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Question 2 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

2. Marriage according to the Natural Law

a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

It has been replaced by juridical fiction. Man has made himself the “almighty” master of his relationships and God is allowed no say. Same-sex unions immediately imply that the male-female scenario is no longer viewed as absolute. Natural law implies intelligent design and order. Such runs smack into the face of modern subjectivism and relativism. We still hear parodies of the natural law as when Christians find humour in saying that God made “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve.” But there is not much depth to arguments.  Certain academics will appeal to natural law; indeed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once wrote a brilliant paper showing how natural law invalidated claims on behalf of slavery. However, the accolades he won were lost when he showed how the same principles could be applied to the personhood of the unborn against abortion. Anthropologists are now quick to point to past aberrations of homosexuality to show a degree or normalcy that does not really exist. They will also argue that one worldview should not be given preference over another and despise the work of Christian missionaries in changing the values and practices of indigenous societies. This would even include attempts to stamp out polygamy.

b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

Heterosexuals still see the immediacy of natural law with their unions and offspring. However, even here they are compromised by the rampant use of artificial contraception. The marital act is separated from its natural ends. The argument is that women are no longer restricted or in bondage to their biology.

c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?

We can talk about such matters in the context of past history but the current trajectory of these questions is something else entirely. The family unit was a building block to a stable society and crucial for civilization. Some experts speak from a type of pragmatism, saying that large families were only desirable when there were high mortality rates or when children become free employment in family businesses. Such reasoning would contend that small families are now the ideal, for population control or environmental issues. Church and society at large safeguarded the traditional family. Today the notion of family is so elastic that it is hard to define. Indeed, it is still evolving. Obviously the nuclear family is not the same as the extended families of Jesus’ day. But now households increasingly have one parent (usually the mother) or two men playing father or two women playing mother. While polygamy is currently against the law, as is pederasty, both are being challenged in the courts. In practice, without benefit of a contract, multiple men and women are already living together in partnerships that cross all gender lines without limits. I suspect we shall see unions of three or more people in civil marriages within the near future. Islam already permits such unions, at least for a man with several wives.

d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?

Non-Catholics cannot be married before a priest or deacon. There must be at least one practicing Catholic for a marriage, or at least a Catholic who is willing to reform. It would make no sense to witness the marriages of Catholics who have committed apostasy and would otherwise want no part of the Church. While such a scenario might be judged unlikely, it does come up. The pressure from parents and the beauty of a church building are enticements for such a request. When the priest says no, the upset is incalculable. But sometimes you have to say no. Nine times out of ten they will also refuse to take part in the marriage preparation. They will then ask if they can rent the church and bring in the local priestess from the Church of the Real Absence down the street. Again, the answer is no. They can repent and reform their lives or they can continue on their way.

Question 3 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?

It seems to me that marriage preparation is frequently too little too late. The class or classes become streamlined so that an obligation might be checked off the list. It seems to me that a successful program would cover basic Christian anthropology and would be so challenging that some couples would even decide not to get married or to continue relationships. We do not want to rubberstamp bad choices or assist people in going through the motions. There is already too much of this with our children. The Archdiocese has standards for catechesis but the guidelines have no teeth and are not binding for advancement. 60% was regarded as passing and yet in my book that rates a failing grade. Are we doing the same with marriage preparation programs? Many dioceses are also pushing off the responsibility to external groups or to individual parishes. But there is no mandated accreditation for these efforts. Some even seem to cloud the truth. For instance, methods of NFP might be taught. However, even NFP is immoral if practiced to avoid pregnancy. It can only be permitted for the spacing of births or to get pregnant. The exclusion of openness to procreation in the marital act is wrong and sinful. Do our couples know this? Are they getting NFP instruction? And is that instruction trustworthy? Hopefully the Theology of the Body plays a large part of such efforts. Catholics should appreciate the sacramental nature of marriage as a covenant established and renewed between themselves and the Lord. A love and passion for persons should be given preference over disorientation or the poison of lust and selfishness. They need to see the family as the little church.

