January 20, 2014
Recovering the humane, reviewing the historical, rediscovering the gospel
Instead of responding directly to the questions sent by the secretariat of the Synod (which seem formulated to induce and determine the response), it is preferable to express for the synod bishops' knowledge, an opinion on each of the nine items listed in the title of each block of questions. In the context of a meeting with Catholic professionals and couples who are attending continuing education courses in theology, I will write my own opinion, incorporating input received from the participants.
1. On the Bible and Church teaching about the family
Instead of asking whether and how the teachings of the Church on marriage, family and sexuality are spread and accepted, we must propose a radical overhaul of the way we read, interpret and apply biblical texts, as they are used in Paul VI's Humanae Vitae , in John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio and in the 1992 Catechism.
2. On marriage and natural law
Instead of asking about marriage according to natural law, we have to revise and correct the narrow way of understanding so-called natural law and the Church's attempt to arrogate to itself monopoly on its interpretation. It is necessary to clarify how to understand the Church's teaching in the morality field. It refers more to a parenetic or exhortative teaching which aims to help people avoid evil and do good. The role of the Church, as Cardinal Martini used to explain, is not to multiply definitions and condemnations, but to help people to live more humanely and with hope. The confusion between these exhortations and moral doctrine is harmful, because it causes the misunderstanding of deeming heretical what is merely responsible dissent in relation to a given recommendation that does not have to be considered a doctrinal affirmation.
3. On the pastoral of the family and evangelization
- It's not just a matter of making pastoral practice more flexible without touching the teaching on the alleged "doctrine" of the Church. In fact, for decades many people of faith and bishops and priests who are within the Church have felt totally free to disagree with the exaggerations of so-called "Church doctrine." But the latter does not change openly and officially and there is an open gap of separation between this gospel pastoral practice and the official positions of the Church through which it loses credibility inside and out. For example, there are believers who think that using a condom is prohibited, and there are non-believers who think that condom use is condemned. But in the consultation room and in moral theology class we say clearly, in Cardinal Martini's phrase, that "it is neither the Church's job to condemn it nor is it its mission to recommend it." However, the Church hierarchies have not dared to say this and so have lost much credibility over the past three pontificates.
- Both in the practice of family ministry and in the documents and exhortations of the Church on marriage and family, three serious flaws must be corrected:
1) The lack of distinction between the principal teachings (which are few and very basic, e.g. responsible parenthood) and secondary disputable issues (which can be quite varied, e.g. the recommendations made by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II about contraceptives) should be avoided.
2) We should avoid joining the neglect of the main teachings with the endeavor to change blind assent to those other secondary recommendations into a sign of Catholic identity.
3) We must avoid that believers who are poorly formed in their faith as adults mistakenly believe you can not disagree with the church on these secondary issues and confuse reasonable and responsible disagreement with dissent and infidelity (for example, dissenting from Humanae Vitae is not a question of sin, or obedience, or faith. This must be clearly taught and not just whispered in the consulting room or the confessional).
- We must review the standard about sexual relations outside the legally formalized framework such as marriage. A good reference is the triple criteria proposed by the Japanese bishops in their Letter on Life (1983): Criterion of loyalty to oneself -- How does one act in the field of sexuality and love so that one respects oneself? Criterion of sincerity and authenticity towards one's partner -- How does one act in the field of sexuality and love so as to respect one's partner? Criterion of social responsibility -- How does one act so that the responsibility towards the life that was born as fruit of the love is taken seriously?
- We must review the opinion expressed in the official documents of the past three pontificates about the inseparability of the unitive and the procreative in the sexual relationship and in each of its acts.
- The proposal of an ethical maximum as an ideal, for example, with respect to indissoluble marriage, must be made compatible with the pastoral and sacramental acceptance and support of people after the breakup of a marriage relationship, and in the process of rebuilding life with or without a new relationship.
It's not enough to affirm in the Catechism that people with a homosexual orientation should not be discriminated against either in society or in the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2358). It's not enough to assert that homosexual orientation in itself is not a moral evil (see the instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, n.3).
