Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Why the Roman Catholic Church is failing its people

Empty church pews
Religious News Service reported on November 19th that prominent U.S. evangelicals Russell Moore and Rick Warren blasted the sexual revolution at a Vatican conference Tuesday (Nov. 18) and stated it is destroying the institution of marriage.  See details of article here,

What an incredible indictment this article is about institutional religion. The Catholic Church with a historically dismal record on ecumenism has suddenly found two sympathetic soul mates in fundamentalist preachers by the name of Russell Moore and Rick Warren.

If the Vatican was genuinely interested in solidifying the 'institution of marriage' and the family why does it not consult the laity?  If the ‘institution of marriage’ appears to going downhill according to the experts why was the laity not consulted in preparation for the recent Synod on the Family? If we are indeed living in a culture obsessed with sex then yesterday’s religious experts have failed the laity miserably. And perhaps no one failed more in this area than the institution itself on the matter of sexual abuse of children.  Part of the failure must be attributed to the very unhealthy, outdated and damaging teachings on sexuality from the Roman Catholic Church itself.  Take for example the teachings on homosexuality, masturbation, inVitro Fertilization, the use of condoms and other means of birth control, celibacy, etc., one would think like St. Augustine, that human sexuality was not a gift from God but from the devil.  Why would anyone consult a group of celibate men to describe what sexuality and marriage should mean to a modern family?  What about family life itself?  Most families today require that both parents work in order to meet the monthly bills to pay for inflated mortgages, transportation costs, while raising children among staggering education costs.  What do celibate men know about these daily challenges?  Experience is still and only the best teacher.

Instead of condemning families and their sexual behaviour meet families where they are – not where religious institutions would have them be.  For a small minority to hide behind much needed changes on homosexuality (which has long since been identified by ALL major medical institutions as a hormonal issue) is a betrayal upon its victims.  While the Bible does offer its readers warnings about sexual deviation it has nothing to say about homosexuality any more then it has to say about inVitro Fertilization.

Survey after survey suggests that more than 90% of people believe in God.  Thus It should be obvious to religious institutions particularly the Roman Catholic Church that the reason why so many have left the church it is because they no longer believe in an institution that does not listen to them.  
Religious leaders have yet to learn not to denounce people from their self appointed empirical position and instead climb down from that misplaced ladder and like Jesus learn to dine with and be with the sinner.     

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion

The Moderate Roman Catholic Position
on Contraception and Abortion 



By Professor Daniel C. Maguire, Catholic Theologian, Marquette University

Reprinted here with kind permission of the author.  (Cartoon below my idea)



Let's start with the Roman Catholic positions (note the plural) on contraception and abortion not because it is the oldest religious tradition---it is not---but because of its influence internationally on these issues. For one thing, the Catholic Church is the only world religion with a seat in the United Nations. From that seat, the Vatican has been very active in promoting the most restrictive Catholic view on family planning, although there are more liberating Catholic views that are also thoroughly and genuinely Catholic. The Vatican from its unduly privileged perch in the United Nations along with the "Catholic" nations---now newly allied with conservative Muslim nations---managed to block reference to contraception and family planning at the United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This alliance also delayed proceedings at the 1994 U.N. conference in Cairo and impeded any reasonable discussion of abortion. With more than a bit of irony, the then Prime Minister Brundtland of Norway said of the Rio conference: "States that do not have any population problem--in one particular case, even no births at all [the Vatican]--are doing their best, their utmost, to prevent the world from making sensible decisions regarding family planning."

The sudden rapport between the Vatican and conservative Muslim states is interesting. For fourteen centuries the relationship was stormy to the point of war and persecution. During that time abortions were known to be happening and yet this produced no ecumenical coziness. Is the issue really fetuses, or is it that these two patriarchal bastions are bonded in the face of a neew threat...the emergence free, self-determining women? Questions like this and all of the above summon us to make Roman Catholicism the first of our visits to the world religions.

One of the tragedies of human life is the separation of power and ideas. The Catholic tradition is more filled with good sense and flexibility than one would gather from its leaders. Religious leaders are often not equipped to give voice to the best in the tradition they represent. In Catholicism, popes and bishops are usually not theologians and often they do not express the real treasures of wisdom that Catholicism has to offer to the world. That is changing as lay people enter the field of Catholic theology and bring to it their real-life experience as workers, parents, and professionals. Catholic theology is no longer a clergy club, and that is gain.

