A paper from the International Confraternity of Catholic Clergy on the forthcoming XIV General Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
In the very order of creation God has ordained that marriage, as an indissoluble and exclusive union between one man and one woman, be the unique and universal foundation for the family, and so for society. Catholics honour the dignity of natural marriage as the gift of the Creator to all mankind. In the order of Redemption, Our Lord Jesus Christ raised marriage between the baptised to dignity of a Sacrament, both perfecting and elevating His Father’s original gift, and perpetually making present in the midst of the human family, the union between Himself as the Second Adam, and His beloved Bride, the Church
The challenge to promote and defend marriage and the family, and to provide the proper support of families in our times, is a pressing struggle for the true meaning of the human person, and of what it means to follow Christ. In seeking to meet this challenge, the members of the English speaking Confraternities of Catholic Clergy are aware that fidelity to the mind and will of Christ is essential, if the true dignity of individuals, married couples and of the family is to be served. Nor can the service of man and the defence of his dignity ever be severed from our obligation to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its totality.
The Family at the heart of Evangelisation
Without the family there can be no evangelisation of our society or the building of a civilization of love. The family today is under threat and bishops, priests, deacons, religious, teachers and all Christ’s Faithful are now called to be full and conscious advocates of the truth and meaning of human sexuality. Such an ecclesial focus on the family, centred on the natural and revealed Truth about man, would bring about social and cultural change for the common good.
Catholic couples and families living out the teaching and disciplines of the Church and manifesting its fruitfulness with life-giving joy are the best, most credible, means of spreading the truth about marriage and the family today. A primary task of the forthcoming Synod is the support of Catholic families desirous of living out the full truth of the Gospel – in many cases, in the midst of a growing hostility and opposition from the general culture. Looking with admiration on these faithful and generous members of Christ’s flock, the English speaking Confraternities ask that the Synod express its gratitude for their heroic witness, and commit itself to supporting them by a clear reaffirmation of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family, and of the Church’s traditional discipline on the reception of the Sacraments.
Given the state of breakdown in today’s society – which stems from a defective understanding of the family and sexuality – the Church’s unchanging message, especially as it has been articulated and developed in the magisterium of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, increasingly seems prophetic. This is precisely the time for continuity and consistency. When all else has failed, it is possible that the both the natural law and the law of the Gospel will find a renewed reception, even in quarters where previously these have been ignored or rejected. It was only after the disciples had laboured all night and gained nothing by their own efforts, that they were ready for the miraculous draught of fishes that the Risen Lord would give them – but only if they were faithful to His command (John, 21:6).
Positive ideas to promote marriage and family
Many Catholics today are unaware of the richness of Catholic teaching about marriage and sexuality, about what it means to be male and female. The media, society and dissenting voices within the Church present Catholic teaching as a list of prohibitions and yet fail to show the beautiful vision of a life lived according the Gospel. As members of the Church we have often failed to transmit the message of marriage and family effectively and to explain why the Church teaches what She teaches. A new systematic approach to education and catechesis, including preaching and public resources, needs to be developed so that the present generation of Catholics can heal, and the next generation begin afresh. It is not sufficient for individual priests to make this material and these insights available: rather, a united and universal effort is needed to inform comprehensive national and Diocesan programmes.
Some ideas to promote this work would include: setting up family networks in every parish and diocese; priests visiting and supporting families; calling and equipping couples and committed families to evangelise others by catechesis and testimony; honouring and praising those families which strive to follow the Gospel.
Positive Affirmation not Enough – Confronting the Challenges to Marriage and Family
Given the widespread confusion today regarding the meaning of human sexuality, as well as the idolisation of freedom, the simple proclamation of God’s Word does not guarantee a ready hearing. One of the greatest contemporary pastoral challenges is to convince people about the exclusive and absolutely normative nature of the natural family of father, mother and children, and to show how and why alternative views are flawed.