Beyond content, I am also worried about timing. Instruction about marriage and moral human sexuality (not just a biology class) must begin early enough so that mistakes will not be blindly embraced in the dating scene. Courtship should be taught over the popular dating efforts in modern society. The truth that sex belongs only to marriage should be emphasized and witnessed by others. Catholics should also be encouraged to reserve their courtship to Catholics. When a Catholic dates a non-Catholic, we should not hesitate or be embarrassed to emphasize the faith and the joy of conversion to the truth. Such marriages still require dispensations.  Maybe we should require RCIA for mixed marriages and require a year or more waiting period?  If the husband and father is head of the home, it is only fitting that he should be the religious head. If he is not a Catholic, then this is compromised. Similarly the mother and wife should have a Catholic sense taken from the model of the Blessed Mother. A non-believer would not have this benefit. Marriages to Protestants might sometimes be tolerated. Marriages to Jews and especially Moslems should be strenuously discouraged. It is best not to date such persons. I am not arguing for an absolute prohibition but there should be a clear mutual agreement that the children will be raised as Catholics.  Such is for the good of faith, for the Catholic party and the children. I really think we have to rethink how we do things in our secular and diverse culture.

b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

What is the measure of such success? People do not always share the intimacies of their spiritual lives. I have urged that we talk with God and that if we love someone then we want to know as much as possible about them. Prayer is a two-way communication that enhances and makes real our personal and corporate relationship with Jesus. I put together a small book for parishioners which speaks briefly about the meaning and variety of prayer; I list important devotional works that are part of our Catholic heritage; and I reproduce some traditional prayers. We live in a busy age, but we must make time for prayer, even if only short aspirations. Parishioners asked for and took the little book. Hopefully, along with my pastoral teaching it made some small difference. We instigated the Traveling Madonna (to pray for marriages and the right to life) and the Traveling Chalice (to pray for priests and vocations). I have urged families to set up prayer spaces or shrines in their homes; to consecrate their homes to the Sacred Heat and to have house blessings. I have suggested that couples have a pattern of prayer into which they can later introduce their children. Hopefully, they have taken all this to heart. Trying to transmit our faith and values can be frustrating.  One sometimes wonders if any difference was made.  But God does not demand that we be successful, only faithful.

c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfil their vocation of transmitting the faith?

You cannot give what you do not possess. The leaders of the Church played the part of the ostrich with its head in the sand. It was pretended that everything was going well while the house of cards was collapsing all around us. Many only became alert to the problem in the face of an aging demographic and a shortage of funds. If 75% of our people no longer participate at Sunday Mass, I think it is safe to say that the faith is not being transmitted to the next generation. Many are baptized and remain uncatechised. We can no longer count Catholics on the basis of sacraments received. Even among those practicing their faith, it is hard to light a fire for the faith. Parents are supposed to be the chief religious educators of their children, but practicing Catholics increasingly relinquish this role to the schools or to once-a-week catechesis. It just does not work. Past poor catechesis from the 1960’s and 70’s still haunts us. Adults cannot pass on or transmit what they do not have. There are several lost generations. Every Catholic family, no matter whether they use a parochial school or parish-based program, should be in essence a home-schooling family when it comes to our Catholic religion. It is not enough to do homework and count on others.  Religious faith and values should be studied every night without exception. Indeed, the habit of study should remain with our people so that as adults they will continue to explore the depths of our holy faith. But such is right now rarely the case.

d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

I think such efforts are few and far between. Certainly young adults and teen groups are sometimes the source of religious education, prayer and worship. Small faith-sharing groups were once popular, but some authorities became concerned about the quality of materials and what was being taught. The Rosary remains a staple and the Stations of the Cross are important during Lent. Parishes offer Eucharistic Adoration. Charismatic prayer groups still exist although they seem less prevalent than a few years ago. They also suffered from too much dependence on lay prayer leaders, some of whom became overly intrusive into the personal lives of members. I would encourage the restoration of traditional efforts like the Holy Name Society, Sodalities, and the spiritual works of fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus.

e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

First, we must resist the modern temptation to clericalize the laity with all sorts of Church ministries. Second, everything should be done to foster family life and values. (Catholics and other Christians should refrain from shopping on Sundays and spend time at home. This will also allow believers to be with their families and to be able to worship instead of working. We need to safeguard the Lord’s Day better than we have lately. Third, priests should consecrate the homes of couples in faithful marriages, reinforcing the sanctity of the home and urging them to keep negative elements outside their doors. Fourth, couples should stay together despite the obstacles and treat their fertility as a great blessing to be fulfilled with joy. In other words, love each other, have babies, work hard, and go to Mass. It really is no secret.

f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

I will speak more about this in later questions, but feel that marriage preparation should be more than a quick Pre-Cana class. Marriage is a life-time commitment. Maybe it needs something more akin to the RCIA? Too often halls are rented and gowns are bought before the couple calls the priest. We need to turn this agenda around. While there are special programs to help hurting marriages; we also need a pool of professional counsellors who would be on call at modest cost to assist couples in struggling marriages. These counsellors should have the mind of the Church. Secular counsellors often see little or no value in permanence and quickly urge clients to separate and terminate relationships.

