Local director hopes renewed outreach to divorced is one result

Categories: Around the Diocese,Synod,World Meeting of Families


Chris Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

Chris Codden is the director of the Office of Marriage and Family in the Diocese of St. Cloud and past president of the National Association of Catholic Family Ministers. She is one of the authors and trainers for “Fully Engaged,” a catechetical, pre-marital inventory and marriage formation program. The Visitor interviewed Codden about the recently concluded world Synod of Bishops on the family. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What were the most important messages that came out of the synod?

A: Looking back at the first meeting in 2014 and then the World Meeting of Families and this gathering, I would say it’s the importance that family has in society and in the life of the church. That sounds like a no-brainer, but I think sometimes we lose sight of that.
This is serious business. If we want a healthy society, if we want a healthy church, we have to be attentive to that.

I was very excited about [the synod participants] looking at marriage prep, but they also took some additional time to look at the first five years of marriage and when those couples enter a difficult crisis.

There was a lot of focus on divorce and separation, which there should be, but what do we do for the regular couple when they hit a wall? And we all hit them. I was really excited that this received attention, and I’m looking forward to some direction and ideas and then some energy that will go into materials, approaches and strategies to help couples in these situations.

Q: Divorce and remarriage received a lot of attention. Nothing is changing regarding church teaching in these areas, but do you think the church’s approach will be any different on these issues?

A: I do. I think we’ve gotten used to divorce and, yet, that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy thing. We tend to focus on the divorced persons, but there was a great emphasis at the synod, and there should be, on the children.

I went to a conference in Washington, D.C., about three years ago. It was on adult children of divorce. It talked about concerns — whether the divorce happened when the child was young or even as an adult — on how that impacts how they look at marriage and family life today. I think in what we do as far as pastoral ministry, yes, we need to help the adult going through the crisis.

But we also need to think about how we — including directors of religious education and youth ministers — help children as they’re going through that crisis as well.

Q: Do you think there will be a new mindset, new approach or new emphasis on any other family related issues coming out of this synod?

A: I was smiling when I read that marriage prep must be improved and be longer and more intense. There’s always this tension between couples saying they are too busy and don’t have a lot of time, and those who want to ensure they are prepared well for marriage. That tension plays out differently in different parishes.

I was just in a parish for a “Fully Engaged” [program] training. The pastor is implementing the program, which is considered a more intense program about church teaching. I’m very gratified with some of the work we’ve been doing, and I’m anxious to see now what additional things we might be asked to do in the future.

We have 47 dioceses right now that are using “Fully Engaged” as either their only program or one of the program options. And that’s growing.

We don’t do much advertising. It’s word of mouth from pastor to pastor or bishop to bishop saying this is what they want because they believe it’s a better approach to marriage preparation.

Another important area that needs attention is forming conscience. I think that’s going to be very important as we look at not just marriage preparation but baptismal preparation. How do we help our parents as primary educators of their children in morals and faith? How do we, as a church, help them form their conscience and also help them help their children form their conscience?

Q: What do you hope comes next as a result of this synod?

A: I hope Pope Francis issues something prophetic like [“Familiaris Consortio,” St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the family]. So when we are saying marriage is the backbone of society and we’re developing polices and programs, we can point to a document and say this is our rationale for why we’re doing what we’re doing.

This kind of document could develop further some issues that didn’t get a lot of attention in [“Familiaris Consortio”] — pastoral practice when it comes to things like same-sex attraction and irregular [outside the church] marriages.

Q: What would you hope happens locally?

A: We’re putting together a local committee to look at how we can pastorally have an outreach to the divorced through the initial crisis and then also into the next phases, because 75 percent remarry, and it could be without getting an annulment. I hope that we can really do something very intentional that will bring people back to the church and help them stay in the church.

I’m really optimistic that we can. Is it going to be tomorrow? No. But I do think that an intentionality and some renewed energy in that area will happen.

Q: Is there anything else that you wanted to say about the synod?

A: I’ve read in several of the synod summaries just the mention that women are to be included in the decisions of the church. I don’t know how that’s going to look. I really feel very blessed being a consultant to the [U.S. bishops’] Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

I’m very struck, not only as a lay person but as a woman, by how the bishops are always asking the two women on the committee, beside staff, for our input, which makes you feel pretty good.

But, when you’re talking about the global church, how will this look? I don’t know, but I’m anxious to see how that will play out.