Are Catholics ignorant of Church teachings?

If what the document issued by the Vatican as the basic discussion paper for this coming October’s Synod on the family says is true, massive numbers of Catholics around the world are ignorant of what the Church teaches on marriage and family and why – explaining why so many reject the Church’s teaching as an unwarranted intrusion into their personal lives and decisions.

In other words, faced with the choice between the Church’s magisterial faith and whatever contemporary society regards as fashionable they will pick contemporary society every time. The situation is serious.

But the news is not all bad. A good number of bishops’ conferences around the world have told the Vatican that when an overall view of marriage and the family is clearly communicated in its authentic human and Christian beauty, it is enthusiastically received by the faithful.

These are just some of the insights to emerge from a document with – for the average Catholic man and woman – a baffling name, an Instrumentum Laboris, prepared by the Vatican for the Synod on the Family to be held at the Vatican in October.

Entitled The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation, the document is a summary of the responses to the questionnaire circulated to dioceses around the world last November. It will effectively serve as the agenda for the Synod’s discussion of the family in modern life.

Catholic ignorance is traceable to a number of causes, the document said.

“… [A] vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations [of modern life],” it said.

“The responses [from bishops’ conferences] are also in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching, namely the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead lead to an excessive, selfish liberalisation of morals; the fragility of interpersonal relationships; a culture which rejects making permanent choices … and [a society] with a ‘throwaway’ mentality … one seeking immediate gratification,” it said.

Some bishops’ conferences argued that a basic reason for resistance to Catholic teaching in matters to do with sex, marriage, gender and openness to life stemmed from “a want of an authentic Christian experience, namely, an encounter with Christ on a personal and communal level”, the document reported.

Meanwhile, Catholics’ knowledge of Church teaching on the family “seems to be rather wanting”, it observed. “The documents [of Vatican II and since] … do not seem to have taken a foothold in the faithful’s mentality,” it added.

Some of the responses said responsibility for this situation was due to the lack of knowledge of clergy who are not familiar with existing Church documentation; some observations inferred that clergy feel unsuited and ill-prepared to treat issues regarding sexuality, fertility and procreation and so remain silent.

Some responses also voiced dissatisfaction with clergy who seem indifferent to some moral teachings.

“Their divergence from Church doctrine leads to confusion among the People of God,” it said.

Many responses received by the Vatican had emphasised the critical importance of academic centres of research and formation to help redress the problem of widespread ignorance with one often-cited example being the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome and its several campuses around the world.

If the institute is as important as some of the responses received by the Vatican indicate, then Australia is a lucky country; it is one of only seven in the world where a campus of the Institute exists – in Australia’s case in Melbourne.

Other issues addressed by the Instrumentum Laboris include the growing number of fatherless families in society, family breakdown, violence and abuse within families and the proliferation of pornography, especially via the growing influence of the media and social media.

The tectonic pressures being placed on family life and marriage from consumerism, an increasingly dominant and all-encompassing economic and work model which eats into family time, and the scandal of sex abuse within the church which effectively weakens its moral credibility were among other factors addressed by the document.

Considerable attention was given by bishops’ conference to the situations of cohabiting Catholics as well as those who are separated, divorced and/or remarried. With massive numbers of Catholics living in such situations, it is clear the Church around the world sees their situation as requiring both compassion and guidance as well as a clearer game plan.

Catholics often mistakenly assume that being divorced means they are unable to participate in the sacraments, the document observed. On the other hand, those who have divorced and remarried without first seeking an annulment appear not to grasp the intrinsic relationship between marriage and the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, it said.

Some responses from bishops’ conferences had also urged more attention to the needs of those who are separated or divorced but have remained faithful to their marriage vows – “oftentimes these people seem to have the added suffering of not being given proper care by the Church and thus overlooked”, the document observed.

The general insufficiency of marriage preparation programs was another key theme to emerge from the document.

It is clear the questionnaire sent out by Pope Francis last year has touched many nerves in the Church. At the same time, the Synod signals that the Church sees the family as vital in its own right as well as to the Church and wider society and understands that the family and marriage are at the heart of a global conflict between the Church’s understanding of the human person and an increasingly toxic global culture – especially in affluent societies – that has rejected the idea of responsibility for anything other than the pursuit of money and pleasure. As the world’s bishops gather to consider the complex range of issues confronting Catholic families, the Church and modern society in October it’s also clear they will have plenty to mull over.