Question 4 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

Not only is it a reality, the practice is reaching beyond “ad experimentum” in becoming a state of life all its own. Sure, there are couples who “shack up” to see if they are meant to live together, but many cohabitate for years without getting married or even intending to get married. Society, itself, is unsure how to deal with the phenomena. For instance, laws for common law marriages are falling by the wayside. It created situations where couples were regarded as legally married while they, themselves, thought they were not. I suspect that some of these couples suffer from ambivalence about marriage or a fear of the lasting commitment. Of course, the epidemic of divorce may also be a catalyst. I have heard couples say that they want to be sure and that they do not become another negative statistic. Ironically, those who cohabitate before marriage do not seem to fare as well as those couples who are virginal and/or chaste; why is this? I would submit that cohabitation grants none of the spiritual safeguards for marriage and thus is not analogous. There are no graces from the sacrament; indeed, the couple are most probably living in a state of mortal sin. Such cohabitation presumes that the couple are engaged in sexual activity or fornication. Indeed, some couples live together because it makes sexual congress easier. Others live together because they take refuge in each other within an increasingly cold and disconnected world. Men and women are lonely and afraid. Even though they are not married, they cling to each other for support and companionship. Unfortunately, mortal sin is no adequate preparation for a grace-filled marriage. Couples say they love each other… but not enough to wait and not enough to preserve the holiness of the beloved. This selfishness and mind-set is a terminal kernel.

I should add that when these couples come to the priest and ask for marriage, they are frequently treated the same as chaste couples trying to do right by God, the Church and themselves.  A girl can be pregnant but she wants to wear white.  But if she is living with her boyfriend and having sex, it becomes a broken sign.  We can recommend separation but sometimes the length of the relationships and the logistics (including finances) of cohabitation would make this difficult.  I have them stay apart the night before the wedding and require them to go to Confession.  I would recommend that we marry such couples but do so in a way that minimizes the scandal.  They could offer their vows in a chapel of the rectory or in a small service with less than a dozen friends.  We could let couples know that cohabitation would cost them the marriage ceremony of their dreams.  These are precisely the people who need to ponder more the inner realities of marriage and less the external trappings.

b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

Is this question for real? Of course, they exist. Indeed, this year for the first time in the United States there are more couples cohabitating than married.

“About a quarter of women move in with a romantic partner before the age of 20, and more women than ever live with a partner before they get married, according to a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly half of women (48 percent) between the ages of 15 and 44 lived with a partner before getting married between the years of 2006 and 2010, an 11 percent jump since 2002 and a 41 percent jump since 1995. Less than a quarter of so-called “first unions”—meaning a first marriage or first cohabitation—were marriages during that span. In 2002, 30 percent of “first unions” were marriages. According to the report, 1-in-5 women became pregnant during their first year of premarital cohabitation, 40 percent of first marital cohabitations transitioned to marriage within three years, and 27 percent dissolved within five years. People are also prolonging marriage for longer after moving in together, according to the report. In 1995, the average length of a cohabitation that transitioned into marriage was 14 months—between 2006 and 2010, it was 21 months.”

c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programs?

Again, of course this is a reality here in the U.S. and the Archdiocese of Washington. It was hoped that the six-month waiting period before marriage, and the accompanying preparation, might help. But the divorce issue still plagues us. The problem’s answer is shared Catholic faith and values. If couples worship and pray together, a Gallup poll shows that all but 2% stay together. And even that 2% might be an aberration from false responses. Couples that do not pray face a 50% plus divorce rate. This truth speaks for itself. If a couple practices sacrificial love and places their marriage into God’s hands, then his grace will sustain them. If they ignore his help, they are more liable to fail. As for percentages in the parish, I cannot say. Many no longer even tell the priest. This includes those who have remarried outside the Church. This complicates matters and makes for embarrassing situations among volunteers for parish service or for membership in fraternal organizations like the Knights of St. John and the Knights of Columbus. Like most priests, I have no specific parish program to deal with this issue. The priest will offer counselling if they come forward and assist in an annulment and/or subsequent convalidation. The issue is delicate and sometimes frightfully complicated. I had a situation of a couple that wanted to get married in the Church. They were both Catholic but the man was previously married outside the Church in a civil court. The Church would not recognize that bond but it lasted some years and they had children. The man procured a Declaration of Nullity Because of Lack of Canonical Form. There was nothing really stopping the second (true) marriage. However, as the priest I felt corrupted by the situation. He had abandoned his prior spouse and the girl he wanted to marry was “the other woman” who bragged about stealing him from his civilly married spouse. Married or not, it was a sickening situation!

I know that there are programs in the Archdiocese to assist troubled marriages, like Retrouvaille. There is also Marriage Encounter.

d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?

