SYNOD OF BISHOPS ON THE FAMILY

All bishops of the world have been asked to poll religious and lay people regarding their opinions about issues of family life in the church. Topics include marriage and divorce, gay marriage, birth control and pastoral care of non-traditional families among others. The preparatory document for the Synod, including a list of questions to be addressed can be found on the Vatican website at this address: http://goo.gl/mXisrk

St. John of God was asked to prepare a summary document that would reflect opinions of our parish as a whole, and the parish council suggested that members of the parish respond by participating by December 15th in an online survey that would be sent directly to the U.S. Bishops' Conference. You were also invited you to share your answers with the parish council so that a summary document reflecting the views of our community could also be submitted. The council and other members of the community, informed by your responses, have prepared and submited that summary document a copy of which appears below. A printable version of the reponse document can be downloaded by clicking here.

Adrienne Plasse
Parish Council Chair



(Note: The questions posed by the Preparatory Document for the Synod on the Family are shown in italic type. The responses of the SJoG Community are in roman type.)

1. THE DIFFUSION OF THE TEACHINGS ON THE FAMILY IN SACRED SCRIPTURE AND THE CHURCH'S MAGISTERIUM

a) Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?

Humanae Vitae, as it relates to birth control, is a seriously flawed document, ignoring the sense of the faithful. It should be withdrawn and re-written to reflect the significant majority of the committee that studied this matter as part of Vatican II.

Further, there is a need to re-examine what is meant by “family”. The words “Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation” are accepted. The Church will marry a 60-year old man and woman. The emphasis should be on mutual love and support -- which applies equally to gay unions, which have proved as committed and enduring as heterosexual ones. In addition, there is a significant number of gay adoptions of children and the statistics indicate results equal to those of heterosexual adoptions. If we have rejected ancient Hebrew views regarding polygamy, slavery and stoning for adultery and heresy, isn’t it also time to reject ancient views concerning homosexuality?

Also, the words “Women must be affirmed as participants in cultural life, and they ought not to be denied the right to cultural benefits equal to those of men” are hollow until such time as women have full equality for all church positions and an equal say in the distribution of power. “Separate” is not “equal”. To cite “tradition” as an excuse ignores the role of Mary Magdalene and other specifically named women in the New Testament. If tradition were all that important, then why is a tradition established directly by Jesus -- namely, choosing a married person as Pope -- disregarded?

b) In those cases where the Church's teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

The laity view Humanae Vitae as a power play. “Authority” and a fear of admitting error were used to trump the expressed view of the Council’s committee and the overwhelming sense of the faithful.

Similarly, the treatment of women and gays is at odds with both modern social teaching and the very essence of democratic government.

And, speaking of democratic governance, the words “People should be free to choose their political system and their rulers” should apply particularly to church governance. A system should be devised to allow for local lay approval in the selection and appointment of bishops.

c) How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?

The laity is fully aware of Church teaching, both locally and nationally. But this awareness is of a negative type -- “thou shalt not” is the norm.

d ) To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?

Church teaching regarding artificial birth control led directly to a great exodus of the faithful. The refusal to recognize women as equals has further exacerbated the problem. Further, today’s laity realizes that they have gay children, relatives and friends, and does not appreciate attempts to stigmatize them or their relationships.

The hierarchy is obsessed with matters pertaining to sex and sexual roles, far out of proportion to the amount of time Jesus spent on such matters.

A recent poll result stated that if “formerly Catholic” were considered a religious category, it would be the third biggest denomination in America. Imagine the impact the Church could have by reclaiming the multitude it has alienated.

2. MARRIAGE ACCORDING TO NATURAL LAW

a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?

d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?

The Catholic Encyclopedia says that “man’s nature requires for its proper development that he live in a state of society. There is, then, a double reason for calling this law of conduct natural: first, because it is set up concretely in our very nature itself, and second, because it is manifested to us by the purely natural medium of reason.”