One of these lay theologians is professor Christine Gudorf. Christine is an internationally known scholar teaching at The International University in Miami. She is also a wife and a parent. Catholic theology was done in recent centuries almost exclusively by men. That changed and women began in the last half of the twentieth century to enrich the tradition with their scholarship and experience as women.

Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit scholar, said that nothing is intelligible outside its history. The point is well taken. If we lost our personal history through amnesia, we would not even know who we are. Gudorf believes along with many scholars that there is nothing that clears the mind of caricatures like a bracing walk through history.

The Catholic Story

Gudorf points out that Christianity was born in a world in which contraception and abortion were both known and practiced. The Egyptians, Jews, Greeks and Romans used a variety of method of contraception, including coitus interruptus, pessaries, potions and condoms, and abortion appears to have been a widespread phenomenon. Knowledge of all of this was available to the Christians and although church leaders tried to suppress it they were never fully successful.

Surprisingly, abortion and contraception were not the primary means of limiting fertility in Europe even before the coming of Christianity. Infanticide was the main method as it was elsewhere in the world. Christianity reacted against infanticide, but there is evidence that it continued to be practiced. Late medieval and early modern records show a high incidence of "accidental" infant death caused by "rolling over" or smothering of infants or reporting their death as "stillborn." As Gudorf says, "the level of layings over could hardly have been fully accidental."

However, during the middle ages infanticide was much less common than abandonment. Most often infants for whom parents could not provide were left at crossroads, on the doorsteps of individuals, or in marketplaces in the hope that the child would be adopted by passersby. (More often it condemned the children to a life of slavery or an early death.) To ease this crisis, the church in the middle ages provided for "oblation." This meant that children could be offered to the church to be raised in religious monasteries. Many of them eventually became celibate nuns and monks, thus leading to further containment of fertility.

Another Catholic response to excess fertility was the foundling hospital. The foundling hospitals were equipped with a kind of "lazy Susan" wheel (ruota) where the child could be placed anonymously and then the wheel turned putting the child inside. The good intentions in this were not matched with resources and the vast majority of these infants, sometimes 90 percent of them, were dead within months. Because of the reliance on infanticide and abandonment, it is not surprising that there was not much discussion about abortion and contraception. As Gudorf says, "the primary pastoral battles in the first millennium were around infanticide, the banning of which undoubtedly raised the incidence of abandonment." Also the high mortality of children due to nutritional, hygienic, and medical debits was a common and cruel form of population control.

Catholic Teaching on Contraception and Abortion

Catholic teaching on contraception and abortion has been anything but consistent. What most people--including most Catholics- think of as "the Catholic position" on these issues actually dates from the 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii of Pope Pius XI. Prior to that, church teaching was a mixed and jumbled bag. The pope decided to tidy up the tradition and change it by saying that contraception and sterilization were sins against nature and abortion was a sin against life. As Gudorf says, "both contraception and abortion were generally forbidden" in previous teaching but both were often thought to be associated with sorcery and witchcraft. Pope Gregory IX in the Decretals of 1230 treated both contraception and abortion as "homicide." Some of the Christian Penitentials of the early middle ages prescribed seven years of fasting on bread and water for a layman who commits homicide, one year for performing an abortion, but seven years for sterilization. Sterilization was considered more serious than abortion because the issue was not framed as "pro-life" but rather, the driving bias was anti-sexual. The traditional Christian attitudes toward sexuality were so negative that it was only reproductivity that could justify this activity. Abortion frustrated fertility once; sterilization could frustrate it forever and therefore it was more serious. Also, since the role of the ovum was not learned until the nineteenth century, the sperm were thought to be little homunculi, miniature people, and for this reason male masturbation was sometimes called homicide. Clearly Christian historical sexual ethics is a bit of a hodge podge. To really understand it and to arrive at an informed judgment on Catholic moral options it is necessary to be instructed by a little more history.

Catholic and Pro-choice

Although it is virtually unknown in much public international discourse, the Roman Catholic position on abortion is pluralistic. It has a strong "pro-choice" tradition and a conservative anti-choice tradition. Neither is official and neither is more Catholic than the other. The hierarchical attempt to portray the Catholic position as univocal, an unchanging negative wafted through twenty centuries of untroubled consensus, is untrue. By unearthing this authentic openness to choice on abortion and on contraception in the core of the tradition, the status of the anti-choice position is revealed as only one among many Catholic views.