Some drop out regarding religious practice. Others act as if it is no big deal. Those who take Church teaching seriously feel guilt but there is resentment that they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist. They frequently want to be treated as regularized when they are not. Some priests have told them that it is up to their conscience as to receive Holy Communion or not. They might even shop around for priests tolerant on this point. Of course, guidelines in the Archdiocese of Washington are currently rather permissive and priests are generally not allowed to withhold the sacrament. (Although many of us regularly substitute a quick blessing gesture, something in itself which is not proper to the communion line but which helps to avoid a negative confrontation.) I have encountered a few over the years who were unaware of Catholic marriage law, but only a few. There has also been the wrinkle of renegade rent-a-priests who posture as clergy in good standing and witness marriages without faculties. I have encountered two cases of this in the last two years.

e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?

They all pretty much ask for the sacraments or are upset when they discover that they should refrain. That is why they see the priest. The majority drop out and probably do not care. They will not make the effort to talk to a priest. Unfortunately, everyone who goes to Mass these days takes the sacrament. Ushers have to be careful not to intimidate such people to come up so as to avoid shame.

f) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

There has already been criticism of the many annulments granted in the United States. I suspect simplification would make the problem worse. Annulments must always be in conformity to the truth. There are some situations that cannot be fixed.

g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programs exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?

I think we need to do more to emphasize the value of the person who is not married or who through no fault of his or her own must now live as a single person after a failed marriage. Couples are not made up of two halfs that are made whole. We are complete unto ourselves. Not all stories in this world end happily. It is then we seek solidarity and consolation in Christ’s saving Cross.

Although not always conveniently located, there are also groups for Divorced and Separated Catholics. However, I am not certain that these always constitute the proper pastoral response. I have known divorced people becoming romantically inclined with people who share their hurts and disappointments. Instead of encouraging separated Catholics to mend fences, it makes the breaks permanent. Couples start dating when in the eyes of the Church they still belong to their lawful spouse. The Church, after all, does not recognize divorce and the person or persons who precipitate the break commit sin. This last point is either glossed over or denied, even by some assisting clergy. Are we encouraging fornication, cohabitation and adultery with our support groups for separated and divorced Catholics? Why is it that we do not encourage them to be chaste and content on their own?  Do we really want a breeding ground for romance for this group?

Question 5 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex

a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?

Yes, such is the case in many states and the Bishops and the Maryland Catholic Conference lost the fight in Maryland despite an aggressive Marriage Matters campaign.

b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

There is a real culture war and increased tension between conservative and liberal churches. Prince George’s is heavily Democratic and yet the voters just barely opposed the same-sex legislation. However, the high numbers in favour in other areas like Baltimore and Montgomery County carried the day for those proposing same-sex marriages. The Black churches leaned against the proposal while the liberal white churches and reformed synagogues were in favour. The Episcopal churches also largely supported the change.

c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?

That is the question right now, is it not? The Pope’s assertion about who is he to judge has fuelled speculation of a shift in attitude in the Catholic Church toward homosexuals. My late cousin (Fr. John Harvey) was the founder of COURAGE, an organization that urged homosexuals to embrace celibate love, service to others and prayer. He took a great deal of ridicule from the renegade DIGNITY group that argued for the acceptance of homosexual acts. We can urge them to go regularly to confession and Mass. But it seems to me that we cannot rubberstamp sin. Complicating the issue, homosexuals identify themselves chiefly by their orientation. Thus they reject the “hate the sin but love the sinner” scenario. They contend that if you judge “how they love” then you judge them and that this is hate speech.

d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

Boston and Washington, DC shut down their adoption services. What else can we do? I fail to see how we might deliberately place children into homosexual and lesbian households. There may be no pastoral answer that suffices. Having said this, other organizations are going to make this happen. Lesbians are also going to get themselves inseminated (they often abort male children). If they come to us it seems that we should reach out to them with compassion and understanding of human weakness and the need for love. Life is messy and we may have to get our hands dirty. Some situations are going to defy correction or fixing. News stories of parochial schools firing lesbian teachers or expelling children with “two daddies or two mommies” only seems to make matters worse. But how should we proceed?

Question 6 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

a) What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

This is essentially a census question. “Married straight couples with families now make up less than half of U.S. households, marking the first time the group has dropped below 50 percent since census data on families was first collected in 1940.” This is quite a jump. Out of the additional 11 million households since 2000, traditional husband-wife family households now comprise just 48 percent. The majority of homes have a single head, nonrelated persons and solitary residents. While other groupings have gone up, husband-wife homes went down by 5 percent.

Women are increasing leading households and/or living alone. The number of unmarried women heads among black Americans was 30 percent, three times higher than other ethnic groups. “Unmarried straight couples living together increased by 40.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, four times the national average. That’s still no comparison to the rise in the number of same-sex couples living together, which grew 80.4 percent over the same period.”

