Thursday, February 20, 2014

More responses to the Synod on the Family Survey: Spain and Japan

More responses have drifted in this week to the Vatican's survey on family and sexuality in preparation for the October 2014 synod on the family.


(from El Periódico, 2/16/2014)

The 38 question survey sent by Francis last October to diocese worldwide to obtain a real snapshot of the Church confirms the schism in Spain between grassroots Catholics and official doctrine on the family and sexual morality. The almost 6,000 responses gathered from parishes, communities, individual Christians, and theologians and forwarded to the Vatican "unfiltered and unboiled" by Església Plural in Catalonia and the Religión Digital web portal in Madrid, reveal that most Catholics don't practice or agree with the prohibition on contraceptive methods or premarital sex, for example.

In the observations sent to Rome, those who responded to Esglèsia Plural and Religión Digital called for respect for homosexual couples and for them to be able to adopt children, for the role of women in the Church to be revised and for celibacy to be optional for priests.

Meanwhile the Spanish Bishops Conference (CEE), still ruled by Antonio Maria Rouco, reluctant to survey, has collected reports from all the diocese and will send them to the Vatican next week with a "national summary" which is being developed, according to a spokesman who refused to provide advance information. The following is an outline of what's new in the responses obtained by Esglèsia Plural and Religión Digital.

Repression and a list of prohibitions

Married couples, men and women religious, engaged and widowed people, as well as Jesuit, DOminican and Franciscan communities, and the Association of Women Theologians, among others, agree that the teachings of the Church on the family are mostly rejected and badly communicated. They also highlighted it lacks credibility in transmission and poses a role for women far from reality. "The family pastoral and catechetical programs are based on repression and not on proposal. They're a list of prohibitions and sins, whereas the value of the family is precisely in its ability to help in all circumstances," laments a group of professors of religion.

A view too patriarchal and unchanging

The institution of marriage that the Church maintains, according to a Christian community in a working class neighborhood of Madrid, isn't very distant from the times of the early Christians in the catacombs of Rome, with a union "for life when life expectancy was less than 30 years." "Its view is too unchanging and patriarchal," agree those consulted by Esglèsia Plural.

Other answers warn that "matrimony existed before the Church was created" and point out that it can't be imposed. Several jurists, among them a former minister, note that the civil bodies in Spain promote unions between men and women, whether within religious or civil marriage, or civil unions. "On the other hand, the Church," they complain, "doesn't acknowledge any union other than the sacramental matrimonial one in Spain."

Bishops lacking in mercy

Bergoglio's questionnaire asks if there are same-sex unions on an equal par in any way with marriage and what the attitude of the Church is. "Frankly improvable," says a group of university professors and married priests. The remind the Pope that the Spanish hierarchy has encouraged demonstrations against, and some prelates have even gone into the streets to protest homosexual marriage, "making clamorous statements that are far from the Gospel and showing an absolute lack of mercy and Christian feeling." One of the aspects on which there was the most agreement, according to Esglèsia Plural, was that we have to welcome them and approach them without prejudice. They also recognize that a thorough review of the doctrine on the role of sexuality in couples is needed.

Majority supports contraceptives

Sex in general and particularly within marriage is one of the most contested sections. Respondents believe that "a thorough review of the moral norms governing them is urgent" because they are a "compendium of absurd prohibitions proposed by people who, in theory, never have had to face these issues." Some argue that abstinence which the Church proposes as a natural means of contraception, is emphatically "unnatural".

Esglèsia Plural's analysis stresses that "it is one of the aspects which most clearly manifests a lack of following of the Church's guidelines." The majority is in favor of the use of contraceptives, especially condoms. "The Church's view is light years away from reality. It should begin by stopping seeing sex as sinful," suggests an expert on marriage and family ministry.

Optional celibacy and the defense of life

Under the heading "Other challenges and protests", a sort of catchall that concludes the long questionnaire developed by Pope Francis, the faithful respond to the Pontiff that it is urgent to review the role of women within the Church, develop a pastoral on the end of life, speed up the marriage dispensation process, and review compulsory celibacy for priests.