The bible does not condemn abortion. The closest it gets to it is in Exodus 21-22 which speaks of accidental abortion. This imposes a financial penalty on a man who "in the course of a brawl" caused a woman to miscarry. The issue here is the father's right to progeny; he could fine you for the misdeed, but he could not claim "an eye for an eye" as if a person had been killed. Thus, as conservative theologian John Connery, S.J. said, "the fetus did not have the same status as the mother in Hebrew Law."

Following on the silence of scripture on abortion, the early church history treats it only incidentally and sporadically. Indeed, there is no systematic study of the question until the fifteenth century. One early church writer Tertullian discusses what we would today call a late term emergency abortion where doctors had to dismember a fetus in order to remove it, and he refers to this emergency measure as a "crudelitas necessaria," a necessary cruelty. Obviously this amounted to moral approbation of what some call today inaccurately a "partial birth abortion."

One thing that develops early on and becomes the dominant tradition in Christianity is the theory of delayed animation or ensoulment. Borrowed from the Greeks, this taught that the spiritual human soul did not arrive in the fetus until as late as three months into the pregnancy. Prior to that time, whatever life was there was not human. They opined that the conceptum was enlivened first by a vegetative soul, then an animal soul, and only when formed sufficiently by a human spiritual soul. Though sexist efforts were made to say the male soul arrived sooner---maybe a month and a half into the pregnancy---the rule of thumb for when a fetus reached the status of "baby" was three months or even later. As Christine Gudorf writes, the common pastoral view was "that ensoulment occurred at quickening, when the fetus could first be felt moving in the mother's womb, usually early in the fifth month. Before ensoulment the fetus was not understood as a human person. This was the reason the Catholic church did not baptize miscarriages or stillbirths."

"Reflecting the pious belief in a resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world, Augustine pondered if early fetuses who miscarried would also rise. He said they would not. He added that neither would all the sperm of history rise again. (For that we can all be grateful.) The conclusion reached by Latin American Catholic theologians in a recent study is this: "It appears that the texts condemning abortion in the early church refer to the abortion of a fully formed fetus." The early fetus did not have the status of person nor would killing it fit the category of murder.

This idea of delayed ensoulment survived throughout the tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas, the most esteemed of medieval theologians, held this view. Thus the most traditional and stubbornly held position in Catholic Christianity is that early abortions are not murder. Since the vast number of abortions done today in the United States, for example, are early abortions, they are not, according to this Catholic tradition, murder. Also, all pregnancy terminations done through the use of RU 486 would not qualify as the killing of a human person according to this Catholic tradition of "delayed ensoulment."

In the fifteenth century, the saintly archbishop of Florence, Antoninus, did extensive work on abortion. He approved of early abortions to save the life of the woman, a class with many members in the context of fifteenth century medicine. This became common teaching. For this he was not criticized by the Vatican. Indeed, he was later canonized as a saint and thus as a model for all Catholics. Many Catholics do not know that there is a pro-choice Cathlic saint who was also an archbishop and a Dominican.

In the sixteenth century, the influential Antoninus de Corduba said that medicine that was abortifacient could be taken even later in a pregnancy if required for the health of the mother. The mother, he insisted, had a jus prius, a prior right. Some of the maladies he discussed do not seem to have been a matter of life and death for the women and yet he allows that abortifacient medicine even in these cases is morally permissible. Jesuit theologian Thomas Sanchez who died in the early seventeenth century said that all of his contemporary Catholic theologians approved of early abortion to save the life of the woman. None of these theologians or bishops were censured for these views. Note again that one of them, St. Antoninus, was canonized as a saint. Their limited "pro-choice" position was considered thoroughly orthodox and can be so considered today. In the nineteenth century, the Vatican was invited to enter a debate on a very late term abortion, requiring dismemberment of a formed fetus in order to save the woman's life. On September 2, 1869 the Vatican refused to decide the case. It referred the questioner to the teaching of theologians on the issue. It was, in other words, the business of the theologians to discuss it freely and arrive at a conclusion. It was not for the Vatican to decide. This appropriate modesty and disinclination to intervene is an older and wiser Catholic model.

What this brief tour of history shows is that a "pro-choice" position coexists alongside a "no-choice" position in Catholic history and neither position can claim to be more Catholic or more authentic than the other. Catholics are free to make their own conscientious decisions in the light of this history. Not even the popes claim that the position that forbids all abortion and contraception is infallible. The teaching on abortion is not only not infallible, it is, as Gudorf says "undeveloped." Abortion was not the "birth limitation of choice because it was, until well into the twentieth century, so extremely dangerous to the mother." There was no coherently worked out Catholic teaching on the subject, as our short history tour illustrates and there still is not. Some Catholic scholars today say all direct abortions are wrong, some say there are exceptions for cases such as the danger to the mother, conception through rape, detected genetic deformity, or other reasons. Gudorf's sensible conclusion: "The best evidence is that the Catholic position is not set in stone and is rather in development."