A widespread weakness among Christians at present is not the rejection of the wounded, but rather a universal acceptance of all without the call to conversion. No one is turned away, but few are challenged and offered an authentic path to experience the Father’s mercy. It is rare today to hear of a pastor, or indeed the lay faithful, performing the work of mercy that is found in calling someone to change his life. Reviving the Spiritual Works of Mercy may well effect a huge change in ecclesial life. False mercy that gives no challenge and offers sacramental participation without repentance and change of life, is not an experience of the Father’s mercy, and therefore is unhelpful to the good of the person.
There is also need to challenge governments to support marriage and family and to work towards the civil discouragement of certain behaviour and practices contrary to the common good of society (such as divorce, same-sex ‘marriage’, and pornography).
The Church can be compassionate and present, through her ministers and lay faithful, without compromising the call to repentance, to those who have distanced themselves from the call of the Gospel.
Supporting the Weak and Broken
The pastors of the Church today face unprecedented breakdown in the marriages and families to whom they minister. A failure to understand and live the message of the Gospel is causing immense harm to many souls. The worst prescription would simply be an attempt to change Gospel teaching, to accommodate alternative visions of marriage and family and an alternative sexual ethics. The great pastoral challenge of our time is to heal the brokenness with a certain compassion and gentleness, to awaken appreciation of the Gospel vision without driving souls away. Some ways to move forward:
- By a bold proclamation of the truth about marriage and family
- By clear moral teaching in all areas of human sexuality
- By a new apologetics of the family – explaining why we teach what we teach. Every Catholic should know the reasons for Church teaching.
- By creating awareness of the errors of cultural relativism and the problems of secularism
- By ensuring our catechetical and educational establishments (especially schools) teach (with clear reasons) the fullness of the Gospel of Life and Marriage with confidence and without compromise.
The Church can always help individuals and families in difficult situations to pray, to attend Mass, and to continue to learn about the faith in catechesis. It is our experience that all families know they are welcome at church and at parish events.
Suggestions to help prevent familial problems and breakdown:
- Renewed efforts at Evangelisation (people will rarely desire to follow the seemingly harder path unless they first believe; and in any case, we need God’s grace to do what we cannot achieve by our own power)
- Better catechesis in all educational establishments and parishes
- Clearer teaching from clergy on matters of Life, Marriage, Family and Human Sexuality at all levels
- Enhanced marriage preparation and after marriage support
- Work to change political legislation which is inimical to marriage and to the family
Most people respond well when they are treated with respect and love. When the faith is taught clearly many transform their lives accordingly and the young begin to desire the happiness brought by following the Gospel.
Those on the periphery often need general pastoral care (support, attention, counselling, care, education/catechesis) as much, if not more, than anyone else. They are often not in a position to receive the sacraments due to unrepentant sin, objectively sinful living situations or lack of belief/faith but can and must still be supported. Evangelisation and the call of the Gospel (in the fullest sense) is the greatest pastoral care that can be given. Sensitivity in fostering an appreciation of the family, given the state of morals and the breakdown of families and relationships, is necessary. A concern not to offend or disquiet those in irregular family situations, however, should not distract from presenting the fullness of the Gospel of Marriage and Family. It is even more important today to present the full Gospel solution to the moral/cultural breakdown found in our times. The Gospel is always a healing balm even when it may at first sting. The Church is a hospital for sinners, in order that She might be also a haven for saints.
Church at odds with Civil Society
The Church, and the dominant secular cultures of our countries, have a very divergent understanding of marriage. We note with concern that destructive secular ideologies – founded on a false understanding of man – are gaining ground in the policies and laws of our respective States. The goals of the Church in creating a Gospel society are far from governmental acceptance and promotion of cohabitation, divorce, same-sex relationships, contraception and abortion.
