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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It has been replaced by juridical fiction.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?