Thursday, July 3, 2014

A few more thoughts on the Instrumentum Laboris

I had the distinct privilege of being interviewed by Karee Santos, who is the driving force behind the magnificent blog Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages. Karee is a wife, a mom, and an attorney. In a word, she's pretty awesome. Anyway, the interview consisted of me giving written answers to her written questions. She sent her questions to me and a few other people. 

Before I proceed to post my responses, the fruit of Karee's efforts resulted in what is the best thing I've read so far in the Catholic media on the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Synod on The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, which she wrote for Aleteia: "Synod on the Family: A Preview of Coming Attractions Better catechesis, marriage prep and the annulment process take center stage." I encourage to read her article, which features several views from differing perspectives.

I am grateful to Karee because by agreeing to give her my input I read the document right when it came out rather than waiting to read it, which I normally would've done right before the III Extraordinary Synod opens. Below are my complete responses:



1. From the working document, does it look like major changes, such as the amendment of canon law or issuance of a motu proprio, will be resulting from the Synod?

From my reading of Part II Chapter III it does not seem that such a drastic change will necessarily be forthcoming after the second part of the synod, which will occur in 2015 as part of the Ordinary Synod, or after the Extraordinary Synod this fall. A lot of attention is given to separated and divorced people “who remain faithful to their marriage vows,” stating that these men and women are “among the new poor’ (par 87). There is also a lot of discussion about those who are in “Situations of Canonical Irregularity,” noting that there are those who grasp the irregularity of their situation and the implications of that vis-à-vis reception of the sacraments, and those who do not understand their situation (par 89-92).

2. Does the working document accurately depict the state of Catholic marriages and families today?

Given the global nature of the Church and the disparity between those who belong to the Church and do not practice the faith and those who do (in other words given the diversity of situations the document addresses), accuracy is a difficult thing to gauge. On the whole, I would say it does accurately depict the state of Catholic marriages and families precisely by making these distinctions throughout the document

3. The working document states that most people do not know or understand the content of Church documents on marriage and the family (paras. 8 & 11). How can we work to change that in our roles as clergy, Diocesan administrators, and laypeople?

Among the groups of people who were identified as lacking an understanding of conciliar and post-conciliar magisterial documents on marriage and family are the clergy. Since, once again, even the word “deacon” does not appear at all this document, the designation “clergy,” in my view, probably denotes priests in general and pastors in particular (par 12). This is consistent with my own experience as a married deacon.

The answer is not asking the laity to read and master these documents, but for clergy and those members of the laity engaged in pastoral ministry, including catechists who teach children, to have better formation and for this knowledge to be imparted through catechetical instruction, marriage preparation, and in preaching.

4. The working document explicitly references Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's catechesis on human love, i.e. Theology of the Body (para. 5, 18, 121-23, 128). Does this indicate that the Synod will neither ignore nor attempt to change the teachings from these documents?

Based on Pope Francis’s remarks about Humanae Vitae, which he made in a March interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, in which he praised Venerable Pope Paul VI’s prophetic genius, saying “he had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a cultural ‘brake,’ to oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing doctrine, but of going into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account situations, and what it is possible for people to do,” and the Instrumentum explicitly noting Humanae Vitae’s “prophetic character” (par 122), I agree with the assessment that the synod “will neither ignore nor attempt to change the teachings from these documents.”

Part I, Chapter III of the Instrumentum does an excellent job of dealing with the challenges facing the Church in terms of the natural law, as (sic) understanding of which is necessary for understanding the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family (par. 20).

5. Although Catholics seem very aware that abortion is a serious sin, they do not generally think that using contraception is sinful (para. 129). Why is that? Are there tactics that pro-lifers use that could be adapted to get the message out about contraception?

Great question! I can’t offer an exhaustive answer, only a few observations from my own ministry.

I think helping more people understand the uncontrollable potential of hormonal birth control pills to “contracept” by means of an early term chemical abortion needs to be more widespread, as well as the long term effects on women’s health of using “the pill.” As far as contraception in general we need to emphasize two important distinctions made by Venerable Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae: the distinction between “birth control” and “contraception” (one is an end, sometimes a morally acceptable one, the other is a means to an end, one that is never morally acceptable- see Humanae Vitae, par 10 and 16); the distinction between the various methods of Natural Family Planning and contraception. As to the latter distinction, NFP is not a natural form of contraception (Humanae Vitae par 16).

I like that the Instrumentum recommends the dissemination of Pope St John Paul II’s teaching on theology of the body, “in which he proposes a fruitful approach to the topics of family through existential and anthropological concerns and an openness to the new demands emerging in our time” (par 18).

