Monday, October 6, 2014

The Synod on the Family: A "Wish List"

I've been reading the results of the preparatory surveys for the Synod on the Family -- and the numerous commentaries and opinions expressed by different individuals and groups. As the Synod begins, I would like to add my "wish list" of things I think this Synod could realistically achieve:

1. De-linking marriage and procreation

To me, one of the most troublesome questions on the initial survey was 7f: "How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?". The Church should not be in the business of promoting increases in births. It should be in the business of promoting responsible parenthood -- Catholic couples having only the number of children they want and are able to provide for. For some couples, the choice to remain childless is reasonable, whether due to life circumstances, the health of the wife or husband, or the desire not to pass on certain genetic abnormalities. The Church needs to respect that decision and allow couples to marry even when they cannot have children or don't want to, and they shouldn't have to lie about their intentions in order to receive the sacrament. It does so already in the case of post-menopausal women so it would not be much of a stretch to extend this practice to those who are childless by choice rather than biology.

2. Ending the prohibition on contraception

As a corollary to the first point, the Church needs to move away from its position that every act of intercourse must be open to procreation. Unlike other mammals, human beings have sex at times when they are not fertile, therefore God and nature obviously intended human sexuality to serve purposes other than merely reproduction. Once the Church really accepts this -- instead of just paying lip service to it -- it becomes possible to accept that Catholic couples may choose the birth control method that works best for them, whether natural family planning or one of the many non-abortifacient methods of contraception (methods that do not destroy a fertilized egg) on the market. There is virtually no adherence by the lay faithful to the current teaching or support for it. This detracts significantly from the overall credibility of the Magisterium and it needs to go.

3. Distinguishing between Catholic sacramental marriage and civil marriage

The Church needs to recognize that it is now operating in the context of a diverse and largely secular society. While it is the Church's duty and responsibility to protect the sanctity of Catholic sacramental marriage, it is not the Church's job to define civil marriage in such a way that it excludes individuals, such as those in same-sex relationships, who want to take advantage of the legal and financial protections that a marriage license offers. So one outcome I would like to see from this Synod is a resolution by the Church to stop using its resources to oppose same-sex marriage legislation. Instead, the Church should focus its resources and energy on ways it can protect and foster Catholic marriages. Just imagine if the money that has been devoted over the years by the various state Catholic conferences to defeating same-sex marriage had been used to make more marriage counseling available to low-income Catholic families...

4. Eliminating unscientific and uncharitable language with respect to homosexuality from the Catechism

Very high on my "wish list" for this Synod would be for the Church to eliminate terms such as "intrinsically disordered" and "objectively disordered" from its discussion of homosexuality in the Catechism and Church teaching. The Church says it bases these derogatory statements on Scripture but the reality is that our understanding of homosexuality has come a long way since Genesis and the Pauline epistles were written, even since the latest version of the Catechism itself was written. CIC 2357-2359 is long overdue for a re-write that reflects a modern understanding of homosexuality.

5. Coping with the reality of "irregular" family situations

This Synod should recognize and affirm as the norm Pope Francis' practice of treating families who don't conform to the Catholic standard with charity and mercy. What does that mean in practice?

a) Children from single-parent families, cohabiting couples or those married only civilly, same-sex couples, etc. should not be denied the sacraments and those families should be made to feel welcome in the Church while encouraged to regularize their situations whenever possible.

b) The teaching that cohabiting couples must be living separately before receiving the sacrament of marriage is often unrealistic in these economic times, particularly when there are children already present, and it should be scrapped.

c) Persons in "irregular" family situations should be encouraged to participate in any activity in the parish where their participation is not explicitly forbidden under Church law. If their status makes them ineligible for some positions such as extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or catechist, they should be urged to consider other ways in which they can serve the Church rather than simply being excluded from ministry.

These are my initial thoughts on changes in policy/teaching/attitude that I would like to see come out of this Synod. I have chosen not to comment on the question of divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments since this issue has already been widely discussed by others.

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