Civil and ecclesial lay institutions that support marriage and the family need promotion and funding. Other suggestions for supporting marriage and the family include:
- Stronger Catholic schools (teachers in Catholic schools to receive the necessary formation in these areas)
- Better Catechesis (promotion of Catholic Family Catechesis)
- More conviction and teaching from Priests and other leaders of the community
- Better resources to support families before and after marriage
- Good support for faithful Catholic families
- Building good Catholic Family associations
Other ways to foster better relations between the family, society and civil life include:
- Organised political lobbying by the lay Faithful
- Better dissemination of a Christian vision to society (including answering misunderstandings and popular prejudices in the media and social media)
- Underscoring the obligations of Catholics in public life
- Better formation for Catholic lay leaders in Catholic Social and Moral Teachings, especially in matters regarding marriage and the family
A growing problem in our societies is the number of people in a non-marital sexual relationship, intended either as a “trial” marriage or permanent arrangement. It is now very rare that a couple would not have cohabited prior to marriage. The distortions that gives rise to cohabitation and the set of problems that flow from it need to be addressed not by accommodation, but presenting a better, truer way – the call of the Gospel.
Most Catholics of a mature age living together outside of marriage and coming to Mass are aware of their irregular situation. Only a small percentage – in most places in our countries well below 5% – of young Catholic adults continue to practise the Faith in any measurable sense. Those young Catholics in regular practice of the Faith tend on the whole to be strongly convinced of the traditional teaching and discipline of the Church regarding marriage, family and the discipline of the Sacraments. However, the vast bulk of baptised Catholics in their 20’s do not practise on any regular basis, and of these a large proportion would be in an irregular union or would readily engage in casual relationships. These would tend either to refuse to admit any irregularity, or in many cases would be totally unaware of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and marriage. Sadly, the problem of cohabitation is exacerbated by priests and religious who advise dissent, and refuse to challenge and give a call to marriage.
Those in irregular unions should be encouraged to continue to attend Mass or to return to regular Mass attendance, even if their present situation prevents their reception of the Sacraments. Mass is not simply a means to receive Holy Communion, and aside from the continuing obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, prayerful participation in Mass by those unable to communicate may be an occasion of grace, especially that of conversion of life. It may be that the Church needs to revisit the length of the Eucharistic Fast: a longer Fast (say, for three hours before Communion) would both reduce any perceived “pressure” to receive Communion, and underline the importance of appropriate spiritual preparation (including the necessity of being in a state of sanctifying grace) for the reception of the Sacrament.
In addition to exhorting those concerned to maintain their Mass obligation, there are various ways to encourage those cohabiting to marry, if they are free to do so
- Calling people to marriage at key moments (house visitation, baptisms and other moments of family participation in the sacramental life of the Church)
- Catechesis on the importance of marriage
- Call to conversion and repentance, including better instruction in the Sacrament of Penance, as well as better provision of the Sacrament
- Cultivating a desire to receive Holy Communion when the state of grace is restored
- The good example of faithful married couples
- Prevention is better than cure – educating the young in the problems of cohabitation is essential
What is often lacking for priests, and indeed for bishops, is a clear policy or set of expectations and mechanisms for challenging those who are not committed to the Gospel vision of marriage and the family; guidelines might also be helpful where delaying marriage is advisable – for example, in cases where couples are insufficiently catechised, or need time to consider serious questions raised in many mixed relationships, where one party does not believe in God, and may even be hostile to the Faith.
Strong, clear but charitable pastoral direction from the Holy See will equip the particular churches to work cum Petro et sub Petro. Good practice can be shared internationally alongside of awareness that different challenges in different places require a variety of approaches. Nevertheless pastoral practice and doctrine must remain in inseparable harmony.
Pastoral Practice for the Divorced
An area of particular concern for priests is the care of those who have been divorced and are either civilly re-married, or cohabiting. Pastoral care is offered in every parish to couples who find themselves in this situation. What is clear in the Gospel message is a real compassion for sinners and those embroiled in sin (such as the woman caught in adultery and presented to the Lord). The Church, alongside its teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the need for renunciation of sin, expresses compassion and care for those caught in the web of marital breakdown and civil re-marriage or cohabitation. The Lord, in forgiving the sins of the penitent, also says, ‘Go and sin no more’. The Church, as a Mother, receives all Her children with gentleness, and at the same time calls sinners to repentance and conversion of life. Her Pastors, in imitation of the Lord, must continue to receive all with kindness, as well as call to repentance.