About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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25 Responses to Are Catholics ignorant of Church teachings?

  1. freescot says:

    I feel it is a great shame that the consultation, largely an exercise in listening, should lead to a working document whose tone is, “These people are simply ignorant.” I had expected it might be much more, “What the faithful are saying is….”


  2. Catholics, most especially the youth but obviously those of all ages, are catechized by the world and by television and media. The false ‘teachings’ on sexuality in the secular world are NOT countered by most prelates. It may be a Cardinal smiling and nodding at a ‘gay mass’ or the churches that walk in gay pride parades or the total lack of speaking about things like abortion, homosexuality, pornography, etc. And so the ‘sheep’ are easy prey for the demonic. Catholics abort, contracept, cohabitate, and divorce with the rest of secular society for the most part. Millions have left the Church because ‘nice’ and ‘teen’ Masses do not hold the heart. I have heard exactly one homily on contraception and never on the other pressing issues of our day. I do hear them spoken when I attend a Traditional Latin Mass–that seems to be the best place for true preaching and teaching or when I listen to AudioSancto, etc.

    We have seen recently in ‘Catholic’ high schools that when sexual truths were gently spoken, they went ballistic with anger: the students and their parents think the truth is ‘hateful’. This is the result of noncatechesis for almost 50 years. The responsibility is heavy for those whose job it is to preach and teach.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. johnhenrycn says:

    But Freescot, isn’t this working paper repeating, at least in part, what the faithful are saying, viz: your run-of-the-mill Catholic is indeed ignorant of the essentials of his faith? I never had an opportunity to respond to the questionnaire – I think I missed it – but that’s what I, as a faithful Catholic, would have said. Nice to see new faces on CP&S.


  4. Michael says:

    I agree that even the portion of Catholics who regularly attend Church don’t get to hear anything on the hot button topics. It has also been my experience that you only hear it in the extraordinary form of the Mass and most Catholics don’t receive that. I wasn’t even aware they still existed until a friend invited me.At Novus Ordos the priests usually fail to mention relevant issues preferring some hazy nice sounding homily that isn’t memorable even half an hour later. They sometimes even seem outrightly obtuse or hostile to Catholic faith.

    All Catholics get is an education from liberal media or liberal teachers. Some say parents should take responsibility. However that is easier said than done in modern life. With current tax and prices etc. parents are often too busy trying to earn enough money to live a normal life and help the children get a basic education to address the issues. Further, when children are young it doesn’t seem appropriate to be discussing abortion or contraception or gay marriage with them but when they are older they have already been indoctrinated in the wrong direction.

    Even the marriage preparation courses fail to assist. In my Diocese the experience with marriage preparation was a group of people, mainly divorced, with only one identifying as a “Christian”. The Christian seemed to feel the need to apologise for their faith and to reassure us that they wouldn’t be getting too religious on us. They abided by the promise by teaching that different people have different spiritual experiences and for some watching a camp fire is a spiritual experience when the spiritual topic arose.


  5. johnhenrycn says:

    “…the priests usually fail to mention relevant issues…”.”

    A good comment, Michael, and thank you for taking the time to compose and edit it.

    The only life issue sermon I’ve ever heard in my parish was from a visiting priest. I love him and we go out to lunch together from time to time. But the thing is, he has a tin ear for hymnody, and loves to talk, at lunch, about his love for operating heavy machinery , like back hoes and excavators, which he used to do before being ordained, and still does when his siblings ask him to, down the farm, but which bores me to tears – my point being that if he can say the Mass reverently – which he does – all else is secondary. Many priests are less than perfect, but to have a priest celebrating the Eucharist in one’s parish every day is a blessing beyond description. All else is secondary.

    This is not a criticism of your comment, with which I totally agree, but just another perspective.


  6. Toad says:

    While we are contemplating ignorance, this programme, which I came across yesterday, might interest anyone with an idle hour to squander.
    For all I know, it’s all utter rubbish from soup to nuts – but it puts forward some ingenious alternative notions in a sensible, non-hysterical, fashion.
    It’s at least two years old, and possibly everyone else on here has already seen it.

    What does it “prove”? Nothing, of course.
    But then, what does?