This so-called natural law is deemed to be “universal and immutable.” According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The general teaching of theologians is that the supreme and primary principles are necessarily known to every one having the actual use of reason. These principles are really reducible to the primary principle which is expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the form: “Do good and avoid evil.”

With respect to marriage and the family, the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “the chief ends prescribed by nature for the marital union are the propagation of the race and the due care and education of offspring.”

The idea of the natural law has very little place in the cultural areas of society (institutions education, academic circles and among the people at large). Most people are not aware of natural law teaching and don’t, therefore, apply it to their lives. There is little impact of natural law in civil and Church institutions.

The baptized do not accept the definition of the ends of marriage limited to the propagation of the race and the care and education of offspring. The loving, mutually supportive relationship of the couple has equal importance. Nor is this loving and mutually supportive relationship limited to a man and a woman. It is equally valid for same-sex couples. After all, what is “natural” to the 10% of the population born gay?

Families are not limited to those involving a man and a woman. There are families of same-sex couples, single parents, other relationships and friendships.

The so-called “pastoral challenge” presented by non-practicing Catholics and non-believers requesting the celebration of marriage is met with rejection.. This is short-sighted and usually drives the couples from the church. The opportunity for evangelization and healing is routinely missed, resulting in the alienation of such couples and loss of the potential family to the church.

Where is the compassion?

3. PASTORAL CARE OF THE FAMILY IN EVANGELIZATION

a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the "domestic Church" be promoted?

b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?

d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

What does this question mean? Whose “experiences in recent decades regarding marriage preparation” are we talking about? Some in ministry to divorced and separated Catholics claim that preparation for couples prior to marriage, conducted by pastors or trained lay persons over a period of several months, can greatly improve the chance for long-term survival of the marriage. However, it is not clear whether serious study of this question has been conducted, or whether it is a hopeful supposition. We need to study the impact of marriage preparation courses as they relate to the success or failure of marriages. Isn’t the divorce rate for Catholics equal to that of the population in general? Also, can premarital cohabitation be one legitimate form of marriage preparation?

Other than marriage preparation courses, and occasional retreats for married couples, there is little attention paid to outreach to married couples.

An awareness of the family as “domestic Church” could be fostered by appointing married couples to diocesan councils and committees, with mandatory attendance of bishops. This would be a good starting point in opening dialogue.

As for the “current generational crisis” -- what does this mean? If it refers to the transmission of the faith to the next generation, then it is fair to ask whether an attitude of silence and absolute obedience from the laity, particularly women, is something that should be transmitted.

Similarly, what is meant by “credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today”?

It is striking that the church pays much closer attention to the need for intense periods of discernment and preparation for those who are to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders than it does for the preparation of those who are to receive the sacrament of Matrimony. Both groups are entering states of life intended to endure, with the help of sacramental grace, until death. Except for individual pastoral efforts and outreach to couples who request the same, there is no organized support for couples in the Church.

4. PASTORAL CARE IN DIFFICULT MARITAL SITUATIONS

a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

Yes, there are couples living together who have not made a commitment to marry. There are no statistics available, but a reasonable guess of 75% of couples who marry in the church live together before the marriage.

b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

Yes, but no statistics are available.

c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?

The rate of divorce is approximately 50% in the general population and it is the same with Catholic marriages. The Church’s treatment of those going through a divorce varies widely from parish to parish. Some pastors are very supportive while others are extremely insensitive to the needs of parishioners undergoing a painful experience. For instance, some individuals were relieved of their duties as Eucharistic ministers following their separation.

d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?

Many unmarried couples living together continue to receive the sacraments because they do not believe that they are in a state of sin -- or living “in an irregular situation”. Individuals who experience separation and/or divorce sometimes, at great pain, leave the Church. This is particularly true if they are marginalized by clergy or fellow parishioners. Separation and divorce does not preclude the reception of sacraments in the Church. Remarriage does preclude such reception. However, many remarried individuals continue to receive the sacraments on the advice of their pastors.

e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?

The sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist can be of great comfort to those undergoing separation and divorce. Communion should be regarded as nourishment rather than as a reward for good behavior.

f ) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

Where there is no love and mutual support there is no marriage. Compassion should be exercised in determining whether a marriage should be annulled. A better solution might be for the Church to “get out of the marriage business” as some theologians have privately suggested. Until the time of Constantine, marriages were civil affairs and early Christians practiced consensual divorce with no repercussions. It was not until the 11th century that the Church forbade remarriage after divorce. Why not return marriage to a civil contract? The Church could return to its previous role of encouraging married individuals to lead lives of commitment and fidelity without mandating punitive measures should couples not live up to this ideal.

g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?

The North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics was formed in 1974 to offer healing and recovery to those experiencing separation and divorce. It had minimal support from this Archdiocese which soon withdrew its initial financial support. It currently exists on a limited basis, relying on the generous support of lay leaders and pastors who offer hospitality in local parishes.

Where is the compassion?

5. ON UNIONS OF PERSONS OF THE SAME SEX

a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?

Federal law now treats the legality of marriage according to the laws of the of the jurisdiction in which they were established, regardless of the gender of the two persons involved. In California it is not legal to discriminate, on the basis of gender, to limit marriage to only heterosexual couples. This also applies to considerations involving the adoption of children.

b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

California law neither promotes nor discourages unions by persons of the same gender. Rather, by not discriminating on the basis of gender against persons seeking to establish a marriage covenant between themselves, it ensures that these people are not denied equal access to employment, food, shelter and health care for themselves and members of their family, that they not be denied their essential dignity and rights as human beings.

The attitudes of parishes with regard to this varies by pastors and parishioners. The hierarchy maintains their opposition to same-sex unions, fearing that heterosexual unions will somehow be threatened or jeopardized by such unions. However, American Catholics support same-sex unions by the same percentages as non-Catholics, and such support continues to grow. The emphasis should be on loving, committed and mutually supporting relationships.

While perhaps well-intentioned, hierarchical opposition to same-sex marriage, and related legislation that ensures equal treatment under the law, have had the unfortunate effect of obscuring the more fundamental Catholic teaching of the essential dignity of all human beings. The Church could do far better by consistently emphasizing the principles of love and respect for all, rather than marginalizing gay persons.

c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?

As Pope Francis recently stated: “Who am I to judge?........ Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason........... The Eucharist..... is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak“.

God made each of us, and He made some of us with an attraction for the same sex.

d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

The family is not merely man, woman and child(ren). A much fuller definition of family would include other relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc,) as well as neighbors and friends. Biblical families include Ruth and Naomi, and Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Respect should be shown equally to all human beings regardless of marital or birth status. The faith can best be transmitted to children by respecting and honoring all family, and extended family, members. Gay families should be treated no differently than heterosexual ones.

6. EDUCATION OF CHILDREN IN IRREGULAR MARRIAGES

a) What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

Not aware of any statistics. Also, what is “irregular”?

b) How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

The same as anyone else who is looking into religious education for children. Parents want a safe and welcoming community that extends to all kinds of families. They look for love, compassion and acceptance taught in a gentle way, taught by example.

Parents need support in their role as caretakers. They look for guidance in answering children’s difficult questions.

c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

How particular churches meet the need to provide a Christian education depends on the culture of each parish. Pastors should be aware of the current challenges parents face in raising children. The Church should offer an environment that is inviting to children and parents, one that is friendly and open to diversity. Inclusiveness should be an important part of that environment.

Children should be taught that prayer is merely talking to God, having a conversation with God. Prayer does not have to be a formal wording.

d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?

The sacramental practice, preparation and administration of sacraments is the same for all families. There is no “irregularity”. All children go to preparation classes for the sacraments. They also must meet the age requirements. All interested children are included, regardless of their parents status. We teach that God’s love is abundant and forgiveness is always available. Communion is regarded as a nourishment, not as a reward for being perfect.

