- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2014

Catholic leaders will begin discussing this weekend a host of family-related matters, including same-sex marriage, birth control and other pressing issues in an ever-changing world.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who is attending the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, said it would not be surprising if the meeting produces an affirmation “on the nature of marriage and family, the importance of family as the natural building block of all society.”

“The church’s understanding coming out of Scripture on human nature, what families are, is not going to change,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “That’s a fact. We also have to deal with the fact there are many versions today of what people call family.”

That means the 14-day synod of more than 200 prelates and laypersons is not likely to change the Church’s 2,000-year-old practices and creeds.

“This synod is not about changing the institution of Christian marriage, which was given to us by Jesus Christ himself. That can’t be changed,” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association. “But what can be changed is how to better equip people to have better and more successful marriages and family life.

“It’s more the pastoral application of church teaching. It’s more how can the church better reach out to people, better teach its beautiful visions for marriage and family, and how can the church better walk with those whose marriages have broken down?” Ms. Ferguson said.

Pope Francis will preside over the synod, which begins Sunday.

Jim FitzGerald, executive director of Call to Action, a nonprofit that calls on Catholics to pursue justice, said today is “a critical moment for the institutional church.”

“Pope Francis has in the last year been a pope that’s breathed new life into the institutional church. Maybe he has the capacity to be relatable to everyday Catholics.” If it ends up being more of the same, Mr. FitzGerald said, it might push other Catholics farther from the church, “but if they can turn it around here, really recognize the spectrum of families this could be something to see.”

Among the more than 200 synod guests is a veritable who’s who of cardinals, bishops and priests: Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, archbishop of New York; Archbishop William Charles Skurla, leader of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; and Msgr. Tony Anatrella, consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Family and an outspoken critic of homosexuality among clergy.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an advocacy group for gay Catholics, said seeing the guest list dashed her group’s hopes that the synod will produce significant change.

“I think what it reinforces is this widening gap between people of the church and the leadership,” Ms. Duddy-Burke said. “When you really think about it, can a bunch of men, exclusively men, who have foresworn intimate relationships for criteria for doing their ministry really respond to pastoral challenges in the modern world?”

While most of the synod guests are church leaders, some attendees, like Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen, are average church members hoping to make a difference.

Mr. Heinzen, 63, is president of McDonell Area Catholic Schools in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and director of Natural Family Planning in the Diocese of La Crosse. Mrs. Heinzen is a member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the Episcopal Conference. She’ll turn 61 in Rome.

Speaking by phone from their home in Wisconsin, Mrs. Heinzen said she and her husband will make a presentation on the “pastoral challenges of the family.”

“The takeaway we hope to present will be that the Catholic Church does have great doctrine, [that] there’s truth through the Holy Spirit and church,” she said. “How do we show what we know to be true?”

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