It's not enough to explain that some texts of Scripture where homosexual practices are referred to should be read in the context of denouncing social customs of the time, that they should never be used to make a judgment of guilt against those who suffer because of their sexual orientation (see the instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana, 1975, n. 8). We must go one step further and instead of focusing on questioning the sexual relationship, the Church must confront the problem inherent in the negative reactions, both religious and social, with which this issue is faced in the Church and in society. And also take the step of communal, sacramental and pastoral welcoming of these couples and the education of their offspring.
6. On the education of children of couples "not formalized" according to the so-called "traditional model" of family
Without giving up the ideal, we must be realistic. Without stopping recommending the ideal of indissolubility, we have to assume the inevitability of breakups and the need for human, spiritual and sacramental healing. As the Japanese bishops have written in their Millenium Letter, "we recognize the fact that many men and women are unable to fulfill the pledge of love they made in marriage...There are situations where for various reasons a breakup is unavoidable... These people need comfort and encouragement. We regret that the Church has often been judgmental of such people... When the bond of marriage, unfortunately, has been broken, the Church should show warm understanding towards these people, treating them as Christ would treat them and assisting them in the steps they are taking to rebuild their lives...We hope that those who have gone through the misfortune of divorce and have found someone else to be their companion on life's journey will be supported by the Church with a mother's embracing love."
7. On openness to unborn life
- Not surprisingly, a large majority of Catholic spouses supported by pastoral ministry disagree with Church guidelines on birth control. It is not a moral problem, but poorly misunderstood ecclesiology. It's not a problem of disobedience, but of responsibility.
- Rape is an act which, through its violence, hurts the dignity of the person at their very core. Clearly pregnancy should not be the result of an act of violence. This applies not only to cases of rape in the strictest sense of the word, but also to other cases of more or less concealed violence. The answer must be that, in many cases, interrupting that process in its early constituent stages is not only permissible but even obligatory. Otherwise, the person would be at risk of being faced with the dilemma of irresponsibly assuming maternity or resorting to interruption of the pregnancy in the strict and abortion morally negative sense of the word "abortion". Preventing implantation would help avoid that dilemma; the "interception" (which takes place during the first two weeks) would be a reasonable and responsible alternative to the dilemma between contraception and abortion.
- When defending unborn life, we must avoid the misunderstandings that the definition of conception as a moment in time rather than as a process leads to, and also avoid confusion between the exceptional interruptions of pregnancy before the formation of the fetus and the unjust abortive termination of unborn life.
This acceptance and protection should be carried out responsibly. But this stance in favor of acceptance of life does not mean that that life is absolutely untouchable. The acceptance must be responsible, and controversial cases may present themselves that morally justify the interruption of this process. If one will not be able to assume the responsibility for welcoming, giving birth to and raising this new life, it should be prevented in a timely manner through appropriate contraceptive (before the beginning of fertilization) or interceptive (before implantation) resources.
There will be borderline cases where there may even be the duty (not the right) to interrupt the embryonic process of constituting a new individual entity in its early stages before it is too late. Examples of these cases of conflict of values would be: when the continuation of that process enters into serious and grave conflict with the health of the mother or the own good of the future creature, not yet constituted.
In these conflicts, when weighing the values at stake and ranking them, the criterion of recognition and respect for the individual should guide the deliberation. When, as a result of this discussion, the decision must be made about stopping the process, this decision belongs to the pregnant woman and should not be made arbitrarily, but responsibly and conscientiously.
Finally, these decisions about interrupting the process should take into account the moment of evolution in which that life is in those stages prior to birth. That life would be less untouchable in the very early stages and the threshold of untouchability, in principle, should not be beyond the step from embryo to fetus around the ninth week. Beyond this threshold, if serious reasons are present that necessitate the interruption of the process, it should not be carried out as an alleged right of the pregnant woman, but by reason of a serious justification because of the value conflicts that continuation of the process towards birth would raise. The more advanced the state of this process, the more serious the reasons required for the choice to interrupt it to be morally responsible would be.
8. On the dignity of the person in the family
Respect for the dignity of persons in the family is more important than the defense of the alleged unconditional indissolubility of marriage. Domestic violence must be avoided through mutual respect of the spouses, respect for the autonomy of the children without possessively impeding their growth, and respect for parents and care in old age should concern the pastoral of the family more than arguments about medically assisted procreation or the use of contraceptives.