Soon after the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family closed in Rome last month, NZ Catholic asked several New Zealanders for their thoughts on the synod.
Steve McNicholl, Oamaru
As a non-Catholic Christian, one thing that has greatly impressed me about Catholicism has been its strong, biblical, moral teaching (for example, Humanae Vitae, Persona Humana, and the Catechism of theCatholic Church).
During the recent synod, however, this clear moral stance was, for one
very real moment, in grave danger of being eroded. If this were to happen,
then the Catholic Church would lose its moral witness to a world hellbent on destroying what little remains of the image of God in man.
To take one example — homosexuality.
The catechism unequivocally states that homosexual unions are against Scripture, against Church tradition, against natural law, and “under no circumstances can they be approved” (CCC 2357).
Yet contrast this to the synod’s interim report which states, “Are our communities capable of . . . accepting and valuing their sexual orientation,
without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony”?
But is not accepting and valuing their sexual orientation tantamount to approving of it? One could be excused for failing to see how doctrine would not only be compromised, but actually stomped all over by such a proposal.
Thankfully, this (along with other equally reprehensible propositions)
was corrected in the final report, which replaced this statement with a
quotation from the catechism — that it is the men and women who must
be accepted with respect (CCC 2358), not their sexual orientation. Interestingly, those amended statements did not pass the two-thirds-majority vote (what to make of this is another matter again).
What further strikes me as bizarre, if not Kafkaesque, is the apparent
desire of some bishops (a vocal minority, one suspects) to be conciliatory
to certain groups of (even “non-practising”) would-be-Catholics, who seem to have no respect for the Church’s moral teaching. Unlike the prodigal son, however, these groups appear to show no intention of actually abandoning their immorality.
Whilst being conciliatory here, these bishops are, on the other hand, seriously offending, if not actually ostracising, those Catholics who have remained staunchly faithful to the Church’s moral teachings — Catholics for whom holiness is a very real and meaningful process, and who have no desire to be found in any way faithless.
So, in the meantime, we must wait to see the outcome of all this at the 2015 synod. One hopes that the clear moral teaching of the catechism is not revised to become a potential cataclysm for the Catholic Church.
Steve McNicholl of Oamaru describes himself as a Christian, baptised into Christ, following and serving Jesus the Messiah.
Agnes Gruijters, Auckland
Agnes Gruijters thinks what the Pope did was excellent. “I would like
the Church to be more open, embracing all people. It’s excellent what he’s
doing. Times are changing, and we should not be so judgmental.”
Another parishioner who asked not to be identified said that coming from a Pasifika culture, she is happy that the Church is actually discussing the issue of gays. “I have friends who are openly gays and, in my culture, it has always been accepted,” she said.
Agnes Gruijters is from Avondale parish.
Bill and Jenny McElhinney, Blenheim
Catholic couple Bill and Jenny McElhinney are encouraged by the openness of Pope Francis to begin the dialogue
on the issues of the Church’s approach to sexual morality.
They think Pope Francis was right when, in his final address to the Vatican Synod, he warned against the “hostile inflexibility” of the traditionalists
and the “do-gooder” approach of the liberals.
“These issues need careful and considered debated and the challenge for
Pope Francis will be to find consensus in a Church which encompasses such
a diverse variety of cultures. The cultural gap between, for example, the
Church in Africa and the Church in The United States of America, is a large one.
“But, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the willingness of the
Church to embrace and debate these issues, there is hope that the Catholic
Church can find a way to embrace those from all walks of life who seek to walk in the Light of Christ.”
>Bill and Jenny McElhinney have been married for 43 year and facilitate marriage enrichment seminars.
Dorothy Coup, Auckland
It was always going to be a difficult task — to have a synod on the family
where the roles of participants and observers could have, maybe should have, been reversed.
I mean, imagine a synod of laypeople called to Rome to discuss and rule on limiting the power of bishops, reorganising the curia and appointing parish priests. The cardinals, priests and bishops, although asked for their
input, would have no voting rights.
When it comes to family life, the clergy are, for the most part, observers.
They may have lived as children in families, have married siblings, married friends, and share in joys and sorrows of parish families. But they still do not experience the daily financial responsibilities of providing food on the table, and a roof over the head of their own children, or divorce, or blended families, nor cope with ordinary routines of sleepless nights with new babies, bad school reports and teaching teenagers to drive.
So, in a way, it is surprising how well the synod of 191 “fathers” — cardinals, bishops, patriarchs and priests — did at the Vatican family summit. They may have, in their final document this time, backed off on the earlier welcoming moves towards gay people and the issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried (without annulments). However, that is not the end of the debate.
First, look at what Pope Francis did.
He set the tone of the synod by encouraging participants to speak freely, not
to hesitate to speak out in case they were worried about what the Pope or
other bishops would think of them.
He mixed with them each evening. At the end of the synod he said he would
have been “worried and saddened . . . if everyone had been in agreement or
silent in a false and acquiescent peace”.
He welcomed transparency. The participants conducted their sessions and made decisions behind closed doors, but the Pope insisted that the full documents, including those that failed to pass, ones concerned with gay people and the Church’s teaching regarding Communion for the divorced and remarried, were published, along with how the participants voted.
He also warned against “hostile rigidity” and “destructive do-goodness”.
Which means that those who wanted radical pronouncements, one way or the other, were going to be disappointed.
Meanwhile, many Catholics, in what is sometimes referred to as “irregular”
marital situations, are ignoring the Communion ban. Who can tell, especially
in larger city or town parishes, who is married or who is in a de facto
arrangement? Who questions if and how this couple with four children or
that couple with two children are regulating their family numbers?
If two men or two women sit alongside each other at church and join the
Communion queue, who asks if they are gay or not.
Annulments cannot be ignored when the formerly married wish to
remarry in a Catholic church. There is a real need for Church leaders to simplify annulments, both in procedure and explanation.
According to the Pope we are all being invited to the ongoing discussion,
and the cardinals, bishops, patriarchs and priests will return in a year’s time
having spent time to develop and mature their understanding.
Maybe laypeople, married couples, single parents, the widowed, gay parents
and other “family” groups — those involved in raising children — could
also be invited to have more input, dare I say it, voting rights, in the final
Dorothy Coup is a mother, grandmother and writer from Auckland.
Richard Kerr-Bell, Dunedin
From a Maori whanau perspective, Richard Kerr-Bell of Dunedin likes the
synod’s openness to listening.
“It reflects a Maori process to listen, listen, but we see it as all
compassionate,” Mr Kerr-Bell said. It showed awareness of tikakanga (doing
the right thing). And with that and aroha, compassion and understanding
seemed to come through.
Mr Kerr-Bell acknowledged that the report at the end of the synod may
not have had “the energy” of earlier reports. “But the openness and willingness
to have the discussion is a really good thing.”
One of the things with Pope Francis, Mr Kerr-Bell said, is that he is
gaining a lot of positive attention for the Catholic Church. He liked that a
lot, it was a contrast to what had been, and he saw it as positive.
In the end, “what touched me is all this talk about whanau and family”.
Different people find themselves on paths they couldn’t have believed
they’d end up on, said Mr Kerr-Bell, but Pope Francis recognises families
are made up of all sorts of different people, and that we need to include all different members of family.
>Richard Kerr-Bell is a Dunedin diocese delegate to Te Runanga o Te Hahi Katorika
Ki Aotearoa (the National Catholic Maori Council of New Zealand).