A Stunning Change

Today the Synod of Bishops issued a document that represents a stunning change in the way that the Catholic church speaks about the LBGT community. The Synod said that gay people have "gifts and talents to offer the Christian community." This is something that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable, from even the most open-minded of prelates--that is, a statement of outright praise for the contribution of gays and lesbians, with no caveat and no reflexive mention of sin.  And, regarding same-sex partners, the Synod document declared, remarkably, "Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners."  That any church document would praise same-sex "partners" in any way (and even use the word "partners") is astonishing.  

The Synod also asks questions, challenging dioceses and parishes: "Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"

This represents a revolutionary change in how the church addresses the LGBT community.  Nowhere in the document are such terms as "intrinsically disordered," "objectively disordered," or even the idea of "disinterested friendships" among gays and lesbians, which was used just recently.  The veteran Vaticanologist John Thavis rightly called the document an "earthquake."

The Synod's document also turned to several other important questions related to families, including birth control, here reminding the church of the "the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control," that is, the need to respect the personal conscience of the individual. And the Synod's document recommended the idea of "gradualness" when it came to "cohabitation." 

The document is just the mid-point summary of the bishops' meetings over the last week, and is not a final declaration. (Besides, the Synod has another session next year, after which Pope Francis will issue his final apostolic exhortation, which will be his own teaching on the Synod's deliberations.) But it is still revolutionary, as were some of the comments of the participants during the press conference today. Clearly Pope Francis's call for openness at the beginning of the Synod has allowed the bishops to listen carefully, to speak their minds and to be open to new ways of thinking.  As was the case at the Second Vatican Council, the participants may have gone into this Synod not expecting much openness or change, but the Holy Spirit is afoot.  

Follow America's full synod coverage here.

Ashley OMara
2 years 6 months ago
Does anyone have a citation for the "disinterested friendships" idea? Did a quick Google and didn't come up with anything — a pity, as I'm doing academic research on historical queer friendships and I like to keep in touch with current conversations (however they manifest).
Jonathan Harwell
2 years 6 months ago
It's in the catechism: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm 2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Tim Brantley
2 years 6 months ago
You left out "Homosexual persons are called to chastity"...
Jose Sanchez
2 years 6 months ago
These are amazing news. I was expecting some minor changes in the way the Church cares for LGBT people, but this is actually a massive step in the right direction. Dialogue brings understanding and eventually acceptance. I'm just so happy! I'm glad that the work by groups like All Inclusive Ministries (http://www.allinclusiveministries.org) has been validated!
Carlos Orozco
2 years 6 months ago
I don't think the Holy Spirit has much to do here. Instead of a clear moral guide in the present modern crisis of the family and society, the Synod seems to have turned towards watering down Catholic teaching, political correctness and playing with language. Very worrying.
marlon smit
2 years 6 months ago
The moral guide is there: be mercifull to one another
Jose Sanchez
2 years 6 months ago
As the Pope says, laws are dead if they don't lead to Christ. Don't you think that the fact that the majority of baptized Catholics doesn't practice anymore is a reason to be worried? Don't you think something needs to change? I do. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
Jose - if your definition of insanity is correct, wouldn't that apply to sinning as well, especially all our sexual sins? Pope Francis was speaking of Church laws and governance - not doctrine, which always leads to Christ. Otherwise, it would make no sense for Christ to teach so strongly in the Sermon on the Mount what we must do to be saved.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
A great and long awaited message from the Synod of Bishops, especially with respect to those in a permanent, faithful and loving same-gender union. It is indeed astonishing that the word "partners" was used when referring to their union. I also took notice of the words "accepting and valuing their same sex orientation" in the question: Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony? Valuing their sexual orientation is a far cry from calling it "intrinsically disordered". We will have to wait until 2015 to determine exactly what all of his means. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is clearly blowing were it wills with no censorship or consequences for the voices of all involved in this extraordinary Synod. Let us pray for Pope Francis and the Synod fathers in moving us all to a better understanding of truth.
