WINNIPEG — Bishop Noel Simard has never been married or had children, but he is the 11th of 13 kids and has long-married siblings “who tell me their problems,” and he believes that counts for a lot when it comes to knowing about families.
In fact, Simard has spent years studying and writing about families, and was one of five Canadian bishops participating in the synod on the family last October at the Vatican.
He said the dilemma facing Catholics is how to promote the model of the Christian family without discriminating against those who don’t comply with it. “A lot of people want a traditional family,” he said, “but question what that is now. What is a family?”
Simard was guest speaker at a conference on the family in Winnipeg March 19, presented by the Catholic School of Evangelization in St. Malo and sponsored by the archdioceses of Winnipeg and St. Boniface.
Simard was ordained in 1972, taught at Laval University in Quebec City, the University of Sudbury and St. Paul University in Ottawa. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the International Federation of Catholic Bioethicists. Simard is a founding member of the Canadian Catholic Institute of Bioethics and is past chair of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. He has authored several articles on bioethics, human sexuality and AIDS: Ethical and Spiritual Considerations. He was installed as bishop of the Diocese of Valleyfield, Que., in 2012.
Simard spoke of the challenge of accepting the diversity of modern family experiences without giving up one’s convictions and beliefs.
He said once-faithful church-goers who experience divorce suddenly find the church has no place for them, and the same can be said of people of different sexual orientations. “There are good people who leave the church because they feel like the church hates them. It’s one of the reasons the pope called the synod,” he said.
Simard said the synod’s final report includes 92 points and Pope Francis will soon issue a statement on the report. He said points 84 and 85, regarding the baptized and divorced, prompted difficult debate and were narrowly approved by the 270 voting priests.
Simard voted for the recommendations, which state: “The baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more integrated into Christian communities in a variety of possible ways, while avoiding any chance of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which might allow them not only to realize that they belong to the church as the Body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. . . . It is therefore the duty of priests to accompany such people in helping them understand their situation according to the teaching of the church and the guidelines of the bishop.”
Simard said it is wrong to force one’s values on others, and what is right is “to love and respect and learn from each other, to live our Christianity.
“A family is any group that has love and commitments in a relationship. Others in a different combination can love each other. When we define something we create limits, so what limits can we put on a family?”
Regardless of the inability to define family, Simard said, “Family is the core of society; when family goes well, society goes well. Family is the principal identity of individuals; it helps them to be objects of evangelization and subjects of evangelization.
“We must announce the good news of families, but we are facing many challenges. Do we take time to talk and reflect? Don’t miss a chance to start a conversation in the family.”
“These new situations create lessons about accepting,” Simard said, adding that the word synod means “walk with” and Pope Francis strives for a synodal church. “It doesn’t mean we agree with, but we can accompany.”