The Church can never lose Her prophetic role in calling people to repentance – but where Her Pastors fail to proclaim this, they obscure Her essential mission. This is part of the original kerygma, and the call to conversion from sinful states and life choices remains an integral part of the Gospel call. The first obligation of the Church, and the greatest charity, is the salvation of souls, and therefore maintaining souls in the state of sanctifying grace – all other human considerations are secondary to this. An inversion of this principle would be radically inconsistent with the constant tradition of the Church and indeed with the Gospel. An attempt to accommodate sacramentally those living in objective states of sins would undermine both moral and sacramental theology and practice, and separate them to an ever wider degree.
The principles for the reception of the sacraments are already clearly doctrinal, and not merely disciplinary. For those who persist in a state of unrepentant mortal sin, admission to the Sacraments is not possible. To enter a new union (whether or not it is recognised by the State) when a previous marriage is valid in the eyes of God, is adultery. As long as a sexual relationship continues with a person to whom one is not joined by matrimony, the state of moral disorder continues. Extenuating circumstances do not give a license for sin or scandal. Proportionalism, consequentialism and their variations were censured as false, in St John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor. The Church has no authority from Christ to change these teachings, or to dispense from the disciplines that express them.
The situation of those divorced or separated but living chastely, generally is very different from those who are re-married or cohabiting. Usually, there is no obstacle to their reception of the Sacraments. Where they have done all that is reasonably possible to live out their marriage, and the just conditions for separation are met, no moral blame attaches to their condition. While the Church can never admit the possibility of divorce as an actual means of dissolving a valid union, She permits Her children to obtain a civil divorce in those cases where separation is morally justified, and the law of the State provides no alternative recourse for the various matters (eg support of children) that then arise. The Church needs to renew and deepen its commitment to these Faithful, many of whom remain faithful to Christ’s teachings to an heroic degree.
In cases of persons divorced and re-married (or cohabiting), the appropriate pastoral response will depend partly on the readiness of those concerned to receive the call to repentance and conversion of life:
– For those who are willing to give all to follow the way of Christ it may be possible for a person to return to his or her first and legitimate spouse (although often this relationship is irreparably damaged/dislocated and this option becomes impracticable). Or the person can resolve to live a celibate life. Sometimes having children involved in the new relationship brings up other factors of significance (the duty of care) and the person may seek to live chastely (‘as brother and sister’) in his or her new relationship. This resolution, however, is not wholly satisfactory as a relationship is more than a genital encounter, and care should be taken to ensure that the parties do truly see themselves as in a deepest friendship rather than a valid marriage (how each refers to the other is significant here). As potential scandal for the other members of the Faithful (especially the young) may be a serious concern, in this situation it is advisable that the person receive the sacraments outside of his or her parish where he or she is known (this has sometimes been called the ‘internal forum solution’). For many this ‘internal forum solution’ may be a way to begin returning to the sacraments and the state of grace. Those undertaking such steps – which can be heroic – should be truly supported.
– For those who are not willing to change their relationship immediately for Christ but seek involvement in the Church community and Mass. The Church is a hospital for the imperfect, and while the call to conversion is always present it is possible for people to shelter in the Church, to pray and learn more whilst still remaining outside of the sacraments and a full state of communion. In the present malaise the Church must be gentle with these, with the pastoral strategy of helping to dispose such souls to receive the grace of conversion in the Lord’s time. This will include encouraging fidelity to attendance at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and regular prayer, including Eucharistic adoration and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Recourse to the annulment process should be encouraged where possible, and channels for a resolution of the marital situation in the future should be explored. Hope for a return to a state of grace is essential.
– For those who are not willing to respond to Christ’s call but who demand recognition of their relationship and access to the sacraments the Church and the priest need to be both loving and firm. This is not a matter of mere discipline but the law of Christ. Access to the sacraments would exacerbate the problem and full recognition of the relationship would cause scandal and confusion for the Church and spiritual harm to the persons involved and their families. Even here pastors, while refusing sacraments, will seek to remain supportive of such families and encourage them to pray and move ever closer to the will of God. There is always hope that the situation of sin can be resolved in the future. Prayer and Penance should be voluntarily undertaken by Christ’s Faithful – clergy, religious and laity – on behalf of such souls, seeking their return to the Lord.