Gene Van Son
2 years 6 months ago
FYI, the word "valuing" was an incorrect translation. See "How an Incorrect Translation of the Synod Report Fueled Controversy" at NCR. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/how-an-incorrect-translation-of-the-synod-report-fueled-controversy/ Also, the "report" was not a report per se, it was more like meeting notes. You might want to think about visiting some other websites (in addition to America) such as CatholicThing.org, NCR, and Aletia.org.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Gene, Thanks for this information. I do think that any interim report or an update on what is taking place at the Synod, especially when it is formally issued by the Synod Bishops, can lead to misunderstandings or incorrect translations. Nevertheless, what is clear is that change is a real possibility regarding the various issues under consideration. We will have to wait for the end of the Synod on the Family in 2015 to determine exactly what changes, if any, will be instituted. Until then, I am certain there will be shouts from the various theological camps in support and against potential changes in pastoral guidelines during the Synod proceedings. After the Synod finishes its work and Pope Francis issues his Apostolic Exhortation, I would not be surprised that some will say the Synod fathers or the Pope did not go far enough, while some will say the Pope or Synod fathers went too far. Let us pray for Pope Francis and all the Bishops that they will recognize, understanding and embrace the winds of the Holy Spirit and God's Will.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Gene, I did read the article in the NCR. It said that although the English translation of the Italian document in question contained some changes, there were no changes in the Italian version. The Italian version remains at odds with the English version. As you know, the official language of the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family and its documents is Italian. Hence, it will be interesting to see the translation of the final Italian document as the 2014 meeting ends. As you can appreciate, there cannot be various versions of the document that will be translated into various languages.
Gene Van Son
2 years 6 months ago
Michael, “Translation" has always been a problem and will probably continue to be one. There is obviously a big difference between the words “valuing” and the words “evaluating,” “weighing,” or “considering.” Yes, we will have to wait until 2015, so at least we do agree on that! Understand, though, that an Apostolic Exhortation does not / cannot change Church Doctrine. In the end we will probably hear that while we are good at hating the sin, we need to do a better job of loving the sinner. I fully expect that there will be also be changes to the annulment process. There may even be a statement saying that if governments want to amend civil laws to allow homosexual marriage for the purpose of civil rights and legal protections, that is up to them, but that the Catholic Church will not / cannot condone such marriages. The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is the union of a man and a woman, and this will not change.
John Feehily
2 years 6 months ago
All disciples are called to the practice of chastity. Rather than focusing on how gays are doing with this virtue, how are heterosexuals doing? The fact is we generally tolerate lapses in chastity far better among the latter. We were once convinced that the earth was the center of the universe and that God created the universe in six 24 hour days. Maybe moral theology ought to be rooted in something other than the activities of sexual organs?
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
There certainly is hyperbole (possibly intentional, for political reasons) in the reaction on both sides of the doctrinal spectrum to this Relatio, and the focus on the 130 words regarding homosexual persons (out of 5,800) is an example. Even on this subject, left out is the paragraph that speaks to the Church's educative challenge regarding homosexuals, and realistic paths to emotional growth and evangelical maturity and the political discrimination against faithful Catholics. Here is the paragraph: "The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology." (I recommend http://couragerc.org/courage/spirituality/ for those with SSA who wish to live the fullness of the Gospel) No doubt the Western media will miss the reiteration of the teaching of Humanae Vitae, the warning against hedonism and laws inspired by gender ideology, criticism of those "living selfishly," the complaint against anti-family "heavy taxation" (the marriage tax), the reminder that innocent children are "the true victims of family breakdown" and, in homosexual unions "emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority." I recommend all read the full Relatio, even though this document probably has little weight but sets a tone. Despite some hysteria from the right, I see no deviation from the Church's doctrinal teaching (i.e. the Catechism) here, even while some borderline pastoral approaches are being discussed. On the contrary, there is a great yearning to reach out to the millions in "irregular situations" and in "wounded families," at whatever stage of evangelical acceptance they are at, and to "accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love," in their hoped for path to the fullness of the faith, and with whatever legitimate pastoral care that can be provided for the journey, recognizing that not all will be receptive to the whole Gospel. Regarding Humanae Vitae: "what is required is a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life as that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest. It is on this base that we can rest an appropriate teaching regarding natural methods, which allow the living in a harmonious and aware way of the communication between spouses, in all its dimensions, along with generative responsibility. In this light, we should go back to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, which underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control."(para 54).
