WASHINGTON (June 28, 2005)—The U.S. Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life plans to sponsor focus groups around the country to solicit input from persons concerned about marriage issues, especially married couples themselves.
The effort is an outgrowth of the National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage which the U.S. Bishops decided to undertake last fall. The multi-year Initiative is a broadly-based collaborative effort to strengthen marriage as a human institution and as a sacramental reality. The centerpiece of the Initiative will be a pastoral letter on marriage, emphasizing the Bishops' teaching and their responsibilities as pastors.
In a letter to Bishops, Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life, said the multi-year initiative is currently in the preparation and development phase. He described the plan for focus groups and invited each diocese to consider conducting one or more of them. A focus group is a qualitative research method that is widely used to identify and explore various aspects of a topic.
Earlier this year, Bishop Boland recalled, more than 100 bishops responded to a committee survey asking for their perception of teaching and pastoral priorities regarding marriage.
The topics which the bishops identified as highest priority included:
sacramentality of marriage, commitment within marriage, marriage preparation and education, marital spirituality, and marriage as a vocation. Many bishops described issues that are of particular interest in their diocese or area of the country.
"We would now like to hear from others who are also deeply concerned about marriage, especially married couples themselves," Bishop Boland wrote.
The focus groups would bring together six to ten people to discuss such questions as: what are one or two things that are most positive about your marriage at this stage? What is the biggest challenge that you are now facing? How has church teaching on marriage been a support for you? If you have encountered difficulties with certain aspects of church teaching on marriage, how have you dealt with them? What can your diocese or parish do to support married couples?
In the letter, Bishop Boland suggested that dioceses might want to conduct several focus groups with newly married couples in various locales, or one group each with newly married, middle years, and older. Other focus groups might concentrate on interchurch, interfaith, remarried, single young adults, and divorced /separated Catholics. "We hope that the composition of the focus groups will reflect, to some extent, the make-up of your diocese," Bishop Boland wrote. "We are especially interested that Spanish-speaking couples be included in this process."
Bishop Boland said the Committee has piloted the focus groups in several dioceses and believes that the process is straightforward and does not require an undue commitment of time. He added that couples who have participated in the pilots found the experience enjoyable and appreciated the bishops' interest in hearing their experiences and ideas.
Bishop Boland asked dioceses which can conduct focus groups to indicate this by mid-July. He said the Committee on Marriage and Family Life would like to receive a report on the focus group results by December 31.