this by possibly spending a week or two with a Christian same-sex marriage and see first hand how caring and supportive it can be in the face of such societal judgement; possibly not unlike what Jesus faced in his moments of persecution.

    • soconaill

      I too tend to cringe at the overall assumption in the Lineamenta that Catholic bishops have prior, privileged and unquestionable authority as to what constitutes God’s intentions for loving familial relationships – when those same bishops uniformly followed a policy of concealment in relation to clerical child abuse that has done far more to harm all relationships in the church than any supposed irregularity in the relationships those bishops disapprove of. The irony of their preciousness on marriage and the family never strikes home to impede their interminable verbosity on the subject.

      I have no doubt that this in itself will lead many Irish Catholics to boycott this consultation process completely – even if they get to hear about it.

    • Martin Murray

      Well said Llyod. Questions in the Lineamenta beginning with “how can people be made to understand..?” or “how can people be helped to appreciate”, indicate that the bishops are still in teaching mode and not in listening or learning mode.

      • Patrick Davey

        Much is wrong of course but we should recognise that for the first time in 2000 years of the church the laity are being seriously asked to have input into the development of teaching. It is unreasonable to expect that the language and thought will immediately jump to the 21st centuary. It is up to us to help them make the change.
        Our Parish here in Shankill is really active and encouraging. From our engagement with the preparation document we now have a support group for separated,divorced and remarried. It is up to us to encourage those Parish Priests who find all this difficult to find a way into the future. This means we have to be engaged and prepared to be frustrated but eventually things will change, especially if we can encourage our children to become priests.

        • soconaill

          What great news that is for St Patrick’s Day – that already, simply out of the process of consultation, people are realising that they themselves can be supportive of those separated, divorced or remarried. I’ll be passing that on at our own weekly discussion on the Lineamenta tomorrow evening here in Coleraine, Co. Derry.

          Prayer works, obviously. Thanks again for that, Patrick! As the Americans would say, way to go!

        • Lloyd Allan MacPherson

          The only thing I disagree on is that finding a way into the future perhaps redefines the superiority of the laity where it concerns the church. All men are created equal yet with different gifts and those shown to have the greatest gift of foresight will be rewarded with creating this heaven they can project to the future. That is the most important step – in this case, everyone will be a priest.

  4. Mary Vallely

    I have to speak up for my own parish as everyone was invited to participate in the conversation about the family. The notice was on the website and in the bulletin. I accept that only mass goers read the bulletin but the invitation was open to all. The lineamenta was available to download despite the fact, of course, that not a single sinner in the English speaking world could possibly have approved the wording and the awkwardness of it. Our parish is clustered with 3 others but unfortunately only 4 others from my own parish attended. Still, my initial dread and fears were allayed as it turned out to be an engaging and respectful exchange of views and I was pleasantly surprised at how open, honest and compassionate many people are to the reality of family life nowadays. We had one priest in the small group I was in and he impressed me with his warmth and understanding. His lack of rigidity perhaps was what surprised me most.
    The fact that so few took up the invitation didn’t shock me as in a way it’s like the attitude to politics. We need to do more to show people that they do have a voice and that it is worth using it, even joining in a forum like this.
    I feel more determined than ever to try to understand the bishops and clergy, many of whom feel trapped and perhaps lack the courage to speak out, yes, but more could be achieved with a positive approach and a less of a “them” and ” us” outlook. Just brainstorming here so feel free to challenge me! I think fear of confrontation is a problem for many clergy but if that fear was dispelled we could discover much mutual ground and how much more could be achieved with that awareness of mutual support. 🙂

  5. soconaill

    It’s good to get that reaction too, Mary. You are probably right about fear of confrontation being a barrier to more frequent dialogue, and the consequent need to seek ways of dispelling it. That’s the challenge of the moment.

  6. Soline Humbert

    To my mind an assembly on the family where women have no votes is deeply flawed.It is a sin against the Holy Spirit present in the female members of the church. The synod is not truly catholic(in the true meaning of the word) and therefore it lacks credibility and authority. “Where is the other half of humanity ?” cardinal Suenens asked over half a century ago at the Vatican 2 Council. I have not heard any male synod member querying why women are excluded from voting now in 2015?