Sex, Women, and the Sensus Fidelium

As we will see, debates about sexuality and reproduction are always influenced mightily by certain cultural assumptions. These usually involve attitudes toward women and sex. A culture that looks on women as sources of evil like Pandora and Eve is going to have trouble justifying having sex with them and may conclude that only reproduction could justify sexual collusion with women. That is exactly what happened in Christianity. Augustine said that if it were not for reproduction there would be no use for women at all. In his words, "in any other task a man would be better helped by another man." Early attitudes toward women were poisonous. The Mosaic law assumed male ownership of women. Early church writers said women lack reason and only possess the image of God through connection to men. Luther saw women as being like nails in a wall, prohibited by their nature from moving outside their domestic situation. And St. Thomas Aquinas said females are produced from male embryos that were damaged through some accident in the womb, turned into females. As Professor Gudorf says in her refreshingly sensible book Body, Sex and Pleasure, the church has rejected all of that nonsense but "continues to teach most of the sexual moral code which was founded upon such thinking."


Small wonder there is new thinking on sexual and reproductive ethics now. As Gudorf says: "The Roman Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) has in the last century drastically rethought the meaning of marriage, the dignity and worth of women, the relationship between the body and the soul, and the role of bodily pleasure in Christian life, all of which together have revolutionary implications for church teaching on sexuality and reproduction. In effect, the foundations of the old bans have been razed and their replacements will not support the walls of the traditional ban."


Gudorf and other Catholic theologians do not stand alone in the church on this dramatic and important change in Catholic teaching. Pope Pius XII in 1954 laid the groundwork for a change in Catholic teaching when he permitted the rhythm method. Though he quibbled about what means could be used he did bless contraceptive intent and contraceptive results. He even said there could be multiple reasons to avoid having any children at all in a marriage. In 1968 when Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the view that all mechanical or chemical contraception was sinful, the Catholic bishops of fourteen different countries respectfully disagreed and told the faithful that they were not sinners if they could not accept this papal teaching.



Most of the laity, of course, had already made up their minds. The birth rates in so-called "Catholic" nations in Europe and in Latin America are close to or below replacement levels and, as Gudorf wryly puts it, "it is difficult to believe that fertility was cut in half through voluntary abstinence from sex." Such dissent from hierarchical teaching by Catholic laity is actually well provided for in Church teaching. The sensus fidelium, the sense of the faithful is one of the sources of truth in Catholic theology. This means that the consciences and experiences of good people are a guidepost to truth that even the hierarchy must consult.

Catholicism in its best historical realizations is not as hidebound and authoritarian as many bishops, popes, and fearful conservatives would make it seem. There is, as Catholic theologian Charles Curran says, dissent from hierarchical teaching that is "in and for the church." Through much of Catholic history the hierarchy taught that all interest-taking on loans was a sin of usury--even the smallest amount. The laity saw that this was an error and decided that too much interest was sinful and that a reasonable amount was not. A century or two later, the hierarchy agreed...especially after the Vatican opened a bank and learned some of the facts of financial life. The laity are again, along with the theologians, leading the church on the moral freedom to practice contraception and to use abortion when necessary as a backup. Perhaps if the hierarchy were married with families, they could follow the wisdom of the laity in this at a faster pace. It would be a shame if it took a century or two for them to respect the conscience of the laity, graced and grounded as that conscience is in the lived experience of marriage and children.

Professor Christine Gudorf is hopeful in this regard. She believes that within a generation or two Catholic hierarchical teaching "will change to encourage contraception in marriage and to allow early abortion under some circumstances." She continues: "This change will occur because as the Catholic Church confronts the reality of a biosphere gasping for survival around its teeming human inhabitants it will discern the will of God and the presence of the Spirit in the choices of those who choose to share responsibility for the lives and health and prosperity of future generations without reproducing themselves, even if that choice involves artificial contraception and early abortion."



See also Christine Gudorf's article 'Who Says the Church can't Change' here




Sunday, 26 October 2014

Synod on the Family Fail

Note to readers:  Sorry this posting which originally appeared on Tuesday, 21 October was accidentally deleted yesterday  has now been recovered. 

