Monday, 26 January 2015

Abortion: It is all about compassion

In her recent article "It is all about the unborn" to The Catholic Register , Ms. Alissa Golob, Youth Co-ordinator for Campaign Life Coalition voices her opinion about abortion in the most extreme and militant manner.  None of which is likely to engage those families who have been or are now are faced with such a difficult but very necessary decision.      

If Pro-Life ‘crusaders’ (and I use that term deliberately) are truly interested in promoting their cause they will have to exchange ‘activism’ for compassion a quality so often exhibited by Jesus.      Nowhere in the Gospels do we find Jesus as an activist prepared to stand at abortion clinics handing out roses and literature.  And again the Gospels do not speak of a Son of God who openly defied the Roman civil authorities - instead he used a much more powerful and effective means of bringing about necessary change. It is called unconditional LOVE. 

The above article can hardly be expected to convert any woman who is considering an abortion.  The use of heaping guilt and shame on women automatically prevents any real and healing dialogue from taking place.  And for what reason does this article compare women who accept an abortion as ‘beating their toddler to death’, or as someone who condones the actions of the Nazi regime?  More guilt, more shame and more condemnation!   Where is God in that?             

Kindly understand that I am completely and utterly opposed to abortion – in principle.  As I understand all Creation is sacred and calls us to be respectful towards all things and beings. And so should we.   God’s compassion reaches far beyond any self righteous feelings we may hold as truth. There are numerous conditions under which an abortion is absolutely necessary. 

In recent years the call to end all abortions by Pro-Life groups has become one of the most divisive issues between friends and neighbours and indeed nations.  As Pro-life groups battle it out with Pro-Choice groups the rift appears to be growing ever wider.  As a result the heated debate has suffered   from an abuse of hurtful and damaging actions and language.   At this point we seem to have lost the ability to interact in a healing manner that could bring both parties together.  Pro-Life must also learn to speak about abortion in terms of life from the Alpha to the Omega!

To suggest it is all about the unborn immediately ignores much greater pain and suffering so evident throughout our broken world.  In the eyes of our Creator he loves everyone and everything – nothing is wasted not even an aborted fetus.  However, if we do not first love God, our neighbour, the enemy and our self how can we possibly understand or love the woman who chose to abort for whatever her reason?  Must we assume she is not following an informed conscience to the best of her ability?  Who and what group can claim to possess a superior conscience?  Have we perhaps forgotten that the highest moral law is the one God wrote on our hearts? Does anyone deny that there are plenty of moral and ethical circumstances under which some abortions are necessary (and thereby should be funded)?   Under these circumstances is it even reasonable to state abortion in ABSOLUTE terms?

Many activists are motivated by a self-righteous attitude which is revealed in their desire to openly defy civil authority.   That same attitude, when lacking in compassion is often used by some to justify unspeakable actions under the name of God.  Pro-life groups must never think that their actions are morally above those who advocate Pro-Choice.   God judges hearts and his justice is about restoration never about punishment.  

Finally, abortion must never become a political issue because it is first and foremost an issue of the heart! 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Family values and God

Whenever I read an article about family values especially those written by celibate Catholic clergy I immediately become suspicious of its actual purpose and intent.   Are these experts writing based on their own personal experience or is it a long academic litany espousing a particular controversial church position on the issue?  When it comes to the latter I was not to be disappointed when I read Fr. Stan Chu Ilo’s comment in a recent  issue of the Catholic Register ‘For Catholics,marriage, family life a ‘biggie’.   In a language typically reserved for clerics Fr. Stan hopes the lay reader will be silenced with his rather obscure use of the trinity as the ultimate image to redefine perfect happy family values. Considering Biblical scholars continue to debate the actual meaning of the 4th  century Trinitarian doctrine, it remains a challenge for me and perhaps many others, how to relate the trinity directly to Christian or Catholic family values. 
Not surprisingly therefore it is not until the reader reaches the end of Fr. Stan’s article that we discover his actual intent.  Fr. Chu Ilo suggests that families which are lacking Trinitarian values are “torn by separation, divorce, abuse, neglect and infidelity.”  Furthermore “when people advocate for trial marriages, co-habitation, polygamy and same-sex marriage, they often forget that families are called to mirror the image of the Trinity because family is a biggie for God.”
Families are not in competition with other families, rather they are looking for help and guidance to make their relationships more inclusive, more loving and less stressful. 
Would it not have been more positively edifying for readers if Fr. Stan had provided us with actual down to earth experience and definition of family values and what constitutes a family? No one seems to understand this better than The Vanier Institute of the Family. They define 'family' as "any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of the following:
·                     physical maintenance and care of group members
·                  Addition of new members through procreation or adoption
·                  Socialization of children
·                  Social control of members
·                  Production, consumption, distribution of goods and services
·                  Affective nurturance – love"