Today more couples cohabitate than are married and over 40 percent of all births are illegitimate. Many children are also being raised by one parent. The incidence of single African-American mothers is so high it has become a stereotype.

b) How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

There are many children not receiving the sacraments or catechesis. Priests are not always receptive to such families when they request the sacraments for their children. I know priests who refuse to baptize babies if the parents are not married in the Church. It has angered them that I will do so. I admonish the family to get married and to live a Christian life. I tell them that baptism is not the end of something but the beginning. They are urged to witness and to share the faith. If they promise to try, and only God knows if they lie, then I will baptize the child. However, I will not baptize an illegitimate child at Mass, only in a separate service. Sometimes there is a residual faith that moves them to make the request. There might also be guilt. Grandparents might also be exerting pressure. This can become complicated when parents do not share the Catholic faith. What do you do when a Jewish or Moslem father threatens legal action should the mother get the child baptized or bring him to Mass for first communion? I took some heat a few years ago for baptizing a child who belonged to a lesbian couple. A homosexual neighbour donated the semen for one of the party’s insemination. This little girl was being raised with “two mommies.” The grandparents begged me to help. I talked to the ladies and made it clear that the Church could not and would not recognize their lifestyle. I then asked if they would pledge themselves to regular Sunday Mass attendance (without taking Holy Communion) and to raising their little girl in the Catholic faith? They said YES and the grandparents assisted. I did not want to punish the child for the parents’ sins. I baptized her. She has since attended Catholic schools, although the grandfather has passed away.

There are way too many cases where children attend catechesis simply so that they might get the sacraments. There is even a joke about it. “Confirmation is the sacrament you receive before leaving the Church.” The kids can be blunt about it. They want to get over with it. How do we set parents and youth afire with love for Christ?

c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

Like so many questions in this survey, any answer given must stretch or correct the question. First, many parents are no longer even asking the basic questions of meaning, do not identify with any institutional church and are not concerned about the religious instruction of children. Second, those who are interested frequently want to minimize the impact and time involved with any religious formation. Everything else takes priority. Third, since only a very few Catholic students might be given entry into parochial schools, one would think that the emphasis would be upon parish catechesis. However, the opposite is true. Catholic school children are treated as the elite and the rest are the poor step-children. Millions of dollars go to the schools and scraps are given to parish programs. The Church does not invest proportional time, money or resources to children outside our parochial schools. Sacramental schedules follow the school year regardless of children who must get along with an hour a week of religion. We confirm children in eighth grade because that is when they leave Catholic grammar schools; and yet, the process is mostly mechanical regardless of preparedness. Efforts to raise the age for confirmation to tenth grade are struck down because such would take jurisdiction away from the Catholic school system and place it back in parish programs open to all children. Catholic schools are valuable but are becoming too expensive for many poor and immigrant Catholic families. This is causing an irony where well-to-do non-Catholics are attending parochial schools to bypass a failing public school system while Catholic children are excluded for financial reasons. This compromises the basic mission of our parishes and schools.

d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?

Children from school and parish-based programs are lumped together for sacraments. No reconciliation is made of the fact that some get religion five days a week and the rest only once a week for an hour. As soon as the child reaches a certain age and grade they are given first communion or confirmation. Children get first confession and Holy Communion but then drop from religious education programs until junior high years. Young teens get confirmed and then, along with parents, disappear from the pews. I know this sounds terribly cynical but it is the common experience to which many pastors and catechists can attest.

Efforts that focus upon collaboration with parents suffer from the poor formation of adults who are neither informed nor motivated to assist with religious studies and homework.

Question 7 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

When was the last time the average Catholic heard a homily on Humanae vitae? We had a Dominican priest speak about it here at Holy Family Parish a few years ago and I got a letter of complaint and another one went to the Archdiocese. The dissenters count on silence and threaten to hold back financial support otherwise. Many priests also dissent (although they are an aging group) and one told me to my face that he assured penitents that taking the pill was responsible parenthood and not a sin. I chastised him in private and when he refused to change his errant ways I reported him to the Archdiocese. What happened? Nothing, he remained in place with a good size parish and school until he died a year ago. All most people know about the teaching is what the news media and biased family and friends tell them. Kids often stop taking catechesis in eighth grade and the more complicated topics like birth control are not age appropriate. Do our marriage preparation efforts bring it up? Humanae vitae requires a basic shared appreciation of Christian anthropology: the nature and purpose of the conjugal act, a respect for the dignity of persons, acknowledgment for the design of the Creator and his providence, and the inseparability of union and an openness to procreation. A general shallowness makes it difficult or impossible for many people to comprehend the Church’s argument. While fidelity was once procured because of a profound sense of duty and obedience; such comes across today as arbitrary and overly complicated. We cannot blindly trust in a deontology toward authority when Church leadership has been compromised and maligned. High school and young adult catechesis has to be broadened and made attractive. There is just no way to communicate a cohesive understanding of human personhood and values to children and disinterested adolescents. A grade-school catechesis does not prepare Catholic adults for responding as people of faith in the modern world.

b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?