Well, the Synod on the Family concluded last week and not everyone is happy.  Perhaps least of all Pope Francis; although I think he is a very courageous individual left sparring almost alone with some of the ghosts left by his two immediate predecessors. This week the UK Catholic weekly The Tablet gave readers the much anticipated summary of its findings and recommendation. No doubt many Catholics were primarily focused on the three most contentious issues facing Catholic families today. The article can be found below:       

Bishops pass synod document but fail to agree contested measures
19 October 2014 by as reported by Elena Curti in Rome
The final document articulating the thinking of the bishops' Synod on the Family was passed – minus three sections relating to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and to the pastoral care of gay men and women.

The three paragraphs failed to get the two-thirds majority required for them to be counted as the official conclusions of the synod. Support for the sections was insufficient to be passed, even though the wording was significantly diluted after the mid-term synod document that was published last Monday proposed a radical revision in the pastoral care of same-sex couples, cohabiting heterosexual couples and those in civil unions.

The Vatican Press Office published the final document known as the Relatio Synodi in its entirety on Saturday evening together with the voting figures for each of the 62 sections. Press officers made light of the apparent defeat for those Synod Fathers who supported Pope Francis’ agenda for reform. One, Fr Thomas Rosica, described the final document as a “work in progress” and said the matters in the three defeated sections remained on the agenda and would be discussed at the much bigger Ordinary Synod on the Family next October.

At the end of the voting Pope Francis gave a speech in which he castigated those tempted into an attitude of "hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God".

The first of the defeated sections suggested that some remarried Catholics could eventually be allowed to receive the sacraments after a penitential journey overseen by the diocesan bishop. The paragraph was carefully worded setting out stringent conditions that the individuals would have to fulfil, but 74 of the Synod Fathers voted against it and 104 in favour.

Another struck out section, also about divorced and remarried Catholics, looked at the issue of their admission to spiritual and sacramental Communion. A hundred and twelve voters were in favour and 54 were against.

A paragraph about gay men and women stressed there could be no analogy whatever between same-sex unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family. It added, however, that men and women with homosexual tendencies should be welcomed with respect and sensitivity. This too failed to get the requisite two-thirds majority, with prelates voting 118 in favour and 62 against.

The earlier mid-term relatio said that gay Catholics’ orientation should be valued and that they have “gifts and qualities” to offer parishes. The small working groups produced 470 modifications to the mid-term document.

Pope Francis won a lengthy standing ovation for his speech at the end of the synod yesterday in which he said he would have been very worried if there had not been animated discussions.

“I have heard with joy and recognition speeches and interventions full of faith, pastoral and doctrinal zeal, wisdom, frankness, courage and parrhesia [courage],” he said.
 Read Francis' address in full here.

   Based on this document families with gay sons or daughters and those involved in same-sex unions can now take solace from the latest Synod concession that gays should be welcomed into the church with respect and sensitivity.  Remember this contradictory and meaningless offering was made despite that fact that gays will still have to suffer from the brutal language contained in the present Roman Catholic Catechism.  Could it be that some of the bishops at the Synod felt the stern presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI? Was it not he who stripped Sister Jean Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent of their pastoral ministry to the LGBT community?  Was it not he who referred to gays, even those among his own clergy, as the ‘filth in the church’?  Where do we find the mercy and compassion of God in all this?


Similarly the defeated motion concerning the status of some remarried Catholics was simply deferred and abrogated to the diocesan bishop.  While the divorced and other remarried Catholics will still be denied access to the God How considerate, how distant, and how political?  But where do we find God’s presence in this?   Were some bishops at the Synod still locked in on an angry unforgiving and punishing God who turns his back on sinners?


In his own words Benedict stated that his theology originated in the view that God speaks to us through the Church today and not just through the Bible.  Since the Church consists of both laity and clergy where do we find the words of the ‘People of God’ in this latest Synod on the Family?  Perhaps we should ask ‘what families, if any, were consulted in preparation for this synod?


For those of us who are left with unanswered questions following this Synod perhaps we need to reconsider our relationship with God.  Are we bound to church doctrine and dogma or can we find a more direct and personal Creator who stands by as close as our heart.  A God who meets us where we are and not where others would have us by!   I find it rather amazing to think that all the bishops at this would claim that they were led by the Holy Spirit yet were unable to reach a workable consensus.  Were some inspired and guided but others not so?  Vatican II clearly acknowledged that an informed conscience will always take precedence over religious doctrine and dogma.  Are we still afraid to take full personal responsibility for God’s gift of faith?



