Bishops to put together pastoral plan for marriage, family life ministry

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) — U.S. Catholic
bishops acknowledged that Catholic families and married couples need more
support from the church at large and hope to offer it by giving parishes plenty
of resources through a pastoral plan for marriage and family life.

A proposal for such a plan was
introduced to the bishops on the second day of their annual fall assembly in
Baltimore Nov. 14 and was approved by paper ballot with 232 votes in favor.

The pastoral plan was described
by Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, a member of the bishops’ Committee
on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, as a response to Pope Francis’ 2016
apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).

Bishop Malone, who introduced
the idea to the bishops, was filling in for Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J.
Chaput, the committee’s chairman, who was in Rome for preparatory meeting for
the Synod of Bishops in 2018.

The bishop said he hoped the
pastoral plan would encourage long-term implementation of the pope’s
exhortation and also encourage a broader reading of it. Several bishops who
spoke from the floor echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the document was
more than just one chapter — referring to Chapter 8’s focus on the possibility
of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion which gained a lot of media

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E.
Barron of Los Angeles, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, said a
pastoral plan focused on the exhortation lets the Catholic Church “seize
control” of its message after the “blogosphere was forcing us to read
it in another way.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of
Louisville, Kentucky, similarly noted that the exhortation’s Chapter 8
“got all the headlines” and he hoped a new plan based on the text
would get more people to read the entire document and “read it

A new pastoral plan for marriage
and families would not be “the pastoral plan,” as in the be all end
all addressing every detail, but it should provide a framework to help parishes
work in this area, Bishop Malone said.

Discussion from the floor on
about this plan was overwhelmingly positive.

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of
Anchorage, Alaska, said the church should look for ways to lift up marriage and
thank couples for all they do. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San
Francisco said the church should offer more than just marriage preparation
programs and should provide something for couples after they are married.

They should know about marriage
before they come to church to set up their wedding, he said, emphasizing that
catechism needs to start much earlier

After Bishop Malone had stressed
before the body of bishops that the program would focus on the entirety of
“Amoris Laetitia,” not one part that generated so much attention, a
reporter turned back to that section of the exhortation asking the bishop in a
news conference if couples living in adultery could receive Communion.

“I’m not going to answer
that here,” the bishop said, re-emphasizing that the aim of the pastoral
plan was to provide married couples with resources they would need to
strengthen their marriage and families.

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