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BC Experts: Synod of Bishops on the family

Richard Gaillardetz


Professor Gaillardetz is the past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the largest professional association of Catholic theologians in the world. He focuses on issues related to church structures and the exercise of authority, church related issues, Vatican II, the papacy and bishops, proper exercise and limits of church authority.  He is  co-author of Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II (with Catherine Clifford).

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James Bretzke


Fr. Bretzke is a Jesuit priest and professor of moral theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.  He is the author of 70 articles/reviews and five books including A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology and Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary. He earned a doctorate at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he also taught for three years.  He has also taught for several years in Seoul, Korea at Sogang University and as a Visiting Professor of Moral Theology at the Loyola School of Theology of the Ateneo de Manila, Philippines.  On the weekends, Father Bretzke ministers at St. Michael's Parish in Bedford, Mass.

Office: 617-552-6514
Cell: 617-775-9665
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Thomas Groome


Professor Groome is a professor of theology and religious education in Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry. His areas of expertise focus on Catholic and religious education and on the general issues of the Catholic Church and society; religion and politics; the papacy; pastoral ministry, spiritual practices. He is the author of numerous books including Catholic Spiritual Practices; Will There Be Faith? , What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for LifeEducating for Life, A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and ParentChristian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and VisionLanguage for a "Catholic" Church and Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. Professor Groome is also the primary author of various religious education curricula which are widely used in Catholic schools and parishes; his most recent curriculum is The Credo Series for High School age students from Veritas.

Office: 617-552-8449
Cell: 617-875-5325
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The eyes of the Catholic world will turn to the Vatican when Pope Francis convenes the Synod of Bishops on the Family, a major initiative of his pontificate.

“It’s very promising that Pope Francis has called this synod on the family,” says Thomas Groome, School of Theology and Ministry Professor at Boston College. “After the issue of clergy sex abuse, the next most serious topic for the Church to take up are the issues around the family. It’s very positive that he’s doing it.”

“This is talking about the family with a new pope, new stresses, new emphases, and I think it’s going to be something that touches more Catholics than, say, if they had a synod on priesthood, or religious life,” says Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Professor James Bretzke, S.J.

The synod will gather bishops from around the world who will consider the pastoral challenges facing the family. Fourteen married couples have been invited; in contrast to past synods, the couples will participate in a speaking program to begin each day.

“The principle of starting not with bishops but with married couples talking about marriage is something to be commended as an important first step in re-imagining these synods,” says Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College. “I certainly think it’s a good thing that they’re starting the day by listening to married couples before the debate continues.”

While this synod is not expected to draw any conclusions or make any proposals, there’s a level of anticipation not seen in recent memory.

“I think if this was Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict calling the synod, I think most Catholics would kind of have a ho-hum attitude that it would have been more of the same -  condemning birth control, and divorce and re-marriage and excluding these people from the Eucharist and so on,” says Groome, author of seven books on the Catholic faith including Language for a "Catholic" Church and Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. “Given Francis’ openness and returning us to great gospel values like compassion, inclusivity, mercy, and care for the marginalized, I think his style of substance, conviction, and spirituality will create a positive ambiance for the whole synod. I think good things are likely to happen there.”   

“Unfortunately, what’s gotten all the attention is the question of giving communion to divorced and remarried couples,” says Gaillardetz, who just ended a term as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the largest professional association of Catholic theologians in the world. “But it’s important to point out that lot of other things are going on right now – how do we deal with the plight of single women and single mothers? How do we deal with domestic abuse? How do we deal with questions of polygamy in Africa? So I think there’s a lot more going on than the issues that get all of our attention. “

The last synod on the family took place in 1980 under John Paul II but this one will be different because of Pope Francis' curiosity about what Catholics think and want.  

“The average person in the pew would look forward to this synod because this is the first one, frankly, where their input has been consciously sought by the Holy Father, by his directive to the different bishops that they poll their people,” says Fr. Bretzke, an expert on papal affairs and author of seven books.  “The fact the average person is explicitly being asked to give his or her input I think is certainly noteworthy. “


Media Note: Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at: /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html


Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

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