Pope appoints 14 couples to attend Synod of Bishops on family

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

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More than 250 participants, including 14 married couples from around the world, are expected to attend October's extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.

In addition to 114 presidents of national bishops' conferences, 13 heads of Eastern Catholic churches and 25 heads of Vatican congregations and councils, the pope appointed 26 synod fathers to take part in the Oct. 5-19 synod.

The Vatican released a list of the appointments Tuesday.

Almost all of the 26 papally appointed voting members are from Europe. Of these, none of the 14 cardinals, eight bishops and four priests appointed by the pope is from North America or other English-speaking countries.

Some of the papal appointees include German Cardinal Walter Kasper, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, and Italian Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, as well as Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of La Civilta Cattolica journal, and Msgr. Pio Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, a Vatican-based tribunal that deals mainly with marriage cases.

However, among the nonvoting members of 38 observers and 16 experts appointed by the pope, the majority are laymen and laywomen, including 14 married couples, and they are more geographically diverse, with several coming from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, as well as Europe.

Voting synod members include officials from the Roman Curia, heads of the Eastern churches, and archbishops of churches "sui iuris," including Byzantine Archbishop William Skurla of Pittsburgh.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican's highest court, were to attend as officials of the Roman Curia.

Among those attending who are part of the synod's ordinary council include: U.S. Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Donald Wuerl of Washington; Australian Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy; South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban; and Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, who is also one of three delegate presidents of the assembly. Pope Francis will serve as president and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri as the synod's general secretary.

Among the presidents or vice presidents of national bishops' conferences who were to attend:

  • Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec.
  • U.S. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.
  • Mexican Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara.
  • English Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster.
  • Scottish Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow.
  • Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.
  • Australian Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne.

The theme of the extraordinary synod is: "The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization," and synod members will be called upon to find ways to improve the pastoral application of church teachings, ways to explain it and to help Catholics live it.

Many of the 38 papally appointed observers and experts are lay and religious women and men active in family ministries and pastoral care, canon law and moral theology.

Among those invited to attend include:

  • Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen, respectively director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life and natural family planning coordinator for the diocese of La Crosse, Wis.
  • Steve and Claudia Schultz, U.S. executive members of the International Catholic Engaged Encounter, ministering to engaged couples.
  • Joan Clements, co-director of the World Organization of Ovulation Method Billings in Australia.
  • Christopher Meney, director of the Life, Marriage and Family Centre with the Sydney archdiocese.
  • Dr. Ron and Mavis Pirola, chairs of the Australian bishops' Catholic Marriage and Family Council.
  • Sr. Margaret Muldoon, a former superior general of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux.
  • Steve and Sandra Conway, regional directors of the Retrouvaille program in Southern Africa for couples experiencing difficulty in their marriages.
  • Riyadh Naoom Azzo and Sanaa Ibrahim Habeeb, a married couple from Iraq, "witnesses of Christian family life in an Islamic setting," the Vatican list of appointments said.

Eight "fraternal delegates" will represent non-Catholic Christian communities, such as the Lutheran, Anglican and Baptist communities as well as Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, director of foreign relations for the Moscow patriarchate.

A version of this story appeared in the Oct 10-23, 2014 print issue under the headline: Most synod fathers are Europeans.

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