  7. johnhenrycn says:

    Toad, sorry, but I won’t watch your video, and the reason is that I do not wish to have anything interfere with my faith. I believe and repeat the Apostle’s Creed every day. Did Jesus die on the Cross, as the Gospels say? Intellectually, historically, I think he did. Maybe he died on a tree as Acts says. I believe He died on the Cross, but it makes no difference to my faith whether he died on a tree, a cross, or a gibbet. The essential point is that He lived (no serious scholar doubts that), He died (even atheists agree) and He is risen, which is the stumbling block for people like you, but not for me. What possible justification is there for a faithful Christian to watch a YouTube which insults his faith and which is a matter of mere conjecture 2000 years on? I can only guess that your YouTube is a Screwtape tactic. Faith has existence that is not bound by empirical reality or even logic. Since growing up, I don’t believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, but I still believe in Jesus after all these years. Why would that be – since I have left childish beliefs behind – unless my soul tells me to? So, no, I’m not interested in devilish relativist historicism.


  8. Toad says:

    It wasn’t a “tactic” JH. I just came across the programme on YouTube and found it interesting, and imagined other people might.
    No more.
    You are not interested? OK. I’m not interested in motor car racing, myself. So I don’t watch that. Takes all sorts.


  9. marcpuckett says:

    Johnhenrycn, I live in a city which is mildly famous for being a destination for contemporary ‘hippies’ or, better, where people who are for some reason interested in maintaining that 60s/70s ethos, or, as they imagine, recreating it, come to live. Anyway, one characteristic behavior that I have noticed again and again is that when struck by an idea, any sort of idea, this type of person feels impelled to mention it, no matter what any others within hearing, or indeed in conversation with him, are speaking about. I don’t know why this is. For example, a group of acquaintances will be talking about the vicissitudes of the marijuana harvest, and, out of nowhere, he, this hippie fellow, will interject a few sentences about surfing off the coast of Baja California. And, if he is the brighter sort of outlaw from society, he will ask, five minutes later when the conversation, having resumed following his interruption, is flowing, with a bit of irritation in his voice (for he notices that no one is remarking on the ten feet of wave he fell into last month in Cabo), why no one is also talking about the surf.


  10. marcpuckett says:

    Oh, that comment posted accidentally. Apologies to all! Kathleen, someone, please take it down! My computer froze.


  11. Toad says:

    What did you mean to say, Marc?
    Anyway, our sympathies re the marijuana harvest.
    Nature can be cruel.


  12. JabbaPapa says:

    Crucifixion denialism has been ongoing for around 1900 years, toad — it is systematically based on a total lack of any 1st century supporting evidence, given that the first to invent this story were some Gnostics in the 2nd century at least 150 years after the event.

    One really should not encourage the mistaken notion that the ilk of Dan Brown should be taken seriously.


  13. Toad says:

    In short, it’s all nonsense, really, then? That’s a relief.
    Mind you, I always thought it was. And, if it’s been going on for 1,900 years, that “proves” it, doesn’t it? So we need not consider any of it. Good. I’m too lazy, anyway.

    (Though, no doubt Dan Brown’s bank manager, for one, takes him seriously.)

    “Evidence” in the field of metaphysics is always somewhat vexed, it seems to me.


  14. freescot says:

    Marcpuchett, I’m glad your comment slipped in – it’s a good story.
    As far as the consultation on the family goes, I am willing to accept that the vast majority of Catholics are ignorant of the Church’s teaching because the most are poor, uneducated and living in developing countries. Nor is it, to my mind, evidence of the health of the Church as a whole to generalise from one’s limited experience of how clergy preach.
    What can be said, I think, is that for two thousand years the great body of Christians have had a simple faith based on the joy and wonder of meeting God through Jesus Crist both in community and personal prayer, turning to God in times of need, as we see people doing over and over again in the gospels, and having faith but very little “Creed”.
    Living in Spain I see, daily, many examples of this simple faith, often expressed in near heretical rituals, in processions with weeping and wailing re-enactments of meetings between Jesus and the saints, or his mother; in symbols, such as leaving a votive leg on an altar; or in the simple phrase of a passing greeting, “May God go with you.” In our secular world, I find all this heartening and ignorance of doctrine hardly matters.
    No the pastoral problems associated with the family, divorce, re-marriage and gay relationships do not derive from ignorance of the Church’s teachings. It is precisely the educated Catholics who have rejected these teachings, in droves.
    “Evangelii Gaudium” should give hope to all, traditionalists and liberals alike, because Pope Francis returns over and over the the simple message that God loves us and has sent us his son to be our friend and to bring us home. We need to keep this in focus and be both liberal and conservative at the same time because this basic message is about trust in God, openness to the Holy Spirit and not at all about the doctrinal positions we adopt.


