VATICAN CITY - Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, said he hoped the final report of the Synod of Bishops on the family would improve on the assembly's midterm report in celebrating exemplary families, encouraging missionary outreach and emphasizing that the church's pastoral efforts must be grounded in Scripture and Catholic teaching.
The archbishop, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke to reporters Oct. 15 about the process of recommending amendments to the midterm report, which Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest delivered two days earlier.
Cardinal Erdo's address stirred controversy inside and outside the synod hall with its strikingly conciliatory language toward people in situations contrary to church teaching, including divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and those in same-sex unions.
Following the cardinal's address, the 191 synod fathers split into 10 discussion groups organized by language. Archbishop Kurtz was one of 18 bishops in his English-speaking group, which also included Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, one of nine members assigned to draft the synod's final report.
The archbishop said his group completed its work that morning, a half-day ahead of schedule, and had arrived at its recommendations with "great unanimity."
Archbishop Kurtz said the group's proposed changes had three basic purposes: "to highlight the importance of the witness of sacrificial, loving families today," to encourage a missionary spirit of "reaching out and accompanying people, starting where people are," and "to locate clearly our pastoral avenues and pastoral outreach ... within the beauty of sacred Scripture and our church teaching."
Asked about the midterm report's call for the church to recognize the "positive reality" of non-marital unions when they reflect "authentic family values," the archbishop said his group had sought to "refine and clarify what that means."
When the church reaches out to someone, he said, it begins by "pointing to positive elements that are already in that person's life or that person's relationship that will accompany them. It's not a way of denying but rather it's a way of amplifying the beauty of our church teaching."
Archbishop Kurtz said his group agreed that "we have to do a better job" in proclaiming "Humanae Vitae," the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI that affirmed the prohibition of contraception, as a "'yes' to the gift of faithful love that's open to life."
In response to a question about particular challenges facing American families, the archbishop said "our biggest problem is that individuals in the United States are tempted to feel that they are [at] the mercy of statistics" and often buy into a "self-fulfilling prophecy of doom" about their marriages.
Americans need a "sense of inspiration," he said. "We need that to live full lives, to live loving lives with others."