Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, was an active participant in this month’s Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The synod’s purpose was to examine challenges to the family today, and ultimately to develop a more effective pastoral approach for the Church in addressing those challenges.
In addition to speaking out in defense of the unborn, Archbishop Kurtz has been a vocal supporter of the traditional family against legal recognition of same-sex marriage. During the two-week-long synod, he also received media attention, giving interviews as well as participating in an English-language briefing for reporters.
He recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: When the synod’s mid-term document (the “Relatio”) was released, many faithful Catholics were concerned that some in Church leadership were trying to change Church teaching in regards to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. What reassurance would you offer to those who had such concerns?
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz: I take the Holy Father at his word that this synod process is not taking on doctrine, but reaching out in creative and pastoral ways to families where they are at to help them. We want to do this while proclaiming our time-honored teachings of our Church.
I think in the end, the [final] synod document was well-grounded in theology and Scripture. We look forward now to the very fruitful period between now and the synod next October.
CWR: You said in your press briefing that the [mid-term] relatio needed clarification. What did you personally believe was wrong with this document?
Archbishop Kurtz: It was only a working document, and the wording was open to various interpretations. It was in need of clarification and refinement. I believe this was accomplished by the amendments that were offered.
CWR: How were these amendments offered?
Archbishop Kurtz: They were presented by 10 small groups divided by language, three of which were English-speaking. Each group elected a moderator to be a secretary to pull together those amendments. I was elected moderator for my group, and was kept busy making sure we moved along with all the topics we had to cover. We’d meet from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm, and again from 4:30 to 7 pm. It gave us an extensive period of time to walk through the document and have free conversation among the delegates.
We were in English group C, and I believe the text of our discussion was published, so if you read that you can get an idea of what we talked about. If you’re interested in the participants of my group, I posted a photo of us on my Archdiocese of Louisville blog.
CWR: How involved was the Holy Father in the synod?
Archbishop Kurtz: He was a visible presence throughout the synod. In fact, I believe the only time he was not there was when he left for his Wednesday audiences.
He began the synod by offering us wonderful exhortations, encouraging us to be open to the discernment of the Holy Spirit. He wanted us to speak boldly and frankly. He gave another wonderful presentation at the end, asking us to avoid extremes.
He prayed with us, and he listened. It was privilege to be with the Holy Father for two weeks; he was engaging and affable. When I hear him speak, I am reminded of Jesus looking with pity upon people, with a great heart of compassion for people who suffer. The Holy Father really captures the wonderful compassion of Jesus in his words, mannerisms and even the way he greets people.
It was also a privilege to participate in enriching conversations with him as well as bishops and lay witnesses from every continent.
CWR: What did you think of the press coverage of the synod?
Archbishop Kurtz: I must admit I was so busy taking part in the synod, that I didn’t spend much time reading it.
CWR: Two prominent cardinals, Cardinals Burke and Kasper, were openly critical of one another in the media. Did you observe any tension and division among the synod participants?
Archbishop Kurtz: While participants did take different positions on issues, I’d say the conversations during our two weeks together were characterized by discernment and unanimity.
CWR: Will you be participating in the next synod in October 2015?
Archbishop Kurtz: Not necessarily; each episcopal conference can send delegates to the synod, but it is not required. I think you’ll see the selection process develop in the same way it did previously.
CWR: What was your overall assessment of the synod? Was it good for the Church and families?
Archbishop Kurtz: I believe we ended up with a very good document for us with which to move forward. I voted in favor of the document, which I think will serve us well. But the work is not yet done. I look forward to a fruitful upcoming year in preparation for the next synod.
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