Do we even have to ask this question? The teaching is broadly rejected. Contraception is the easy way out and now with the HHS Mandate, it is free. Ours society takes pills for everything. We are conditioned to be pill takers. NFP would demand a degree of responsibility and abstinence that some find difficult. Not only are we dealing with sexual addiction, but there is a basic disconnect between the marital act and having babies. Fertility is increasing looked upon as a disease and pregnancy is the expensive curse that results. Contraception permits irresponsibility and the treatment of bodies as toys for recreation. The dignity of the human person is undermined.

c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?

Various forms of NFP are promoted. Critics often confuse them with the older form of Rhythm which often failed because it wrongly treated all female cycles as the same.

d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

Some would throw in my face that Father So-&-So said it was okay. At one time there was some debate. However, now it is almost never mentioned. They have been told that it is all up to their consciences. Of course, the clergy who told them this neglected to mention the need for a properly formed conscience. I doubt that many would even understand the meaning of a dynamic Christian conscience. It needs to be formed in such a way that any judgment made conforms to the truth and respects the Church. The same can be said about the Eucharist. Almost everyone receives, even those in bad marriages and in serious sin.

e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

The Church still generally teaches the orthodox position, but not everywhere. I know one girls’ high school where the religious sister said that she could not formally teach them about contraception but she could pass around a picture book (for educational purposes) with all the available forms of birth control imaged. Civic education is at least more honest, even if more hostile to the faith. Not only is artificial contraception taught, but condoms and similar services are rendered to students. Indeed, my public high school (Suitland, MD) regularly had the school nurse walking kids down to the local abortion clinic during our one hour lunch break. There is also disagreement on other topics like homosexuality and what constitutes tolerance.

f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

Such can only be promoted if Catholics themselves are willing to be a real sign of contradiction. I know one couple with five or six children who are even harassed by parents and siblings for having “too many children.” They argue the economic issue and a lifestyle they are sacrificing. They speak about the environment and accuse them of being selfish for placing such an increased burden upon an already crowded world. Instead of converting the world, Catholics are increasingly trying to live traditional values within a self-imposed ghetto of like-minded “home-schooling” friends. Meanwhile, pressure is building to force them and others to conform to the contemporary hedonism. Benefits are being stripped from those who refuse to attend traditional schools. This has often landed families and home-schooling organizations in the courts. Some jurisdictions have attempted to outlaw home-schooling or to interfere with the curriculum. Is there a way to encourage larger and more faithful families without resorting to an isolation that might later make us more vulnerable to a hostile society? It seems to me that proper formation must come along with an aggressive evangelization. The Catholic/Christian message must be given its place in the public forum. That would also include the usage of all the modern technological ways that people communicate, today.

Question 8 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

8. The Relationship between the Family and the Person

a) Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?

While Catholic teachings are often reduced to negativity or what couples cannot do, the Church actually speaks to the dignity of persons and our calling as disciples:

“Finally, let the spouses themselves, made to the image of the living God and enjoying the authentic dignity of persons, be joined to one another in equal affection, harmony of mind and the work of mutual sanctification. Thus, following Christ who is the principle of life, by the sacrifices and joys of their vocation and through their faithful love, married people can become witnesses of the mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by His dying and His rising up to life again” (GS 52).

While the institution of marriage and family life has weathered many social changes; there are still wonderful and moving examples of living out our discipleship in the modern world. Our people do not deal well with disconnected dogmatism and lack the jargon for theological discourse. What they need are inspiring stories where people of faith witness the Gospel. At the same time we must be wary that there are social and political forces around us that are neither sympathetic to either divine-positive or natural law nor desirous of real dialogue or collaboration with the Church. They would force our hands and redefine for us both faith and family. The task before us is how we might effectively (and not in a belligerent manner) promote the sanctity of life, exclusive heterosexual marriage and the importance of permanence in regard to promises. Again, I would recommend testimonies where we see exemplified mutual respect and unconditional love.

b) What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?