    • Teresa Mee

      ‘The synod is not truly catholic(in the true meaning of the word) and therefore it lacks credibility and authority’.

      A good point for all of us to include in our responses to the Linneamenta, Soline.

      If women had been more aware and shouting more insistently at the deaf over the centuries, we would not be experiencing this blatant ignoring of women now.


  7. Jo O'Sullivan

    Today, in my inbox, I came across the following piece of very useful information. A series of questions, designed to get to the nub of the Lineamenta, were compiled by Fr. Aidan Ryan of Ardagh and Clomacnoise for this month’s Furrow magazine.

    Q 10 How are people being helped to see the value of lifelong commitment in marriage?
    Q 11 How can people be helped to see how faith in God can enrich marriage and sustain couples in lifelong love?
    Q 22 How can couples who live together be encouraged to consider marriage?
    Q 31 How can couples who are recently married be supported?
    Q 35 When are families most in need of help? How can they best be helped when life is difficult?
    Q 40 How can we support gay people and their families?
    Q 46 How can we help and motivate parents in passing on the faith to their children?

    I have been trying to formulate my answers for Pope Francis (as if he’s gonna read them!) re the family for ages now. I kept hitting brick walls every time I tried to get to grips with the questions. And it’s only now I realise why! I just couldn’t see the relevance of the questions to the world I live in – the world of my own family and the families around me here in my local community.

    I made a flippant remark once that the response I had to the Lineamenta questions were akin to “If I wanted to go there I wouldn’t start from here!” And I now realise that, in fact, it’s the truth!

    Because in each and every case above, my answer is “Let them feel the support and care of the families that live in their community. Let them welcomed with open arms and accepted as belonging without having to fulfil certain criteria or go through any particular hoops. Let them have fun with their church community as a matter of course and let them feel empathy, concern and care when they’re going through rough patches. Let church community provide a place where their talents and those of their loved ones can flourish and ALL talents are valued. Let church community provide a place where they’re encouraged to look for ways to reach out and help others with no hidden agendas or ulterior motives – and where they know their children are being shown how to care for others too.”

    Only then will people even begin to want to think about being part of a church community. Only then will they be willing (and eager, maybe) to learn that what underpins all this caring is the love of a Creator who has shown us how to love. Only then will they have a desire to know more about such a Love and have an interest in participating in the various rituals that provide banks to the flowing river, that make it more than just a kind of “Hippy-dippy love fest”.

    I honestly believe that a church community like the one I dream of will provide the answers to Qs 10,11, 22 and 46 and that what such a community DOES is actually the answers to Qs 31, 33and 40. Of course, the great irony is that in my vision of church Qs 10, 11, 22 and 46 are non-questions – they’re not what really matters. But, if a person experiences the kind of church community that I envision, they just might happen automatically. “See how these people love”.

    No amount of adult faith groups or young marrieds programmes or scripture study programmes or anything else will amount to anything while the lived experience in this country for most people is that Church means Mass to be endured (or not) on a Sunday – a Mass that is “said” by the priest while the congregation remain passive. It means having to have your child baptised so s/he can get a place in the local “good” school, going through the motions of First Communion and Confirmation and, perhaps, not darkening the door of the church again until the Wedding Ceremony. It does mean showing respect for the dead by attending the Funeral Mass and I feel that this may be the most deeply felt experience of church we still have.

    And in the meantime, REAL life continues without any input from the “Church”.

    So how would I go about achieving my vision of church?

    I’d start by getting Bishops and priests to take a deep breath and take a risk on their “flocks” being aware of what life is REALLY like in 21st century Ireland and that they’re the people who know best what’s needed. Yes, bishops and priests know what life is like for people, but they know it from the outside, not from the lived family experience. With the best will in the world, they did not have to negotiate the awesome responsibility of totally dependent young children, the agony of the torturous teenage years, the tightrope walk of getting boundaries right and the myriad of fears and other concerns that parents never quite shake off even when their children are flown the nest. So “my” priests would be coming to their people and asking “What do you need from me?” And when members of their flock came to them with ideas, they’d see their job as getting stuck in to remove any obstacles that might be in the way (rather than worrying about whether they were losing their power and control!)