I think these are the true family values God desires for each family.  These are the objective goals or so-called 'biggie’s' that God understands continue to challenge every family world wide and day after day. In the meantime most Catholic families today struggle with at least one or more of the 'maladies' mentioned by Fr. Stan with or without the support of their particular religious institution.  But times are changing and so must our church if they are to remain relevant.

Finally was it any wonder that the 2014 Catholic Synod on the Family produced so much confusion.  When will the institution learn to listen to and serve its flock free of condemnation and like God meet us where we are not where its theology and others would have us be.     

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Young Student speaks out about Homosexuality

"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise'?" – Mat. 21:16

The next time someone seeks to demonize gays please refer them to Bianca Reátegui.  So what makes this young gifted and wise 17 year old Catholic student an expert on this very controversial subject?  The simple answer she is someone with a very obvious and profound understanding of God’s love.  It is often someone like this who serves to remind us that homophobia is a sure sign that we lack a complete trust in Christ’s unconditional love and are therefore acting woefully un-Christian.  For those who, through plain ignorance, continue on this mistaken path Bianca further reminds readers that medical science upholds that homosexuality is not a choice and cannot be reversed through conversion therapy.  In fact such therapy has proven to be even more detrimental to the physical and mental health of its innocent victims.  Homophobia, particularly when used to bully gays can even result in suicide.
Bianca’s profound thoughts on the subject, which you will find below, accurately reflect the words of Pope Francis spoken in July 2013 when he said"Who am I to judge them [gays] if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?"  With these inspired words let us hope that the extremely negative references contained in the present Catechism of the Catholic Church will soon be a thing of the past. 

Finally, I am sure that Bianca would agree that ignorance about homosexuality can only be eradicated through education and opening ourselves to the gift of God’s unconditional love for all creation and humankind. Here follows her excellent article Conversion Therapy is unlike Christ as contained in the most recent edition of the Catholic Register:

By  Bianca Reátegui, Youth Speak News
Four years ago, a priest gave a homily that has stuck in my mind ever since: “God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it.” He continued to say that there wasn’t a single thing a person could do, nor was there a single thing about a person that would make God stop loving that person — not his or her gender, race or sexual orientation.
The priest’s words were comforting, but also somewhat surprising to me because though God’s unconditional love is the essence of Catholicism, the homophobia and transphobia I had seen from some Christian groups didn’t testify to that love.

One of the more infamous examples of such discrimination is conversion therapy. Conversion therapy (also called reparative therapy) operates under the premise that homosexuality and transgenderism — the state of not identifying with one’s biological sex — can and should be changed. The therapy attempts to make those who are gay heterosexual and make transgendered individuals cisgender (gender that applies to a person’s biological sex).
Conversion therapy opposes current scientific thinking. Science upholds that homosexuality and transgenderism is not a choice. The effectiveness of conversion therapy has been disputed, but there is evidence that it can cause emotional and psychological harm. In 2009, the American Psychological Association released a list of the risks of the practice, which included depression, guilt, social withdrawal, increased suicide rates and a loss of faith. 

