Thursday, October 9, 2014

Extraordinary Synod Questions & Answers

At the beginning of this week I was interviewed by Karee Santos for an article she wrote for Aleteia ("What Maggie Gallagher and Other Marriage Experts Think About the Synod's Agenda"). I would note that, while I am happy to contribute in whatever way I can, I don't self-identify as an expert in much of anything. It's really privilege enough to be included in Karee's article at all, but to be asked to contribute to a piece that includes Maggie Gallagher is truly an honor.

The questions were specifically about the Realtor-General of the Extraordinary Synod's "Report Prior to Discussion." Pope Francis appointed Péter Cardinal Erdö of Hungary to serve as Realtor-General. With some alterations, additions, and a few emendations, below are my replies:

1. Much of the pre-Synod press has focused on hot-button issues rather than foundational issues, but the opening speech by the Relator-General instead focused strongly on marriage preparation and faith formation of young people. How do you think better formation can solve the crisis in the family?

It’s interesting that several people with whom I am acquainted, in the lead up to the Synod, cast aspersions on the efficacy of pastoral and catechetical programs in the Church that seek to address what is so clearly lacking among the faithful when it comes the Sacrament of Matrimony. But I think better formation from a very young age is absolutely essential. It is no longer the case that Catholic young people grow up in overwhelmingly Catholic environments, which was a major means of formation for generations up through probably the 1960s. From my perspective, any serious proposal to turn the tide regarding marriage and family must have a strong catechetical component along the lines suggested in the Instrumentum Laboris.

I don’t believe that better formation in of itself is capable of solving the crisis of the family, however. It also requires the faithful and authentic (as opposed unrealistic, or overly idealistic) witness, especially as young people grow-up and begin to think about how to live their lives. Such formation must be carried out in great depth. This is precisely where Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is most useful. Children must grow up with an appreciation for their redeemed humanity, for their masculinity and femininity, seeing it as a great gift, as a talent to be multiplied.

2. The relator general said the task of marriage preparation is to "show the value and attractiveness of a life-long bond" and help engaged couples "conquer their legitimate fears" about relationships and economic uncertainty." How do you think marriage prep can do that?

This where I think it is crucial to have married couples prepare couples for marriage. As Fr Julián Carrón, President of Communion & Liberation, once said at a Assembly in which I participated, "It is useless to have the perfect doctrine of marriage if you don’t live it." This is true. Couples preparing for marriage need the witness, the shared testimony, of couples who can personally attest to the beauty of a life-long bond, couples who have been married 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. Again, this needs to be realistic, testifying to the good, the bad, and the ugly and direct experience of the grace of the sacrament, showing that grace builds on nature, that God’s grace does not normatively work as a Deus ex machina. This should not only happen at Engaged Encounter, which is designed to be a capstone to meaningful marriage preparation already received, but constitute part of the total formation couples receive.

3. The Relator-General suggested that "the answer" to the problem of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics "can be sought in a more comprehensive pastoral care of the young and those in marriage preparation." How could better formation address the problem?

The axiom "Prefer nothing to Christ" needs to be deeply imbibed by every Christian. This is the fruit of authentic evangelization. Fewer Catholic marriages that end in civil divorce is the most common sense way of dealing with this problem in the same way that sexual abstinence before marriage is the best way to deal with the problems that stem from young, single, unmarried mothers, who frequently live and raise children in poverty, and preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Any choice that puts you out of communion with Christ and His Church is objectively a bad choice.

We speak of marriage as a sacrament and so as a vocation in same way that becoming a priest or a religious is a vocation, that is, a divine calling. Contrast the formation received by priests and those in religious life with what most people who marry in the Church receive. I get that marriage preparation cannot last for 4-6 years, but a year to 6 months seems reasonable. Once married there is a need for on-going formation in light of the couple’s experience of being married and having children.

4. In discussing Humanae Vitae, the Relator-General stated that "the moral norm cited in the document needs to be considered in light of the law of gradualness ... keeping in mind that each person is a historical being, who knows, loves and accomplishes moral good in stages of growth." What does he mean by that?