    While I see that a lot of the development of a vibrant church lies in the hands of the “grassroots, ordinary folk”, I feel that we’re so deeply conditioned to bow to the authority of the clergy here in Ireland, that the first step has to be theirs. Only when we experience for ourselves that we are trusted as active participants in our church communities, will we feel confident enough to initiate and develop other ways of being church apart from being passive recipients of “Mass”.

    As I see it, many good, good priests are tired and weary. They just don’t have the energy to initiate community building ventures. And God knows, I understand that. But (again, as I see it) they are reluctant to allow the laity the freedom to start up new community activities of any kind. The old fears of “You can’t give them an inch or they’ll run away with things” or “Maybe they’d start doing things that are not doctrinally sound” seem to have a firm grasp.

    You see, you can SAY you trust us and that you value us, but while we’re aware that you’re standing looking over our shoulders to see where we go wrong, we’re not going to risk putting our hearts and souls into building our church.

    So, bishops and priests, what about it? Do you think you’re able to take that leap of faith? We still need you, you know. But we need you to walk beside us, not stand over us with the big stick to knock manners into us when we go wrong!

    And, “fellow-ordinary-folk” are you ready to shake off the passivity and get involved in building up the church we want our children and grandchildren to love belonging to?

    I don’t think we can sit around and wait for something to happen, for somebody else (poor Pope Francis! So many people seem to be expecting him to sort everything out!) to make Catholicism a relevant, guiding moral force again. I’d be surprised if we have any more than ten-twenty years left before Catholicism has become a minority, fundamentalist religion.

  8. Anne Marie Lee

    I believe in two people committing to each other until whatever children born to them have grown up and can support themselves financially. The Civil Law can protect the assets in separation or divorce cases. How people join themselves together – through
    religious marriage, civil marriage, civil partnership etc – is for them to decide.

    I try to treat all humans as Jesus would therefore I would advocate giving equal rights to same sex couples.

    In my career I have seen appalling damage done to children in families which were regarded by the state and the church as “normal”.

    Commitment for life is very different in the twenty-first century than it was when first instigated. Then people lived until their 40’s or 50’s nowadays people live almost twice that length of time. True
    many now wait until their thirties to commit to a relationship.

    Same sex couples can and do raise healthy well adjusted children too.

    It is time that we grew up and realised that homosexual people are born with that orientation, we heterosexual people have a lot to answer for in their suffering.

    Children, no matter how they are conceived should have access to knowledge about their biological parents.

    The vast majority of lone parents are female and live on or below the poverty line in this country and that will remain the case as long as Church and State regard females as second rate to men and delay in providing the affordable supports for child care and decent wages for decent work.

    Men tend to get blamed for having an affair yet to have an affair their must be a woman also involved.

    The Diocesan Church needs to smarten up and talk to families regarding their spiritual needs. Short courses on the Church and its history, theology, philosophy, the saints etc. should be provided by groups of parishes for the people. Most Catholics who are still practicing know very little about their religion.

    To be continued …

    Anne Marie Lee

  9. Anne Marie Lee

    Continued …

    Preparation for first Communion must be taken out of the schools and provided for families in the parish. In that way only practicing families will have the privilege of their children receiving first Holy Communion. It should also be a private event with the family and child at a regular Sunday Mass not the circus it currently is. It is the responsibility of the family or the State to provide suitable celebrations to mark the secular milestones of life.

    Thank you for listening.

    Anne Marie Lee

  10. Martin Murray

    The current focus on family life generated by the up and coming Synod on the Family (October 2015) and the Irish referendum on marriage equality (May 2015) has made me ask, where is the sin that the church seems to focus so much of its attention on and is so fearful of?

    My conclusions are that sex becomes sinful when people get hurt by it, either physically or emotionally. In other words when it involves, promiscuity (sex should be fun but not causal, i.e. between multiple partners or strangers); unfaithfulness (adultery, dishonesty) exploitation (sex trade and pornography); abuse (domestic, rape, pedophilia).

    The bishops can do society a great service by using their position to highlight and tackle these dangers, but wrong to assume they are intrinsic or limited to relationships other than those validated by the Catholic church, i.e. couples that are gay; divorced and remarried; cohabiting; or mixed (inter-church or inter-faith), etc.

    So my message to the Synod of bishops would be – some refocusing is required if you are to engage credibly with the complexity of family life as it is, rather than as you expect it to be.


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