The situations are numerous but would include: lack of prayer or knowing how to pray; absence from the Sunday observance; extended 6 to 7 day work weeks, even Sunday; poor formation and general religious ignorance; negative influences which overwhelm Church formation; the substitution of technology for immediate human and family contact; a hostile media; lacklustre sermons and unhappy or disinterested priests, etc.

c) To what extent do the many crisis of faith which people can experience affect family life?

The critical situations are epidemic. Father Peyton, “the Rosary priest,” always insisted that “the family that prays together stays together.” Families need to be the “little Church” where people learn about Jesus, say their prayers and participate weekly at Mass together. Most families today are lapsed from the Sunday Mass. Parents are not reading bible stories or the tales of the saints to their children. The television becomes the new tabernacle where minds and hearts are directed away from the Lord. Preaching is never heard but thousands upon thousands of secular messages flood the senses in programing and commercials. Computers and the internet is another challenge. Hours are spent with the new media but only a few seconds or no time at all is given to prayer or in quality family life. Adding to the challenge is a general religious ignorance. The new evangelization has already focused on this concern but too many of our people have yet to be reached. Do our people really have a personal and corporate relationship with Jesus Christ? Do husbands see themselves as intimately connected to Christ as the priests of their homes? Do wives view themselves in light of the mystery of Mary and the Church? Do they see the child as a great gift and as a reflection of the Christ Child? We have our work cut out for us.

Question 1 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

The following series of questions allows the particular Churches to participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod, whose purpose is to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the pastoral challenges facing the family today.

1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium

a) Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?

There is not much in the way of workshops or seminars on family life or values. People are sometimes challenged by preaching but there is also a deafening silence from certain quarters. The popular media used to reinforce the Christian view of family but this is no longer the case. People are more formed by the secular culture than by the Church. Its interpretation of the family is increasingly open-ended and non-traditional. Those who attempt to restrict any definition of marriage and family are regarded as hateful and bigoted.

Priests and other professional “religious” people might know something of Vatican II documents and papal teachings, but many or most of the laity would not even be able to identify the titles. Except for Marriage Preparation, youth catechesis and preaching, there are probably few opportunities to form people in the Church’s understanding of family life. As for the Bible, there is widespread dissent upon issues like homosexuality and premarital sex. People either ignore the teachings or only view them in the negative sense, i.e. what is forbidden, not what is worthwhile. Indeed, given the clerical pederast scandals, the bishops and priests are not given much credibility as teachers on human sexuality. Even the more respectful are quick to object that celibate priests should tell husbands and wives what they can and cannot do in the bedroom. Many feel that we have lost the fight over artificial contraception and need to move on. Of course, the problem that arises is that of the proverbial slippery slope. Disconnect marriage from procreation and one immediately finds an increase in fornication, cohabitation, homosexual liaisons, and the plight of abortion. Indeed, our people fail to see how a contraceptive mentality is the handmaid to abortion.

A difficulty that many have with biblical teachings is that our Holy Book cannot be used as a clear manual of the moral life. Catholics do not know how to read Scripture in a contextual way. That is one of the reasons why anti-Catholic apologists are often effective with the use of so-called “isolated” proof texts. Our Lord had to deal with this problem over the matter of divorce. He argues that such was not the way it was supposed to be. He explains that Moses allowed divorce because of the “hardness of their hearts.” Thus, the polygamy, use of handmaidens as mistresses and the writ of divorce that we find among Old Testament patriarchs has no binding force upon the consciences of Christians. Everything is interpreted in light of the mystery that is Christ. Turning to the New Testament, many misconstrue the headship of the husband and father as culturally conditioned and not having any permanent value. Others might claim it as support for a dictatorial male role in the family. The Church would rightly speak of the value of both the head (husband/father) and the heart (wife/mother). A body cannot live without either a head or a heart.

Gaudium et spes, may be Vatican II teaching, but we all know how the nebulous “spirit” of the Council has been allowed over the past half-century to supplant genuine and timeless truths taught by the Council fathers. While most in the pews would be ignorant of the document itself; that is not to say that there has been no influence (one way or another) by preaching in light of it. The Council certainly appreciated the problems facing families, many of which are far worse today:

“Yet the excellence of this institution is not everywhere reflected with equal brilliance, since polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love and other disfigurements have an obscuring effect. In addition, married love is too often profaned by excessive self-love, the worship of pleasure and illicit practices against human generation. Moreover, serious disturbances are caused in families by modern economic conditions, by influences at once social and psychological, and by the demands of civil society. Finally, in certain parts of the world problems resulting from population growth are generating concern” (GS #47). Redefinitions of marriage would not respect the teaching that “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children” (GS #50).

While the institution of marriage and family life has weathered many social changes; those changes today direct target the family for mutation into an analogous but different type of reality.