Some situations are objectively immoral, but perhaps better strategies for calling couples to conversion in these situations might be found. Nevertheless, practical recognition of invalid unions will do more spiritual and human damage than a charitable correction. When a non-Christian (or non-Catholic) family with marital irregularities approaches the Church for the first time, or a person comes to deeper faith after entering into the invalid union, the situation has to be handled with those factors considered. The way forward is always pastoral orthodoxy, proclaiming the truth in love, and seeking first the salvation of souls as higher than any natural human good. Happiness, which ultimately depends upon man’s reaching his supernatural end, cannot be achieved without God’s grace.
A summary of what is possible in order to return to the sacraments:
- Return to the original spouse (where possible)
- Repentance and change of life (living a single life chastely)
- Repentance and change of life (living in a chaste friendship as brother and sister with knowledge of the local priest – but avoiding any scandal)
- Seeking an annulment
- Waiting for a future change in circumstances when adultery might cease
Cases seeking a declaration of nullity could be made free of charge (or have only a donation involved according to resources). Nullity cases might, in some places, be determined more rapidly (there is at present a wide range of practice in different Dioceses, Provinces and Countries). Nevertheless care must be taken not to grant declarations of nullity without due and proper investigation (this may mean that some tribunals may need to take longer than at present). The current procedural law of checks and balances – including provision for the defence of the bond – is designed to ensure that declarations of nullity are granted appropriately. A move towards ‘easy annulments’ without sufficient evidence – a form of ‘Catholic divorce’, as it were – would undermine and compromise the indissolubility of marriage
Same-Sex Attraction and Pastoral Care
The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly states that a considerable number of the faithful experience the challenge of same-sex attraction. In secular society same-sex attraction is seen as equivalent to heterosexual attraction and relationships of people of the same-sex equivalent to natural marriage between a man and a woman. A growing hostility is felt in many countries to the Gospel teaching about marriage, the family and the true meaning of human sexuality. Catholic institutions and the lay faithful, in a myriad of ways, face a certain pressure to accommodate a new ideology of sexual orientation and gender theory. The Church in this environment faces a double challenge – to care with compassion for those of its members who struggle to follow the Gospel with feelings of same-sex attraction, and the confrontation of harmful behaviours and conflicting encroaching ideologies
In the present cultural milieu, the Church’s response has to be more clear and robust than ever. The Church and the People of God must avoid using language linked to a false anthropology, and one that is inimical to Christianity. Any accommodation or ambiguity in this matter causes immense harm to those trying to hold society together, and will undermine those societies that have held back the tide of opposing ideologies. Just as the Church, when it first preached to the Gentiles, had to confront the depravity of ancient paganism, so now in the new age of Paganism it is important to propose another way with all charity and gentleness – the only way that can lead to happiness, the way of the Gospel.
In the wake of the ‘sexual revolution’, whole societies must realise anew that the human sexual faculty is very volatile, and that due to fallen human nature, our sexual tendencies are not always properly ordered to spousal union and procreation. No person should be treated unjustly due to temptations and tendencies. Unconditional love and acceptance of the person, however, does not mean acceptance of a sexual ideology or lifestyles contrary to the Gospel. Catholics need to resist accepting same-sex attraction as a normal and proper functioning of human sexuality. Parents and families should be advised to be charitable, while never accepting or supporting the idea that sexual attraction or temptation somehow constitute or dominate one’s identity, providing a kind of personal narrative; even less so, should they accept sinful lifestyles as good or positive. The true good of the person with same-sex attraction demands this clear approach, which is also necessary for the education and healthy maturing of the young. Certain key points of pastoral care should be kept in mind when dealings with issues of same-sex attraction:
- It is important that persons do not ‘ontologise’ the homosexual attraction, and unthinkingly accept the language and categorisation of sexual orientation.
- It is important that persons know they are loved as beings made in the image of God.
