by ROWENA OREJANA
WELLINGTON — New Zealand Catholics unable to live up to the Church’s teaching on remarriage,
divorce, cohabitation, contraception and same-sex unions felt “a strong sense of exclusion and hurt”, a survey conducted by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference has shown.
The more than 2000 responses to the survey carried out from the end of 2013 to early 2014, formed part of the Preparatory Document for the Third Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and Family at the Vatican this month. New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop John Dew will represent New Zealand there.
In a pastoral letter, the New Zealand bishops said the responses to the questions revealed that, “in our parishes we are hurting one another, and beyond our parishes there are people who have left because they felt like second-class Catholics due to their particular situation”.
The responses showed that although Catholics recognise that the Church’s teaching on divorce,
remarriage, cohabitation, contraception and samesex unions is “the teaching of Jesus as found in the Scripture”, the sense of exclusion and hurt is felt not only by those who are not living up to the teachings, but also by their families and friends and by those in the wider community.
The bishops said this “sense of exclusion” can come from more than one of the following:
The existence of the teaching itself, which on its own is seen to exclude those who can’t match the ideal; Hardline non-pastoral presentation of the teaching, in a few cases by priests, but
mostly by organisations or individuals who “police” the “rules”; The attitudes of some parishioners that are perceived to be, or actually are, judgmental in relation to the life situations of others; A strong personal sense of failure, of “not meeting the ideal” set by the Church, and therefore a feeling of not being accepted in the Church community.
“At the same time, those who feel excluded and hurt, or unable to ‘live up to the teaching’, as they described it, also have a deep sense of connection to the Church. They spoke of ‘hanging on’ to their faith in Jesus Christ while trying to deal with painful feelings of being excluded from the Church,” the bishops said.
The bishops noted that respondents felt the Church’s definition of family “lacks understanding
of the diverse nature of modern families”, which includes grandparents raising grandchildren, solo parent families and blended families. The Church’s definition makes these families feel “inferior”.
The statement also said many of the respondents have strongly indicated that sexual abuse by clergy has undermined their faith in priests and bishops.
“Many questioned the right of celibate men to ‘prescribe’ what is right or wrong for married couples,” it added.
The bishops said there was a strong undercurrent of hope in the responses that those who are living in conflict with the Church’s teaching “would again feel at home in the Church”.
“We were deeply impressed by the way in which people are striving to live according to the Gospel, whatever the circumstances of their lives,” they said in the statement.
The bishops said the synod needs the support of sustained prayer, even as they asked for prayers for Archbishop Dew.
by ROWENA OREJANA