In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul himself rejected what he referred to as "the so-called principle of totality" (HV par 3). I mention this because it seems to me that a suggested gradualistic approach can easily be taken to mean that at certain stages of a couple’s married life the use of contraceptives might be morally licit. Such is not the case. Even having recourse to NFP must be the result of "serious reasons" for either temporarily or permanently not wanting to conceive (HV par 10). We must be careful to avoid the kind of "pastoral" reasoning that has led to the state we’re now seeking to change. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back in 1998 when addressing the question of Holy Communion for divorced and civilly re-married people: "In the end only the truth can be pastoral." I believe this is true because the end we seek, the very one for which we are made and redeemed, is not a worldly end. For the past several months 1 Corinthians 15:19 as been stuck in my consciousness: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all."

On my reading, the section of Familaris Consortio Cardinal Erdö cites seems to warn against this as well. Here is the relevant part: "On the same lines, it is part of the Church's pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae Vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm" (par 34). In his thoughtful intervention, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, made an important distinction between "the law of graduality rather a graduality of the law."

Mark Brumley wrote a thoughtful piece, "It’s time for the full Gospel of the Family," for Crux. In it he hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned: "Like so many others labeled 'conservative,' I want change, not the status quo… Not change that undercuts rather than strengthens discipleship. Not change that seems like a throwback to bad, failed ideas of the 1970s-1990s, ideas that helped create the problem, and which are only now beginning to be exorcised from Church structures and programs."

5. Could you explain what Cardinal Erdö meant when, in his opening Realtor General's address he discussed possible canonical reforms?
My caveat in responding to this question is that I am not a canonist. So with that in mind:

Firstly, His Eminence seems to propose by-passing the Tribunal of first instance and moving some formal cases immediately to the Tribunal of second instance to make a binding ruling. The cases that constitute the "some" seem to be those to which neither party objects, that neither party is likely to appeal, and for which the defender of the bond has determined the ground(s) on which the annulment is sought to be well-founded in the testimony and evidence presented. This would streamline the process somewhat for some cases, but not necessarily speed them up in every instance. It bears noting that this is a variation of the proposal set forth by Archbishop Bruno Forte at the Synod on the Eucharist back in 2005.

On my reading, in the second paragraph Cardinal Erdö takes up the proposal, first made to my knowledge by Pope Benedict XVI in his final address to the Holy Roman Rota on 26 January 2013, to include lack of faith, that is, lack of intention to do what the Church intends, as a ground for an invalid, even perhaps simulated, marriage. This matter was taken up recently by Cardinal Scola of Milan in an article published in Communio, in which he stated this quite clearly: "The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. However, if it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely."

In the third paragraph it is not clear at all to me what His Eminence takes up. What came to mind reading this are those instances in which couples have only ever had contracepted sexual intercourse. This flows from Can. 1061 §1, which states- “A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.”

Finally, when it comes to applying the principle known among the Orthodox as oikonmia to second and even third marriages, it seems to me that His Eminence recognizes that such an application is far from universal among Orthodox Churches. It also seems he recognizes that among the Orthodox Churches that apply this principle to second and third marriages, it is far from uniform, which leads to a suggestion for further study. Such a suggestion, I think, points to a recognition that such a "solution" is slippery and difficult to square with Christ’s teaching as set forth in Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12, as well as the sacramental discipline and canonical tradition of the Latin Church.

I would be wholly remiss not to bring to your attention a post by my friend (I have a few) Artur Rosman: "Synod14: The Church Needs to Replace the Family." In it he discusses something important that gets far too little thought or attention: the break down of the extended family. As someone who grew up in a pretty tight extended family and who, in my own lifetime, has witnessed the dissolution of it, this is a proposal that strikes a resonant chord in me. It's my hope that Artur's article garners the attention of some the bishops at the Synod. His proposal is the kind of thing that brings everyone together and shows us a way for the Church to be Church.

Given that the Holy Family of Nazareth are the patrons of Synod14 and Synod15, it bears noting that Jesus' cultural milieu would've consisted almost exclusively of extended families. It is estimated that Nazareth was no more than 200-400 people. Chances are very good that it was one, large extended family.

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