The Catholic community agrees that life must be defended. But whereas the more conservative only stress unborn life, the more progressive posit that all life must be defended, those already born as well, and especially that which "is in danger because of poverty and lack of dignity."


The Japanese Catholic Bishops Conference released their response to the preparatory questionnaire for the upcoming Synod on the Family this week. The full text of the document is available in both Japanese and English on their website and it doesn't whitewash the truth. Here are some excerpts:

  • In response to the question about whether the faithful are aware of the Church's teachings on sexual and family matters and put them into practice, the bishops responded: "Generally speaking, people are only aware of the bans on abortion, artificial birth control, divorce and remarriage. They are more influenced by societal mores than by those teachings, especially where birth control is concerned. As for birth control, people do not take the demands of the Church seriously, considering them irrelevant to their lives."

  • With regard to natural law, the Japanese bishops responded: "1. The idea of natural law is not generally understood nor is it accepted. 2. Often when Church leaders cannot present convincing reasons for what they say, they call it 'natural law' and demand obedience on their say-so. This has brought the whole concept of natural law into disrepute: 'If it is natural, why do people need to be taught it?' 3. Japanese culture emphasizes societal expectations rather than abstract principles as guides to action. So, though in the West 'natural law' may seem 'natural,' in Japan it is perceived as abstract and out-of-touch."

  • Regarding same-sex marriage in Japan: "There is as yet no major movement toward recognition of same-sex marriage in civil society. Rather, there seems to be a trend away from any kind of marriage." It should be noted that Japan offers no legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

  • Regarding cohabitation, the Japanese bishops report: "1. Couples who marry after cohabitation are not rare. According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2011), 17 percent of couples that marry had been living together during the year prior to the wedding. 2. One respondent said, 'Nearly all the couples I have married in the last few years have begun living together several months before the wedding. None among them recognized that it goes against the teachings of the Church.'" Further down, they opine: "The pastoral practice of the Church must begin from the premise that cohabitation and civil marriage outside the church have become the norm. The Church must be a place where such couples can find a welcome that will enable them to think more deeply about such issues. In developing a pastoral orientation, it is perhaps important to recall that the only time in the gospels that Jesus clearly encounters someone in a situation of cohabitation outside of marriage (the Samaritan woman at the well) he does not focus on it. Instead, he respectfully deals with the woman and turns her into a missionary."

  • Regarding Communion and Reconciliation for divorced and remarried Catholics: "1. Few ask about the sacraments. They have made the decision to either receive the sacraments or not and follow through on their decision. Others simply stay away from the Church. 2. There are people who do not know that they cannot receive the Eucharist if they have remarried after divorce. Even among those who know, there are people who receive the Eucharist, and there are priests who do not say anything even if they know that fact."

  • On artificial contraception, the Japanese bishops are brutally honest: "1. Contemporary Catholics are either indifferent to or unaware of the teaching of the Church. 2. Most Catholics in Japan have not heard of Humanae vitae. If they have, they probably do not make it an important part of their lives. Social and cultural values as well as financial considerations are more important. 3. While there may be some mention of the Church's teaching on artificial birth control in pre-marital instructions, most priests do not emphasize it." The bishops also clearly indicate their opposition to the survey's implicit conviction that large families are better and that every sex act should be open to procreation, saying that "in addition to economic factors that lead to a decline in the birth rate, there are social factors as well. Women desire more options than just motherhood. A materially comfortable lifestyle is usually impossible for a large family. In order that all children might be enabled to live with the dignity of the children of God, family planning to ensure that they have access to food, health care and education is a responsibility."

The document also discusses the specific challenges the Japanese Catholic Church is facing in this area because of so many mixed-faith couples and considerable internal migration of young people for economic reasons which has led to the breakdown of the traditional multigenerational Japanese family.

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