- It is important that persons who fall into sin can, after repentance and with a firm purpose of amendment, receive absolution from sin in the Sacrament of Penance, and the power of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
- It is important for persons with same-sex attraction to know that they can, by means of chastity and purified friendship, become saints and an example to the whole Church.
Same-sex partners living together with children present more fundamental challenges. For a child to be deliberately and categorically deprived of a mother or a father is a grave matter, and no one should be supported or recognised in constructing alternative families in this way. The deprivation for a child brought into a same-sex relationship family is ‘on-going’, as is the scandal caused by same-sex couple raising children in opposition to natural and divine law. The good of the child must be paramount in these situations, and the child’s right to sacramental and pastoral care should not be diminished by the irregularity of those who possess guardianship over him or her.
In case of baptism, all cause of scandal should be avoided, and no public ceremony implicitly recognising couples of the same-sex can be permitted. Similarly in catechetical preparation for baptism, those wishing to have an infant or child in their guardianship baptised, would need to be willing to profess the Catholic faith (which implicitly includes doctrine regarding human sexuality and marriage) before they could present the child for baptism. The best solution may be for a practising grandparent to stand in at the baptismal ceremony and profession of faith and to promise to raise the child in the faith, and ensure that the full faith is taught. The guardians of the child (biological parents or adopted) should be informed that the child, if attending a Catholic catechetical course or a school, has a right to be taught about the natural law and about the Church’s teaching regarding human sexuality and marriage. As the child, because of his/her irregular parentage, may be made to feel excluded or strange, it would be important for the child to be cared for with exceptional tenderness and concern.
The Church in English speaking countries has consistently defended marriage as an exclusive union of one man and one woman, and argued against the introduction of civil ‘marriage’ for persons of the same sex. It has not been as robust in its opposition to same sex civil partnerships/unions. In a relatively short time there has been a dramatic shift in societal attitudes to same-sex relationships, allowing in many countries the development of adoption provision for same sex couples, and paving the way for the recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ in many jurisdictions. The state no longer recognises the natural and moral superiority of heterosexual/procreative marriage and the advantage of a child having a mother and a father. The Church now has to face a clash of fundamental values with the state and is liable to face challenges to its freedom to operate and act according to natural law principles (and in accordance with its own beliefs). What applies to the Church in general is felt more acutely by individuals, who in some cases are no longer able to make appropriate discrimination within the workplace – regarding employment, for instance. the lay faithful who continue to bear witness to the teaching of Christ and the Church, often at great personal sacrifice, look to their Pastors for support.
The Church always calls its members to repentance and conversion and to live lives consonant with the natural law and the Gospels. Someone living an openly ‘homosexual’ lifestyle obviously cannot be admitted to the sacraments without a change in lifestyle. However, no one is treated with hatred or disrespect, and all are urged to pray, maintain Mass attendance, and continue to be in contact with their pastors. Pastoral approaches that provide support – in full conformity with the Church’s teaching – for those struggling with same sex attraction, should be encouraged. In the English speaking world, the ‘Courage’ movement is an exemplary case of this.
A pastor’s duty is to call two men or two women living in an intimate partnership to separate, or, if they are resolved to live together in chaste abstinence, to re-order their relationship as a profound friendship, by the power of God’s grace. Advice to those having had or being in same-sex relationships, who now seek conversion in Christ, should include the following considerations:
- To explain how friendships between people of the same sex can be purified
- The call to chastity and to abandon any sinful sexual activity is crucial
- To explain the love of God
- To present the helpful teaching of John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
- Providing ongoing pastoral support where needed via apostolates such as ‘Courage’.
Humanae Vitae: Openness to Life vs Contraception
At root in so many of the challenges facing the Church in relation to marriage, sexuality and the family is the widespread use, promotion and practice of contraception and the contraceptive ideology.
Whilst the recent Magisterium has given extensive attention to the subject of human sexual love, and has provided deep and profound insights, in a way unseen in previous ages, this wealth of teaching has not been transmitted effectively to the People of God. Few would know anything about the ‘Theology of the Body’ of St John Paul II and, while many people know the prohibitions of Catholic ethical teaching and certain areas connected to the family, few could even begin to give a rationale for that teaching.