Young people who may already be at risk for mental health issues are very vulnerable when exposed to conversion therapy. A Canadian study titled “Gay and Lesbian youth suicide” estimated that the risk of suicide for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth is 14 times higher than that of heterosexual youth. As well, a study done at San Francisco State University for The Family Acceptance Project showed that, compared to LGBT youth that faced little or no rejection from their families, highly rejected LGBT youth were more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide, and nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression.
In response to the suicide of a 17-year-old American transgender teen on Dec. 28, an online petition was created by the Transgender Human Rights Institute to enact “Leelah’s Law,” a ban on transgender conversion therapy in the United States. Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note (originally published on her Tumblr blog) described the parental rejection she faced for being transgender and her subjection to faith-based conversion therapy. Alcorn writes, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.” She ends the note with a plea: “Fix society. Please.”

A person never stops being a child of God, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity may be. God made His children the way they are and humanity was commanded to love one another as Jesus loved us.

(Reátegui, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.)

Recommended Reading:

 Homosexuality the real cause . . . . 

Conversion therapy:  . . . .  

Bullying: . . . . . 

Friday, 28 November 2014

Finding Your God

“Worshipping a god defined by someone else doesn’t increase our ability to be intimate, nor does it help us feel safe or loved” according to Dr. Susan Gregg in her book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Spiritual Healing’.   Through a series of simple exercises Spiritual teacher and Life Coach Dr. Gregg invites readers to find their personal God’ by turning to the quiet of their heart and perhaps for the first time hear a healing and compassionate voice that is completely congruent to their own particular and unique nature.   The following excerpt ‘Finding Your God’ from her book is hereby made available in full with her kind permission.  Click here to read Dr. Gregg’s book ‘A Guide To Spiritual Healing – pdf format (formerly The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Spiritual Healing).   You will also find her complete list of books here.  

Finding Your God

God is a personal experience. Until you have one of your own, you won't know for yourself. If your religion allows you to have an unfiltered, uncolored, uncontaminated, and direct experience of God for yourself, that is wonderful. Until we develop a personal relationship with that energy, we are like fish out of the water. Your spiritual self is God, so without a direct relationship with God, you aren't connected to yourself.

Start by writing about God—your old definitions of God and how you'd really like your relationship with God to be. Do you want to be accepted just the way you are? Do you want God to be your friend? Write about your fears, doubts, hopes, and dreams.

Then find a place where you really feel connected with the energy. (Use some of the exercises from the last chapter to help you find that place.) I used to go to the beach or to old churches. Just find a place that works for you, spend as much time there as possible, and ask that energy to teach you about the nature of your relationship. Ask God to love you. Ask God what to do. Then hang around long enough to hear the answer.

Worshipping a god defined by someone else doesn't increase our ability to be intimate, nor does it help us feel safe or loved. For centuries we have settled for other people's definitions of God and missed out the most wonderful relationship we can have. Don't cheat yourself any longer; don't let anyone or anything stand between you and a direct experience of God. Take time to develop that relationship.
It took quite a bit of time for me to really feel the connection, but once I did, I felt an immense amount of love and unconditional acceptance. After I felt safe with that connection, I began to ask that energy what the nature of our relationship was. One day I heard "I am your creator, and I am well pleased with my creation." When I stop to remember that voice, all of my judgements dissolve. That energy, or God, only wants me to be happy, and God uses my definition of happy. I don't have to do anything or act in a certain way—I don't have to go to church or be perfect—because that energy loves me no matter what. And when I align my purpose with that energy, miracles happen and I am truly happy from the depth of my being.

Spend time and develop your own personal relationship with that energy. Don't take anyone else's word for it. Take the time to find your own path and your own way of connecting to that energy. It is well worth the time and effort.
God will be whatever you want God to be. Try not to limit God with your mind; instead, let that energy lead you to a way of being and believing that is beyond limitations. Surrender to your concept of God and let it teach you and lead you into a life far beyond what you could ever imagine.

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

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 . . . . 

                  concerns about 2015 survey . . . .