I continue to salute Pope Francis and those who continue to support him. May the church of tomorrow embrace a God who accepts ALL within and as part of the total diversity of his magnificent Creation. 

See also:

                  Pope Francis and pastoral care of divorced . . . . 

                  Living in sin - divorce and remarriage . . . .

                  Catholic family values survey . . . . 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Synod on the Family Fail II

What a few Bishops at the Synod for the Family may have missed:

       




"Church leaders should carry out their tasks as a whole not hierarchically but competently, not bureaucratically but creatively, not with regard to their office but with regard to men; they should summon up the courage to involve themselves more with people than with the institution; they should provide for more democracy, autonomy, humanity among all ranks in the Church and strive for better collaboration between clergy and laity.

        Bishops especially should not be appointed for their conformity by secret procedures in the style of Roman absolutism (with the “papal secret” secured by oaths,) but should be elected for a limited time in the light of the needs of the diocese concerned by representatives bodies of the clergy and laity.

        The Pope too, if he claims to be more than Bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy, should be elected by a body consisting of bishops and laypeople which-unlike the college of cardinals, nominated solely by the Pope-which would be representative of the whole Church, not only the different nations, but especially the different mentalities and generations.
        
“Priests” (leaders of congregations and also of dioceses), in the light of the freedom that the Gospel assures them on this point, should decide – each according to his personal vocation – whether they want to marry or not.

        “Laypeople” (parishes and dioceses) should have the right, not merely to offer advice, but also share with their leaders in a well-balanced system with spheres of authority clearly marked out (checks and balances); they should exercise the right to object whenever Jesus himself would raise an objection.

        Women should have at least that dignity, freedom and responsibility in the Church which they are guaranteed in modern society; equal rights in canon law, in the Church’s decision making bodies, and also practical opportunities of studying theology and being ordained.

        In questions of morality and a new slavery set up (in the Church); in particular there should be understanding in the light of the Gospel for a new attitude to sexuality, remembering that the younger generation can find more ways than one of maintaining purity of heart.

        The question of birth control, even by artificial methods, should be left to the married parties to decide conscientiously in the light of medical, psychological and social criteria; the leaders in the Catholic Church should revise the present teaching (the encyclical Humanae Vitae on this point.

        And so on.  The fulfilment of these and similar desiderata must be vigorously demanded and fought for until it is achieved; for the sake of the people who suffer from the present unhappy state of affairs in the Church.

        We must not be silent.  The requirements of the Gospel and the need and hopes of our time are in many outstanding questions so unambiguous that silence out of opportunism, lack of courage or superficiality can involve guilt just as much as the silence of many responsible people at the time of Reformation."

Decision for the Church, Hans Kűng, On being a Christian, (1978)

Finally, it should be noted that had the three controversial topics been dealt with on a more democratic vs theocratic basis (requiring a 2/3rd. majority),  all items would have comfortable passed. Note results as follows:

Topic                                     Voting results 

Remarried (some)                  104 in favour  74 voted against
Divorced/remarried                112 in favour and 54 were against.
Gays/same-sex marriage        118 in favour and 62 against

For details on these topics see my previous blog here.

Earlier (Sep. 10/14) Fr. Thomas Reese SJ. warned readers of the National Catholic Reporter that the make-up of Synod of Bishops on the family would be a disappointment to those hoping for reform of the Curia and for those who hoped that the laity would be heard.  The details  can be read here.  

Later, when it seemed that the Synod would fail to reach a consensus the bishops in attendance introduced the unusual word 'graduality' as a means of resolving the matter of sexual and medical ethics . According to the bishops  giving emphasis to the concept of 'graduality' was a way of thinking about morality that allows for human imperfection without compromising ideals.  What the word 'graduality' actually means left even some of the clerical experts confounded.  Most ended up suggesting it meant 'we will get it better next time'!  

Update Oct. 31/2014

Its hard to change the Church a further reflection on the synod.    


Sunday, 19 October 2014

God's Judgement

The Parable of the Sower
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  - Matt. 13:1-6


As a student of the Blessed Edith Stein Institute I clearly recall our Carmelite teachers emphasising the great importance of the Parables.  Parables represent a key part of the teachings of Jesus, forming approximately one third of his recorded teachings.  Christians place high emphasis on these parables; since they are the words of Jesus; they are believed to be what the Father has taught, indicated by John 8:28[1] and 14:10[2].   The key theme, motive and purpose behind these stories can be found in the following response from Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 13:10,
 The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied,
"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand."


