September 24, 2015
The time of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. has arrived as I write this. Each stage of his journey, in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, promises individual riches but will also be watched by the world as a preamble to the Synod of the Family happening in October.
The Holy Father is aware of this. In a direct challenge to the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling he recently urged Catholic married couples to take up the defense of marriage between one man and one woman as a mission entrusted to them.
He explained that this mission is all the more important given that “the image of the family — as God wills it, made up of one man and one woman, in view of the good of the spouses and also of the generation and education of children — is deformed through powerful contrary projects supported by ideological colonizations” (September 10 to the Équipes Notre Dame).
This statement boldly opposes homosexual “marriage” in the name of the spouses themselves, and not just for the sake of the children. It continues the teaching on the family which has been a feature of the Holy Father’s catechesis in the last year.
Two days before this address, Pope Francis issued a moto proprio on marriage annulment, shifting emphasis away from defense of the bond toward making annulment easier and faster. The move, made in advance of the synod and without the expected consultation, has caused consternation, giving rise to a seven-page dossier which is being passed around the Vatican.
Raymond Cardinal Burke, who used to run the Apostolic Signatura, warns that America has already tried streamlining by abandoning a second tribunal, and that it led to the equivalent of “Catholic divorce.”
Cardinal Burke has been omitted from the Pope’s list of special appointees for this October. The list of 45 names is included in the official announcement of the composition of the synod released on September 15. Eyebrows have been raised at his selecting notable liberals, at the exclusion of prelates such as Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Belgium and Ennio Cardinal Antonelli, retired president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Against this, the geographical spread is wider and the number of observers and experts has grown since last year. It is good to see that the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family is being represented.
What Pope Francis is doing is extraordinary. He is opening up the whole Church to fight out in public every issue which touches family, giving prominence to ecclesiastics with contrary positions, one hopes so that they cannot, as at present, go on rumbling in the background.
The policy is a dangerous one. We have already been warned by leading figures such as Gerhard Cardinal Mueller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan that the Church is in danger of schism.
The existing situation would have to be perilous for any Pope to risk such a strategy, but that is exactly what Pope Francis is telling us is the case. There are too many souls currently being lost, and we have to do something. Ever since St. John Paul outlined the need for a New Evangelization, the family has been given prominence within it and Pope Francis is now forcing us to focus on this.
There are a daunting number of people out there, including baptized Catholics, who are currently lost to grace and many of them have fallen by the wayside because of the status of their family life. Many cannot even hear the call to mercy over their fear of being rejected.
The extent of dissent within the Church among bishops and cardinals has caused shock but I wonder if it should. The fact is that serious sin is already endemic among Catholics in their sexual lives, and this enfeebles us all, including the hierarchy. It is not just what people have done, but what they have omitted to do. Whole dioceses have at best been lukewarm in passing on the fullness of the faith and in educating the people in the truths of sexuality.
We have had St. John Paul’s rich teaching on the Theology of the Body for some three decades, but how many priests, let alone ordinary faithful, understand it? It has been said that, without the media, many Catholics wouldn’t even know that the Church has a problem with contraception. Conscience clauses to protect doctors and druggists are few, and many Catholic medical professionals (and teachers) have joined the compromise.
Add to this the shame of sacrilegious Communions. These must be happening everywhere each Sunday. The number of remarried divorcees approaching the altar rails is small compared with the number of people who are contracepting, or cohabiting, or have missed Mass on Sunday, or who are not even Catholic, but are yet coming up for Holy Communion without first going to Confession. The sin is private, and in many cases will be ignorantly committed.
However, just as a vase is still broken whether or not a vandal or child breaks it, so the offense to our Lord remains and reverence for the sacrament is diminished.
And The Synod
Back in July, Voice of the Family went through the Instrumentum Laboris, on which discussion at the synod will be based, pointing out its many weaknesses. Voice or the Family shows that the word “contraception” is avoided, and that the one and only paragraph which covers Humanae Vitae is confusing.
On September 10, 50 theologians and philsophers, headed by David S. Crawford and Stephan Kampowski, complained about this paragraph, saying that its wording allows for contradiction between a well-formed conscience and objective moral norms.
“Paragraph 137 should be removed and replaced by a paragraph that speaks of the conscience in a more precise fashion, that celebrates the wisdom and beauty of Humanae Vitae, and that helps spouses to appreciate that the graces are available to them to live out God’s plan for the gift of sexuality.”
Humanae Vitae goes to the heart of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. If it falls, the Church’s true Gospel of the Family goes with it.
It is easy to be dismayed by the confusion being spread abroad, but there is another trap, which is to become cynical and lose hope. Love for unity and authority within the Church, and for our Holy Father who leads us, is also a precious characteristic of what it is to be a Catholic.
Fr. Paul Check, well known for his good work among homosexuals, suggests that the current debate on family is as much a discussion on the Church’s role to speak with authority about sexual morality as it is about the form that that morality takes.
Truth Will Not Be Contained
How can we hope that the Family Synod will help to turn things around, given that it only has consultative status? (It will be the Pope himself who draws conclusions together in an expected apostolic exhortation.)
Much of the groundwork has already been done. Since Pope Francis called the two Family Synods, an impressive range of research has been published, illustrating the history of the Church’s teaching, its pastoral importance and how it all hangs together. This includes the books Remaining in the Truth of Christ, a new edition of Marc Cardinal Ouellet’s Mystery and Sacrament of Love — A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization, and Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family.
A remarkable new study on same-sex attraction called Living the Truth in Love has also just appeared and is likely to become a classic.
Something else remains true and cannot be turned round. Those supporting liberalizing Church teaching look out of date. The Pill has been no wonder drug. It damages women and fails. It has not brought happier marriages and families. It lies at the heart of much that has gone wrong in family life.
For too long Catholics have been embarrassed by the Church’s teaching on contraception, treating it as though it only applies to faith and to Catholics. Reason has now caught up, and is being explained by professionals in every field, doctors, sociologists, and economists to name but a few.
They are by no means all Catholic, as the next World Congress of Families, taking place in Salt Lake City at the end of October, will show. There are monied interests to oppose them, but eventually truth will not be contained.
When Pope Francis called for the two Family Synods, he begged for prayer. In response to his call, a family gathers in Poland at 9 p.m. every night to pray in front of our Lady’ miraculous picture at Czestochowa.
We have been promised that the Gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church but we cannot expect the Gates to fall if we do not attack them. On the Feast of St. Michael, a filial petition is to be presented to the Holy Father asking for clarity in the Church’s teaching. We can all fast and pray that in the months ahead we are given success.