Initial reviews of responses from around the world on questionnaires about church teaching on the family in advance of this fall's extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family show that the teaching is misunderstood, said a cardinal who will run one the synod's sessions.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, told Catholic News Service he found the responses "shocking, if I am allowed to use that word."
"Shocking because almost in all parts of the world, the questionnaires indicated that the teaching of the church regarding family life is not clearly understood by people, and the language by which the church proposes the teaching seems to be a language not accessible to people," Cardinal Tagle said in an interview May 16 at The Catholic University of America.
"So this is my hope, not for change -- how can you change the biblical teachings? But maybe a real pastoral and evangelical concern for the church: How do we present the good news of the family to this generation, with its limitations, with its greatness, with its unique experiences?
"We should not be talking only to one another. The gospel of the family, the good news that is the family, should be presented to families where they are and how they are," the cardinal added.
In February, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Tagle as one of three presidents of the synod. The presidents -- including Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris and Cardinal Raymundo Assis of Aparecida, Brazil -- will take turns running the general sessions of the synod, which will be held Oct. 5-19.
The cardinal was in Washington to participate in commencement activities at the university, from which he obtained a doctorate in sacred theology in 1991.
A sidelight to the synod was the first Asian Conference on the Family, convened May 13-16 in Manila. While Cardinal Tagle was unable to attend the conference because he was traveling in Rome and the United States, he said he hoped it would focus attention on how issues such as migration and poverty affect families throughout Asia.
"We don't have big wars in the Philippines, but couples get separated because of poverty, not because there has been a breakdown in communication, of mutual understanding, not because they could not stand each other anymore," he said.
Poverty forces couples to find jobs elsewhere in the Philippines or in other countries and that separation contributes to major challenges for families, especially children, he said.
Families also often are faced with concerns stemming from religious differences, when one spouse is Catholic and the other is not.
"Interreligious dialogue does not happen in universities first and foremost. It happens in the home," he explained. "How does the church equip, first of all, the Catholic partner to engage in interreligious dialogue so that family becomes a school for interreligious dialogue for wider society?"
The Oct. 19 closing Mass for synod on the family also will have a special meaning to Cardinal Tagle. Pope Francis will beatify Pope Paul VI during the liturgy. The cardinal's doctoral dissertation focused on Pope Paul and ecclesiology and his work to carry out the Second Vatican Council's reforms from the liturgy to practices of the Roman Curia.
Cardinal Tagle credited Pope Paul for keeping the church unified during the implementation of the reforms. He also said Pope Paul's efforts influenced his own ministry as a prelate.
"I remember one of his rules in life as the presider over the Second Vatican Council, as the implementer: 'No one defeated; everyone convinced,'" the cardinal said. "He would take the extra step, the extra mile, to convince people who find difficulties with this or that. And in the process he would be attacked from all sides.
"In doing my research, I was able to read some of the letters he got from cardinals, the bishops from different sectors of the church. I could just imagine the depth of suffering and also the depth of spirituality of this man, who would never become popular, who would never become a star the way the other popes were," he told CNS.
Cardinal Tagle also said that plans are well underway for a hoped-for visit by Pope Francis to the Philippines and Sri Lanka in early 2015.
"The Vatican has not yet announced the dates and the specific itinerary that the pope will observe, but I am confident it will happen early next year," he said.
"I think one purpose of the visit of the Holy Father is to come close to the people who suffered from the recent typhoon (in November) and the earthquake (in October)," Cardinal Tagle continued. "We will see how that could be done. But he, I think, would want that to be a defining character of his trip.
"I have said his coming will be stronger than the typhoon, but in a positive way."