Richard Rohr writes ‘This is how I read this enigmatic passage: “You disciples have already made the breakthrough, so I can talk to you straightforwardly and you get it. But for those who are still enclosed and over-defended, I’ve got to tell little riddles and stories to undermine their usual and comfortable way of thinking, so that they’ll re-frame both the question and the answer.’
Referring to the same passage from Matthew; note that Jesus talks about the ‘kingdom’ as it having already been given to us, not as something that is to come in the future.  Nor is Jesus talking about a kingdom as something that appears only after our death.  Although In one sense, the kingdom of God has always existed.  However in the present sense I believe that the primary purpose of parables is to teach us how to become and live like kingdom people here on earth.  For example the secrets to this kingdom can be found wherever the values of this kingdom – as expressed in the parables -are accepted in the hearts of human kind.


While most Christians are probably quite familiar with the parables as ‘The Prodigal Son’ and ‘The Good Samaritan’, others such as ‘The Workers in the Vineyard’ are often dismissed as impractical and unfair. But if we were to look for the deeper treasure contained in each story we would find that they require we step outside our known and immediate world. Kingdom values represent the upside down values of the world.  They are contradictory, paradoxical, confusing, disorderly, and inconsistent.

   
Nowhere are the upside values of God’s Kingdom better expressed then when we speak about justice. In his blog,  ‘Disordered Parables [3], Br. Robert L’Esperance  recently eloquently wrote “It’s always important for us to remember that Jesus showed us that God’s justice and human notions of justice are two quite different things.  Not only different but sometimes at complete variance with one another.  The judgement that Jesus shows us points to a new way; judgement in the kingdom is measured, deliberate and never afraid to reverse itself.  The kind of judgement that we all long for in that moment of grace when we recognize our own need for mercy and forgiveness. Judgement grounded not in knowledge but in wisdom.”  I have come to understand it as ‘God’s restorative justice’ - Justice that is based on redemption not punishment. Think about that while contemplating the often mistaken idea of God’s last judgement.
    
Like the future, parables can seem frightening and even threatening.  Some parables are comforting, heart-warming, humorous, earthly, we might even say, picturesque, but always in some way or another, challenging.  I think that much of their power is in the fact that they are in so many ways like how we experience life itself.  But unless we are prepared to accept these Kingdom values in our daily lives we cannot enter that narrow gate or door to this Kingdom.  Not because God doesn`t constantly invite us but because we are more likely to depend on our own selfish ego`s.  Whenever we choose to refuse God`s gift of freedom and rely strictly on our ego`s to satisfy our own personal needs, well then you and I both know where that will get us.  And as a result we will experience much weeping and gnashing of teeth until we finally recognize how our sins for have caused so much pain for others and ourselves.   


When we struggle to understand Jesus’ parables we need to listen, look and try to perceive them with the God’s wisdom - not our own. And only then will we understand the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, with a new heart and turn to receive his healing touch.  For, blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:11-15). Jesus explains The Parable of the Sower following verse 17 of Matthew in your own bible.  But for those like the rest of us who continue to struggle with other Parables, remember in God's Kingdom here on earth there cannot be any right or wrong answers only better ones.



Note: for an excellent study guide to The Parables of Jesus click here.


[1] 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.
[2] 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Pope Francis and pastoral care of remarriage & divorce

Upon his return from World Youth Day in July 2013 Pope Francis surprised his followers by making reference to the predicament of divorced and remarried Catholics.  He told reporters that the next synod (October 2014 and now in session) would explore a "somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage," including the question of the eligibility of divorced. At the same time Pope Francis added that church law governing marriage annulments has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.  Such problems, he said, exemplified a general need for forgiveness in the church today. The church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy, and find a form of mercy for all, the pope added.  This did not sit well with many traditional Catholics.


More recent public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.  Burke said allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried would complicate the Church’s pastoral outreach and that better strategies are needed.   The church currently holds (with some exceptions) that divorce and remarriage without a proper annulment is considered 'a grave offence against natural law' and such individuals cannot therefore receive communion.

 
It is in this context that I recently found myself taking exception.  Withholding communion (in Catholic terms ‘the real presence of Christ’) seems to be a complete contradiction to how God works among his people.  The church appears to be saying “first you must repent and admit your sin, before you can come before God”.  Whereas Jesus said "When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world, and show where right and wrong and judgement lie. He will convict them of wrong..." (John 16:8). At this point the question that needs to be asked is simply:   ‘Who convicts our heart, God or the institution?  While the Church will no doubt refer its members to the various official Vatican documents including "Concerning the Reception of HolyCommunion by Divorced-and-Remarried Members of the Faithful” as submitted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a letter to the world's bishops on October 14, 1994. Others may search for a personal and compassionate answer by looking for a more merciful God within.  Guess what - here again the church claims its ruling has primacy over ‘personal conscience’.