Jose Sanchez
2 years 6 months ago
I appreciate your effort to seek balance and highlight other paragraphs. However, the reality is that methods like Courage have been WIDELY rejected not only by gays but by society as a whole. Courage proposes a 12-step program (very similar to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings) to 'treat' individuals. They create a stigma that brings shame and depression to the lives of many gay brothers and sisters (including myself). That's why the Church should be creative and figure out ways to reach out and bring the joy of the gospel in the midst these difficult situations.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
Jose - Following Jesus' words in Scripture, the Catholic Church teaches that all human beings are called to depart from a life of sin - all sin. It also teaches that this is only possible with the unmerited gift of God's grace. Without His grace, it is not possible to be saved. Without His grace, it is impossible to avoid sinning. But, Scripture also requires in each human being the desire to accept the gift of grace. In the specific area of sexual activity, everyone is called to be chaste. For heterosexuals, this means abstinence unless one can successfully marry (many fail to find a spouse or keep a spouse) and chaste loving within marriage (outlined in the Catechism). Nearly every heterosexual has to battle with strong desires that are sinful. We are called to abstinence with respect to those desires. The Scripture and the Church teach that homosexual sex is unchaste in itself, which makes sense from any understanding of the purpose of one's body. But, the teaching is very clear and cannot change. Therefore, COURAGE teaches chastity which means abstinence. The fact that this teaching is rejected by most is not surprising, as most heterosexuals reject chastity as well. Have a look at the video interviews of people trying to be chaste and see if they are not being honest. Many reject the Scriptures, and reject the Church. Many do not want to be chaste and many despair of God's grace to be able to be chaste. But, this is the same for all sinners. That is why Jesus speaks of the narrow gate.
William Rydberg
2 years 6 months ago
I understand that this is an interim document lacking polish, it seems to be written as a kind of missionary document, for this reason I am willing to give it a pass until the final... The quote taken from Redemptorius Missio omits another even more in my opinion, important quote: "But one of the most serious reasons for the lack of interest in the missionary task is a widespread indifferentism, which, sad to say, is found also among Christians. It is based on incorrect theological perspectives and is characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that "one religion is as good as another." We can add, using the words of Pope Paul VI, that there are also certain "excuses which would impede evangelization. The most insidious of these excuses are certainly the ones which people claim to find support for in such and such a teaching of the Council.". [Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80: loc. cit., 73)] I think that the Synod Fathers must needs be cautious about mistaking differing culture wars positions for some kind of a new "Secular" Religion that they need to address per se. Public opinion concerning a range of topics/values change regularly in the Secular. There is no reason to believe that today's "firmly held opinions" will not be as transitory as the many that are currently on the trash heap of history. Only the Gospel endures, for it is from the Word. A final note, I am greatly encouraged about recent discussion about the conduct of the moral life and heterosexuals. We seem only now to have awakened to the issue of the Gospel's counsels on purity. In the final analysis membership within the new covenant is a voluntary matter. After all, we are not biblical Pharisees.
Kenneth Wolfe
2 years 6 months ago
I think we need to back up to fundamental teachings to really understand what is at issue here. Father Martin, I have a question for you. Please answer with one word, yes or no. (If confused, reference the Catechism's #2357.) Do you believe that homosexual acts are a mortal sin?
Jim Taylor
2 years 6 months ago
Apologies for interjecting, but doesn't it take more than the act for one's soul to be stained by mortal sin? And given this, is it not possible that the moral culpability for homosexual acts might someday be viewed through the same lens as prescribed for #2352?
Kenneth Wolfe
2 years 6 months ago
All I am looking for is a "yes" or "no", and the fact that neither Father Martin or you choose to answer the simple question is telling about your beliefs (or not) in basic Catholic moral theology.
ed gleason
2 years 6 months ago
Do you think that that the majority on the papal Birth control commission who voted for the use of the Pill were stupid Catholics and had no sense of doctrine ? yes or no? Was infallibility used in appointing them ?yes or no?
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Tim O'Leary quotes Regarding Humanae Vitae: "what is required is a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life as that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest. It is on this base that we can rest an appropriate teaching regarding natural methods, which allow the living in a harmonious and aware way of the communication between spouses, in all its dimensions, along with generative responsibility. In this light, we should go back to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, which underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control."(para 54). There is nothing wrong with NPF as a birth control method. However, ask the majority of faithful Catholics who use artificial birth control or NFP in the practice of responsible parenthood, and they will quickly tell you that if birth control fails they would welcome the child-to-be into their families with unconditional love. There is no evidence in existential reality, whatsoever, that supports the claim that couples who use NFP love each other as subjects, while couples who use artificial birth control have a utilitarian attitude (sex merely and solely for pleasure) and a diabolical love grounded in concupiscence. Nor is there any evidence that concludes that married Catholics who use artificial birth control tend to abortion if birth control fails. In fact, the inconsistent use and lack of contraception accounts for the overwhelming percentage of women who have unintended pregnancies and abortion. Granted, the some couples that use artificial birth control or NFP may have an anti-life attitude, but you cannot turn the axiom around and assert as truth that all faithful Catholics who use artificial birth control are anti-life. This is the unsubstantiated claim that JP II made that fails to be convincing nor realistic because it does not ring true to the deepest levels of one's mind, heart and soul. Equally important; One does not disrespect the dignity of the person if one begins with a good motivation, examines the concrete circumstances of the person(s) who ascertain good ends that need to be accomplished to act responsibly, and subsequently consider all the behavior options that are appropriate, suitable and proportionate to the good in those ends, one lives and acts in an ethical manner. This has been the quiding ethical model for the social teaching of the church for more than a century. The fundamental impasse that has been created through the teaching Humanae Vitae on the use of contraception is one of using incompatible ethical models for guiding ethical decision-making. Humanae Vitae, and/or the pastoral application of this teaching, must be responsibly reformed.