Many were enamoured by Pope John Paul II’s personal charm and his role in the collapse of Soviet communism; nevertheless, there remains a disconnect with Familiaris consortio and his depiction of Christian womanhood in another encyclical. He nails on the head the problem we face; however, only a piece-meal treatment is given to his writings and speeches by the media. The media, and even many religious teachers, feel that people are unable or unwilling to comprehend the middle-term or argumentation for the Church’s stances. Many favour contraception but few have ever read or could explain even one contention made in Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. Instead, they parrot the so-called experts (really dissenters) who have explored the matters for them. The people then move in the direction of least resistance. They also tend to favour the prejudices of parents and peers who are also more formed by the world than by the Gospel. Pope John Paul II writes: “On the one hand, in fact, there is a more lively awareness of personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, to promoting the dignity of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children. There is also an awareness of the need for the development of interfamily relationships, for reciprocal spiritual and material assistance, the rediscovery of the ecclesial mission proper to the family and its responsibility for the building of a more just society. On the other hand, however, signs are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality” (FC #6). This is still where matters stand. Freedom or choice is apparently made the supreme value and yet the license for some can become the bondage for others. We see this with the government intrusion into the business of churches and the question of religious liberty. The primacy instead should be upon human dignity and objective moral values.

Do couples today even wonder about God’s plan for them in Christian marriage?

Do they see the marriage analogy of Christ and his Church as reflecting any value in their relationships?

Are children seen as the fruit of love and the gift of God, or rather as an accident of passion and a disease to be either medicated away or surgically extracted?

Given that sexual expression outside marriage is now regarded as a rite of becoming, how do we safeguard fidelity in marriage and the value of virginity?.

b) In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

Is Church teaching really known anywhere or just caricatures of it? As with the commandments, there are a lot of perceived “thou shalt not’s” but not so many affirmative values about the intrinsic goodness and objective qualities of marriage and family. Easy divorce and remarriage, a predominate cohabitation and the mainstreaming of fornication has polluted the waters of popular opinion. The Church is viewed as backward. Traditional families are increasing squeezed into a social ghetto.

c) How widespread is the Church’s teaching in pastoral programs at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?

Catechesis is reserved to certain stages of life: catechesis for children, RCIA for adults, pre-Cana for engaged couples and maybe baptismal preparation classes for parents with babies. Bible studies rarely focus upon the subject, at least not at length. What other catechesis is there?

d) To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?

What do people actually know? It is simple: a man and woman come together and have a baby. They may or may not be married. The man might not even stick around. Of course, with same sex-unions, there is also the increase of adoption and artificial insemination for lesbians. Grandparents also often raise grandchildren when the parents are too busy or do not care to embrace their responsibilities. Two-thirds of our people no longer go to church, so faith is a minimal factor. People look to the liberal media which is largely uninformed about religious questions. Instead of positive witnessing, self-conceited celebrities from television, movies, music and sports are worshipped by fans. The Church’s message often gets lost.

Father Joe with Santa 2013

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From Santa & Father Joe:  “Remember, that Jesus is the reason for the season.  Keep Christ in Christmas!”

Oh and yes, much to Santa’s relief, he is sitting in my lap and not the other way around.

Phil Robertson & St. Paul Banned from A&E Network

A&E says it is a supporter of the LGBT community and will not tolerate a negative view about homosexuality.  Because of this, Phil Robertson is no longer welcome on the show “Duck Dynasty” and has been cast out from his television family.  But what the network is really saying is that upon this issue there can be no freedom of speech and that while gays are welcome, traditional Christians are NOT.

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We should not go out of our way to be mean-spirited or hateful; but the issue here is with inspired Scripture and Christianity.  The faith and God’s Word might challenge us on many subjects.  We might personally have hoped that Scripture or Church teaching were different on this or that subject.  But the creature cannot dictate to the Creator what should or should not be.

What the article should have been labeled is this:  “St. Paul Banned from A&E for His Homophobic Remarks!” Or, to take it one step forward,

MSN News – ‘Duck Dynasty’ star suspended over anti-gay comments

The Raw Story –  Conservatives rally around suspended ‘Duck Dynasty’ star

FOX News – A&E suspends ‘Duck Dynasty’s’ Phil Robertson

NBC – Catholic Governor Defends Robertson

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson has been suspended from the A&E reality series, following anti-gay remarks he made in an interview with GQ magazine.

Robertson caused controversy with his comments, in which he grouped gays with “drunks” and “terrorists,” and said that they won’t “inherit the kingdom of God.”

Asked what he considered sinful, Robertson told the magazine, “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine,” he said in the interview. “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

New American Bible (Catholic Translation):

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Romans 1:26-27

“Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.”

1 Timothy 1:8-11

“We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”