The teaching of Humanae Vitae is not widely followed in the parishes, not because it has been formally rejected, but because it is not known, or at least not known as a requirement, a grave duty and an expectation. When the teaching is neither explained nor made obligatory to conscience, couples tend to choose the way of the world and the easier option, which is artificial contraception. What is not grasped, although it is at times sensed by many, is that at the heart of society there is a fundamental misunderstanding about human sexuality. The pack of values that surround the contraceptive mentality has done immense harm to people, to marriage and to the family. It is true in some cases that Catholics are fully aware of their obligations and yet fail through weakness. In some other cases Catholics have rejected the teaching authority of the Church on this matter and have drifted in a state of private non-ecclesial faith to a silent apostasy. A false notion of conscience for some Catholics pleads that faith can remain intact while individuals judge that the Church is fundamentally wrong in her teaching. It needs to be stressed that there are couples, in the minority, but nevertheless significant in number, who follow faithfully the way of nature and the way of the Gospel. These couples are a shining light and the blessings they receive and give are evident in the community. These couples are the best advertisements for the Church’s teaching and should be utilised for their evangelical power.
Not enough has been done to promote the beautiful vision of Natural Family Planning: Natural Family Planning keeps procreation and sexual activity together in one act according to nature (and prevents sexual activity becoming an act for pleasure alone which distorts the human heart); it is respectful of the gift of fertility (not treating it with tablets as a disease); it speaks of commitment and demands union of life (not of the casual encounter); it makes children welcome (avoiding both thinking of a conception as an evil and the fact that the majority of abortions are due to failed contraception); it demands self-control (restraint at certain times, which is vital to other aspects of the relationship); it fosters good communication between spouses (unlike contraception which makes sex so easily automatic and often misuses the woman); and it builds stronger relationships (divorce rates among those who use NFP are very low).
When the Church’s teaching is known – not in a superficial manner – but in its depth and richness, people gladly put it into practice and are noticeably blessed in doing so. The best advertisement for Catholic family teaching comes from the fruitfulness and joy exhibited by those who follow the teaching and make it their own. Nevertheless in a fallen world and in a society that does not often value the Catholic teaching on families, and especially large families, there can be a degree of both financial and social pressure against couples who live out the teachings of the Church. Furthermore it is difficult for fully functioning Catholic families to co-exist alongside other, sometimes undermining, versions of family life without standing as an unwelcome sign of contradiction.
The state officially supports the use of artificial contraception. This distorted notion of human sexuality is promoted in education, in local government and health care policies and in foreign aid. Catholic educational establishments, charities and democratic representatives have not adequately distinguished themselves from this state agenda nor have they been sufficiently challenged or censored for dissenting at times from Catholic teaching, including in their public role.
Of course, it should also be noted that many so called contraceptives operate as abortifacients. We cannot conclude this section without renewing our sorrow over this great scourge of our age, the sin of abortion, which continues to destroy countless innocent lives. The failure of our societies to face the truth of this grave crime, in all its terrible extent, causes a type of corrosion in families and whole nations. We pray that the Church will raise Her voice anew to defend the lives of the innocent.
The teaching of Christ on marriage, human sexuality and the family, is clear. The Church’s traditional discipline relating to the reception of the Sacraments corresponds both to Christ’s moral teaching, and to the reality of the Sacraments as they were instituted by Christ, for the sanctification of His people.
These teachings have been particularly well articulated and developed by the Popes since Leo XIII. We are not a Church in search of new doctrines, or a new theology of marriage and the sacraments. Rather, we need to deepen our authentic implementation and living out of the received teaching.
The English speaking Confraternities of Catholic Clergy express the hope that the forthcoming Synod will address with urgency and energy the growing dissonance between the lives of many Catholics, and the holiness of the Church as the Bride of Christ.
May the beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage shine forth once more, re-energising evangelisation by making present throughout the world, among human families, the mystery of love between Christ and the Church.
To the fulfilment of this hope, we rededicate our priestly ministry, and direct our priestly prayer.