Our parish motto is “All Are Welcome”

7. OPENNESS OF THE MARRIED COUPLE TO LIFE

a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

Couples believe that Church teaching is that sex should only be engaged in if it is open to having children. However, they see a conflict between the Church’s approval of “natural” (rhythm) versus “artificial” methods. This is difficult to accept as rhythm is seen as very unreliable compared to other forms of contraception.

Couples also believe that the Church teaches that they should have as many children as possible, regardless of their ability to care for and educate them. Children can sometimes impose insurmountable financial hardships to the entire family, making it irresponsible for the couple to create additional children.

Notwithstanding the statement in Humanae Vitae that sexual activity in marriage is “noble and worthy”, few believe that the Church considers sexual activity in marriage as a means to help their relationship grow. The ban on artificial birth control seriously disrupts the positive benefits of sexual activity to help the couple grow in their love.

Humanae Vitae’s ban on artificial birth control is viewed as an end run that was designed to preempt the Vatican II report on the subject and which blatantly ignores the sense of the faithful.

Parents use their reason to determine the most effective method for their given circumstances. If this question is intended to ask “Are they aware of how to reach the conclusion that artificial birth control is always wrong?” then the question itself is invalid insofar as it concludes that the moral judgment of the couple is only correct if it reaches this conclusion.

b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?

The ban on artificial birth control is overwhelmingly rejected. Rhythm is an unreliable form of birth control, one that generates unnecessary stress. It also serves to undermine respect for Church authority.

c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?

The unreliable “natural” (rhythm) method

d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

Catholics do not view artificial birth control as wrong, so they continue to participate in the sacraments.

) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

There is no civic teaching. Artificial birth control is legal and viewed by Catholics and non-Catholics as a matter to be covered by health insurance.

f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

By respecting that care and education are important to the consideration of having children. Parishes should have a mechanism to provide not only spiritual, but also practical support for new parents.

The question of how can an increase in births be promoted is not a valid one. Given the conditions facing many couples, having children at a specific time, or having additional children, is irresponsible.

8. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FAMILY AND PERSON

a) Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?

A family should teach respect for all. Love and mutual support should be emphasized. There is no better way to teach than by example. Compassion should be the primary concern.

b) What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?

When we fail to love and support each other we obstruct the encounter with Jesus. A family is not just about the number of children.

Alcohol and drug addiction are other obstacles that are all too prevalent.

c) To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect family life?

Rejecting artificial birth control teaching, and the treatment of women, often leads to questioning and rejecting other Church teachings.

And, the horrible effects of child abuse by clergy has been particularly hurtful and devastating.

9. OTHER CHALLENGES AND PROPOSALS

What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?

One of the bigger challenges facing the Church must be to regain the trust that has been lost because of
-- clergy abuse of children
-- treating women as second-class members
-- birth control differences

Child abuse by the clergy, and the many ensuing cover-up attempts, have led many women to question whether they want to entrust the teaching of their children to the Church. In addition, women are not valued as equal to men. Women are excluded from the priesthood and from leadership in Church governance. Until this is corrected, women will continue to question whether they want themselves, or their children, to be members of the Church.

The rigidity of the many teachings on sexuality and gender roles, and the all-or-nothing insistence that one agree with the hierarchy on every point without exception or be branded a heretic, has to change. Intellectual honesty demands conscience and an informed conscience should be paramount to deciding moral matters. A decision to use artificial birth control is not the equivalent of denying Jesus. But both are taught as “mortal sins”.

Humanae Vitae should be reconsidered. The report of the Vatican II committee on artificial birth control should be accepted.

Re-examining the role of women in the Church is an essential first step. Others include a married priesthood (the same kind of people that Jesus recruited as apostles and for the first pope). Celibacy is not a higher calling than married life. It might be very helpful to the laity to have some married priests who fully understand the complexities of married life.