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
Michael, Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond simply deciding among different methods of birth control. The fundamental problem is the church's distorted understanding of marriage, and of the sexual relationship within marriage. It is also rooted in its ancient patriarchal views of women, and of the perceived relationship between women, sex and original sin. Augustine unfortunately introduced some ideas (as did some other church fathers), that have done great harm to this day, codified in church teachings on women, sexuality, and marriage. The church reduces marriage to a purely utilitarian concept - it is for procreation. It reduces the woman to an object - an object to be used for procreation. By insisting on periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy, the woman's natural cycle of desire is thrown aside as of no importance. If a wife seeks the loving comfort of her husband through physical love during the time near ovulation, she is expected to deny herself this critical and important union. She is expected to be "available" according to the readings on a basal temperature thermometer and on the thickness of her cervical mucus - reduced to an object who must perform on demand and on schedule. Her husband is similarly reduced to an object by this teaching. "Natural" family planning is as unnatural a process as one can imagine and subverts the natural cycle of love day to day in a marriage. The demand that marriage must be "open to life" - meaning procreation - is an insult to marriage. Procreation is not required for a marriage to be a sacrament - that is found in the love relationship between the spouses. Procreation may - or may not- become an extension/expansion of the core love relationship, but procreation is not necessary to the core relationship. Not everyone would be a good parent and they can share their own gifts with the world in ways other than being parents. Instead of trying to force procreation on all who marry in the church, the church should devote considerable time to help couples reflect honestly on themselves and their gifts and ask themselves if they are well-equipped to become good parents rather than just parents, fulfilling a perceived "duty" to family and church. The underlying fallacy must be corrected. Once it is corrected and the male celibates of the church understand that marriages may be holy and sacramental even when a couple chooses not to have children, the decision about birth control (NFP is one method of birth control and is listed as such by the CDC in its statistics) will reside where it should - with the couple themselves.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
Anne - I think you hit the nail on the head with this quote: "The demand that marriage must be "open to life" - meaning procreation - is an insult to marriage." While this has only become technically facile recently (apart from non-vaginal sex), it is certainly where much of the world is heading. This is why I do not think there will ever be peace between the Catholic Church and the spirit of the sexual revolution.
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
Tim, do you believe that good and loving people who do not wish to become parents should not be allowed to get married? Do you believe that married couples who do not wish to become parents should become parents? Should marriage once again simply be a business contract, an enterprise set up primarily for the purpose of producing a product - children?This was the case for much of history, after all.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
Sorry for the late reply, Anne. I do not accept your crass description of Catholic marriage as a business contract, although I have seen some sociobiologists and feminists extend this to say all marriages are a legalized form of prostitution. I believe Catholic teaching (which I accept so it is my belief, as best as I can understand it) is that a Catholic marriage must not be closed to procreation, in the following sense: one cannot morally have sexual intercourse (saying yes to sexual pleasure and sexual love) while actively interfering with the process of procreation (saying no to conception). So, any interference outside one's control (menopause, infertility, etc.) or any willingness to periodically abstain (using NFP, breast feeding, etc.) are morally permissible. I think one who wants a relationship to provide sexual and romantic satisfaction while actively forswearing children or that is permanently closed off to children could not be a Catholic marriage. The latter view is in fact a common successful justification for an annulment.
Gene Van Son
2 years 6 months ago
Very good responses Tim. Anne, I would just add to what Tim is saying that a good man and woman (not “any two people”) who love each other but do not want children as part of their marriage are saying in effect, ‘what I want is more important than what God wants for me.’ This is all the result of the I, I, I, me, me, me “everything is relative” thinking of a “modern/progressive” secular society.
