OTTAWA – Canada's bishops have sent the results of a consultation on a host of hot button issues concerning the family to the Holy See, but will not make their report public.
This is not the first time Rome has invited input from bishops' conferences in advance of a synod, and the normal practice has been to do so privately, said Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
The only difference is next October's extraordinary synod on "The pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization" has "garnered a lot more media attention than past synods," he said.
The synod's preparatory document discusses concerns such as "the widespread practice of cohabitation;" and "same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children."
It also discusses mixed or inter-religious marriage, polygamy, hostile forms of feminism, and the effects of relativist pluralism on marriage, among other topics challenging the family.
The document included a questionnaire, which asked how well the Church's teaching on the family is understood by people today; whether natural law is accepted as a basis for the family; and what the response is to the Church's teachings on contraception.
There were also questions regarding pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics; the education of children in irregular marriage circumstances; and the treatment of same-sex unions.
Durocher said the consultation did not survey whether the Church should change its teachings.
"It's important to distinguish between doctrine and discipline," he said. "This was not discussion on changing doctrine; the teaching of the Church is a teaching of faith."
Instead, the questions relate to "the practical application" or pastoral discipline, related to those teachings the archbishop said. Among the disciplines under consideration is the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics.
The pope himself has said its time to review that discipline, Durocher said.
On natural law, Durocher said of Canadians, "that is not a language which speaks to them."
The CCCB had sent the questionnaires to the dioceses, inviting them to send in summary responses by the end of December, so the CCCB could send a summary of all the findings by the end of January.
"In a very short time frame, we managed to get a good read of the pastoral situation regarding family life here in Canada," he said.
In a Feb. 5 statement, the CCCB general secretary Msgr. Patrick Power noted, "the extent of the consultations by the dioceses and their responses are clear evidence of the pastoral importance of this theme for this year's extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops."
Power said, "the process has shown many Catholics are not deeply aware of the Church's rich and positive teaching on marriage and family.
"This can result in a troubling gap between the Church's doctrine and the thinking of a number of Catholics. There are also hopes the Church could be more effective in presenting its teaching, and might also review aspects of its discipline in certain areas."