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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.

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