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
I did not see this comment when I wrote my earlier reply. So THIS response really will be my last. I believe that it takes exceptional self-understanding and maturity for a couple to recognize that they are not well-suited to be parents. There may be some for whom it's a "me, me" decision, but I have known couples who made the decision not to have children and it was the right decision. They are good, loving, generous people - not at all self-centered. They withstood the pressure from family, church and society in general, all of which generally try to push young marrieds into having children. Not everyone is suited to be a parent. There are far too many people who have children who are not suited than who have the wisdom to refrain from having children because their personalities and gifts lie elsewhere. They are free to contribute to others in ways that busy parents often are not. I have also seen many parents where being parents is pretty much "me, me, my kids, my kids". They get upset if someone doesn't agree that little Jimmy or Janie isn't their spitting image, or if their child isn't the top student or the star athlete or the most beautiful or handsome. Then their poor children suffer. Some live through their kids, and the name "helicopter parents" was coined for them. God really has nothing to do with this issue. It is my personal belief that God gave humankind the gift of modern contraceptive methods at the precise time in history when they would be needed. Give thanks for such a blessing! God wants what is best for each off us as individuals - marriage and children may be what is "best" and it may not be. Each of us has the responsibility to pray and reflect in our discernment about these very important decisions (marriage and children). There is nothing in scripture that supports the church's teaching on contraception. The church's understanding of natural law is based on the thinking of pagan philosophers who lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Few outside the Catholic church accept the ancient understandings of natural law developed by the Greek philosophers. Not even the Orthodox ban conraception, but trust their people to discern what is best for their own marriage and family. The church's teaching is based also on ancient understandings of gender roles. Women were first the possession of their fathers, then of their husbands. They had no rights as people. They had no choice in the matter of marriage usually. It is ironic, is it not, that many of the earliest communities of women religious (the desert mothers) attracted candidates because it was the only acceptable way young women could avoid being "sold" into marriage to a stranger. There were financial considerations involved as well. The "contract" was that the man would have a woman to meet his sexual desires (and thus save him from burning in hell, according to Paul), bear and raise his children, and run his household and maybe the familly enterprise (eg, farming) in exchange for a roof over her head, food, and clothing. The couple (both the man and the woman) had no voice in the selection of their marriage partner - so, of course, love had nothing to do with it. It was a business arrangement, contracted by the parents. Children were considered to be units of economic utility. The families needed labor - for the farm, for the herding, for the blacksmithing - whatever the family business was. They were also the only social security available for their parents in old age. One hopes that most parents did love their children, but history often has a sadder story to tell about that. Economic necessity was the dominant force. Maternal and child mortality rates were high, so many births were needed to assure that enough of the children born would survive to adulthood to be able to contribute to the family enterprise (usually starting at a very young age) and take care of the elderly parents. It's a big improvement that people now choose their own marriage partners freely, and that they freely choose to have children - out of love, not out of " duty" or economic necessity. It's also a tiny step forward that the church finally acknowledged (but not until well into the 20th centuiry) that marital lovemaking plays a critical role in supporting the marriage as a unitive act. The church still stresses procreation, however and puts it first. NFP is often very damaging to the unitive aspects of marital sexual love. At least the institutional church has now disavowed Augustine's extreme views on this which not only put out the notion that sexual relationships between spouses is justified only by procreation, but that enjoyment of sex was a sin. . You may wish to read some of the histories out there that give the details of the workings of the Birth Control Commission, and of the machinations by Cdl. Ottaviani and other conservative forces in Rome to undermine both its work and Vatican II in general. Their actions have caused great harm to the church.
Gene Van Son
2 years 6 months ago
Anne, It sounds like you have indeed done a lot of reading and thinking (and praying) about this, and nothing I can say is likely to alter your opinions. So this will be my last post as well. A couple of comments . . . You say “God really has nothing to do with this issue.” We obviously disagree on this, as I think God has everything to do with everything. You also say “God wants what is best for each off us as individuals.” On this we do agree, but we disagree on how to interpret this statement. God knows what we need and what is best for us, more so than we ever can. We can put our complete faith and trust in God, and accept that we can never fully comprehend His wisdom, or we can put our own wants and needs first. This is His gift of free will to us. You also say, “The church's understanding of natural law is based on the thinking of pagan philosophers who lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born” and that “The church's teaching is based also on ancient understandings of gender roles.” This would be true if Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas and the other Fathers of the Church, and even modern day philosopher/theologians, accepted what these philosophers said verbatim. But they did not and do not. They had problems with many areas of the “pagan philosophers’” reasoning that they felt was not correct. As to the gender roles issue, everything you’ve described has more to do with society, custom, and culture then it does with Church Doctrine. For the most part the Church has preferred to let society fend for itself, so to speak, speaking out only when necessary to offer guidance on issues affecting mankind’s salvation. I too lived through Vatican II, and please give me the same courtesy of having done my homework as well, on all this. There are those who feel liberals/progressives tried to highjack the Church, and others who think that traditionalists (who you call conservatives) did their level best to keep the Church on the right path. You say the actions of the conservatives caused great harm to the Church, but there are many who feel it was the actions of the liberals/progressives that caused the harm. