While this synod is set to tackle many of the flashpoints where contemporary culture and Catholicism clash, there could be a roadblock at the tunnel’s end.
It’s no secret inaccessible language prevents the majority of Catholics from diving into Church documentation on marriage and family “without due preparation,” to quote paragraph 11 of the synod’s working document. Paragraph 12, however, looks to the clergy who, “in the judgment of some of the faithful”, have insufficient familiarity with the same documents and few resources to improve.
Canon Robert Plourde of St Luke’s Church, Pinner, says the clergy’s sub-par knowledge of Church teaching on marriage and family is not because of unwillingness, “you’ve only so many hours in the day and we’re becoming a much older clergy.”
Fr Plourde says he can’t remember the last time a fellow priest discussed a document with him.
Although the apostolic exhortation is unlikely to appear until Spring 2016 at the earliest, Westminster Diocese’s marriage and family life director Edmund Adamus says updating clergy on hot-topics like sexuality, fertility and procreation shouldn’t take two years “but it will require a paradigm shift.”
“At best the topic of sexuality comes up during marriage prep,” he says. “We need to see more resources and catechesis on fertility awareness not just with engaged couples but also with young adults.”
For the ten dioceses in England and Wales lacking a marriage and family co-ordinator, distributing resources to parishes is the challenge.
“I don’t think we can do anything about that,” says Elizabeth Davies, marriage and family life project officer at the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. “There is always going to be a challenge of communicating what is available.”
Still, Davies says the conference’s passion, experience and practical theology put England and Wales on the “cutting edge internationally” in marriage and family pastoral care.
“The only plan we’ve got [to prepare for the exhortation] is to not schedule any new pieces of work,” she says. “So that we’ve got enough capacity to pick up and run with what ever pops up.”
With the pastoral status quo set to remain post-synod, it seems the exhortation’s absorption and implementation will depend on the accessibility of its language.
“The language must be everyday language,” Fr Plourde says. “It needs to be clear.”
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