6. Although many bishops are pleased with the structure and content of their marriage preparation programs, some survey responses acknowledged that "in many cases, couples give little attention to pre-marriage programmes" (para. 52). Could this problem be solved by better preparation for teens, more support for the already-married, or greater formation for catechists? Do you see a demand for these programs in your parish or diocese? If these programs already exist, do large numbers of people participate?

I know my bishop is not pleased with the state of marriage preparation in our diocese. I think the problem could be solved by all of the above. I was encouraged by the Instrumentum’s mention in more than one place of something along these lines: “Long before they present themselves for marriage, young people need assistance in coming to know what the Church teaches and why she teaches it. Many responses emphasize the role of parents in the catechesis on the family” (par 19).

We have some programs available in our diocese, but they are few and far between and severely under-resourced. Our diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life has a staff of one part-time person. I think there is a demand for such offerings. Individual bishops have to see the urgency of what the Church is facing as clearly as does the Holy Father and change some pastoral priorities, which is no easy thing given the scarcity of resources.

7. In 1996, the Pontifical Council for the Family issued a document called Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage, which recommended that pre-Cana courses cover a broad range of practical and theological topics and that the courses last either four weekends or one afternoon monthly throughout a whole year. These recommendations have largely been ignored in crafting most U.S. marriage preparation programs. Is it likely that an exhortation resulting from the Synod on the Family will have any greater effect?

I think it is very likely that the Apostolic Exhortation the Holy Father will issue after the second installment of the Synod on the Family in 2015 will be well-received, but go unheeded. In other words, I don’t see many dioceses revising pastoral priorities and providing the resources needed to meet this pastoral challenge that arises from a the profound cultural crisis we are experiencing with regard to marriage and family in the United States.

8. The working document states, "Very many responses, especially in Europe and North America, request streamlining the procedure for marriage annulments" (para. 96). Would this require amending the code of canon law regarding annulments? How long would that process take? Can the procedure be streamlined without an official amendment?

I’m not sure whether or not the Code of Canon Law would need to be amended in order to streamline existing annulment processes. Amending canon law is done with some regularity via a motu proprio- the last such set of amendments were promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Letter Omnium in mentem of 2009.

In my view, as one who is a member of our Diocesan Marriage Tribunal and who deals with a rather large number of annulment proceedings, the only canonical marriage procedure that is in dire need of streamlining is the formal case. One idea that was floated by Archbishop Bruno Forte at the 2005 Ordinary Synod on the Eucharist was doing away with the requirement for a tribunal of second instance for most formal cases.

In this regard, I was very happy the Instrumentum made mention of something that was a theme of Pope Benedict XVI, who also understood the pastoral issue arising from so many divorces and remarriages among the faithful, namely the “need to investigate the question of the relationship between faith and the Sacrament of Matrimony’ (par 96).

9. The survey responses agree that when non-practicing Catholics request to be married in the Catholic Church they should be welcomed warmly (para. 105). How can this pastoral warmth be balanced by the suggestion to streamline the annulment process by allowing lack of faith to be a ground for annulment (para. 96)?

The issue highlighted on several occasions by Pope Benedict XVI, a reference to which I ended my previous response, would seem to be at odds with this insistence. Of course, as people of faith, as orthodox Catholics, we understand, beginning with the most fundamental aspect of our faith, the Most Holy Trinity, to hold seemingly disparate things, in tension. I think we need to understand, however, that such an approach runs the risk of further exacerbating the problem. It is the pastoral equivalent of threading the needle.

Look at our practice of infant baptism, which, in order to be “lawful,” according to the Code of Canon Law, it is “required” “that there be a well-founded hope that the child will be brought up in the catholic religion. If such hope is truly lacking, the baptism is, in accordance with the provisions of particular law, to be deferred and the parents advised of the reason for this (Can. 868 §1 2/).

For marriage might we insist “that there be a well-founded hope that the couple will practice the catholic religion. If such hope is lacking, the marriage is… to be deferred and the couple advised of the reason for this”?



10. Does the working document leave open the possibility of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist? Or does it make clear that the current practice should not and will not change (paras. 89-95)?

In my view, the Instrumentum does not lean heavily towards making accommodations for those in canonically irregular marriage situations to start receiving communion. It would be too much to say that it forecloses the possibility. Frankly, I was both surprised and gratified, given the all media hype, even within the U.S. Catholic media, about this question that it wasn’t dealt with more. I think those who understand both the what and why of Church teaching on the Eucharist and marriage and the connection between these two sacraments grasp that this [is] no mere pastoral concession, but goes to quite fundamental theological matters.

Along these lines, I was struck by this in the Instrumentum: “Many times, people in these irregular situations do not grasp the intrinsic relationship between marriage and the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance. Consequently, they find it very difficult to understand why the Church does not allow those who are in an irregular situation to receive Holy Communion. The catechetical instruction on marriage does not sufficiently explain the connection” (par 91).

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