  15. kathleen says:

    Do you really want me to take it down Marc? I rather like the underlying message – that any fool can come up with any crazy idea (that has no foundation or eyewitness evidence) and use it to distract and distort others’ beliefs. 😉

    There will always be those who will attack Our Blessed Lord’s Crucifixion and Death on the Cross, and His Glorious Resurrection – for those beliefs naturally imply further realities: that everything He foretold about Himself was true! And therefore that must also mean He really might be Who He said He was!! Meaning I would therefore have to change my sinful lifestyle and pick up my own cross to follow Him…. etc., etc.
    Not an easy choice to make for most people, which is why there is always such strong resistance!

    Getting back to the article’s original question, I personally would sadly reply that “yes, there are many Catholics who are certainly ignorant of Church teachings”, thanks to the downward spiral of catechesis and instruction in the last roughly 50 years. As you cannot love what you do not know, this explains the falling away of so many from the Faith.


  16. Toad says:

    Yes, please don’t take your comment down, Marc.
    We have few enough mentions of marijuana and surfing anyway – that we can afford to be cavalier about them.


  17. marcpuckett says:

    Well, next time I suffer an excess of… whimsy or indigestion or whatever it was, I’ll make sure not to send it in unless it is at least completed.


  18. johnhenrycn says:

    Haight-Ashbury isn’t all bad, Marc, but stay away from the Castro.


  19. Toad says:

    JH is, as always, right.
    Most unpleasant place.
    My wife and I were practically spat at, certainly sworn at, for walking through there while clearly not being “gay.”


  20. johnhenrycn says:

    Next time you’re in The Castro, if ever, subtlely suggest to Rebrites that she wear something arte povera-ish and you’ll fit right in.


  21. Toad says:

    God willing, as they say – there will not be any “next times” anywhere in God’s Own Country.
    He can have it.
    The picture you cruelly run of Reb does not show her at her best.
    She hadn’t had time to do her hair..


  22. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    In answer to the banner line of this article ……YES


  23. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    And Toad, you do your self a huge disservice with that video


  24. Toad says:

    Why, Geoff?
    I don’t subscribe to any of the sundry theories propounded there. Except that I strongly suspect any theory involving The Templars is pretty sure to be gibberish, in my experience.
    And masses of people on the Camino are obsessed with them.

    …Just thought the documentary was thought-provoking, in parts, which can’t be bad, can it?
    It can? …Oh.
    JH seems of like mind with yourself.
    …So I’m very likely in error.


  25. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    Chin up Toad. things can only get better for you. (smile on face)… my face that is..

    ” …that when an overall view of marriage and the family is clearly communicated in its authentic human and Christian form, it is enthusiastically received by the faithful…”
    I would not want to be in the shoes of some our weak bishops or priests when the time comes.

    Paraphrasing Kathleen’s , “…you cannot love what you do not know…” You cannot hand on what you don’t have. (our religious educator in Catholic Schools take note as well) The Melbourne Campus for the JP II Institute for Studies have no further to look than their own Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliot, stated as reported in the Record Catholic Newspaper (Perth West Australia) dated the 8th August 2013. :- “…that while past graduating Catholic Students may have little doctrinal knowledge AND religious practice, they did have a great fondness for social justice…” Well whoopee. After 10 odd years of religious education in our Catholic Schools, all they have to show for it is a great fondness for social justice…
    Our Own (Perth) retired A/Bishop Barry Hickey, when told that not one graduating student from a Catholic School practiced their Faith, responded, “I am floored I had no idea things were that bad.” -2004

    “…the documents of Vat II do not seem have taken a foothold in the faithful mentality”
    Gee I wonder why?
    Consider this comment from our illustrious Cardinal Walter Kasper
    and was called a great theologian by the Holy Father Pope Francis, as reported by L’Osservatore Romano on the 12th APRIL 2013..
    “In many instances the Council Fathers (VII) had to find compromise formulas in which the position of the major are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to limit them., Thus the conciliar texts themselves had a huge potential for conflict and opened he door to selective reception in either direction”
    Maybe the Holy Spirit ‘declined’ to endorse some of the documents of Vat II given the deceptive and fraudulent manner in which some were prepared. Hence their failure to gain a foothold… He is after all NOT the Father of lies


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