While debating the issue on-line with a conservative Catholic news source I was surprised to learn that some Christians believe that have a duty to support their church which includes publically shaming divorced and remarried couples who, according to their definition, have not received the necessary sanction from the church to receive communion.  Reminding them about the biblical story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well  (John 4:8) did little to diminish their demand for proper ‘old fashioned’ justice and punishment.    Did Jesus turn away from this adulteress or did he change her heart to the incredible degree the story ends for her?  Remember this woman would probably not have had access to a bible and definitely not the Roman Catholic Catechism. 


Of course in Matthew 5:29 we hear Jesus speaking to the Pharisees when asked by them “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”  And Jesus responds “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  But did Jesus walk away from them?  The Eucharist was instituted to bring people together ‘in communion with one another and God’  - not for the purpose of judging others. 


Is should be obvious to readers that Jesus never shunned sinners in fact he is often seen surrounded by them.  So why then do some members of the clergy insist that the Eucharist should be publically withheld from the divorced or remarried? Yet we continue to use vengeful punishment language all the time. 

Jesus often used hyperbole and in the case of remarriage used it to underscore its sacredness.  However a few individuals prefer a literal interpretation.  O.K. then when was the last time you attended Mass and you were greeted with a parish full of one eyed sinners?  Because Jesus, again using hyperbole, said this in Matthew 25 about adultery, “If you’re right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. Let us not get caught up interpreting everything at the expense of Jesus’ call to love and not punish our neighbour. The role of the Church is simply to walk with sinners and lead them to discover the God within – not outside. 



It cannot be the role of the Church, and that includes the laity, to DETERMINE the sins of others.  We may have a role to play in teaching people about sin, but in the end only God can convict a heart.  And the only way to the heart is through Jesus.  Why then would some Catholics insist on taking away his ‘real presence’ through the sacrament of the Eucharist?  Isn't that the place where Catholic hearts are renewed?  Church rules demand that only when sin is acknowledged and the person is truly repentant may Catholics celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation and finally receive communion.  But must that now be preceded with punishment?  When Jesus spoke about sin did he really turn his back on the sinner and demand some form of revenge or punishment?  Do we still believe that God is vengeful and far more interested in our sins then our potential?


Anyone familiar with Jesus’ actions and teachings, especially his Parables, would understand that he defied the ways of the world again and again.  It can thus be said that Jesus presents the ‘upside down values of the world’.  From the point of view from the world they are always seen as ludicrous.   The problem with a lot of Roman Catholic issues today, is that some of the teachings are presented and understood by some as being in legal and ABSOLUTE terms.  If only life were that simple.  That is not how God deals with his people as unique individuals.  Remember, God promised he would never leave us orphaned.  Thus, for Jesus to withhold himself i.e., the Eucharist – for whatever reason – cannot in any way express what he does for any sinner.  Think again about the woman at the well, the sinners he surrounded himself with.  It is important to understand that Jesus was not the least bit interested in PUNITIVE JUSTICE.  He always choose the more demanding and difficult path of RESTORATIVE JUSTICE.  

  

Perhaps we are still stuck on a religion based on reward and punishment.  Only by making the distinction between punitive and restorative justice can we begin to understand God’s redemptive justice.  Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, one of my favourite spiritual teachers, suggests that for many God’s love or grace is sadly based on a false sense of justice which demands that sin must be punished and followed by a lengthy period of repentance.  Fr. Rohr calls this a religion based on meritocracy.  But Rohr provides the following beautiful illustration of God’s intended grace pattern as follows:


As some of us still understand it: 


Sin - - -  >punishment - - - >repentance - - - > transformation


But the actual grace pattern is:

Sin - - - >unconditional love- - - >transformation - - - >repentance


Note how this pattern is perfectly mirrored in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the  well. Here you will not find the slightest hint of punishment, only redemption in the form of God’s healing and restorative justice. Perhaps by seeing divorce and remarriage in this new light may we finally bring the necessary compassion and understanding to this controversial issue  thus fulfilling Pope Francis’ desire to bring a deeper pastoral care of marriage and divorce.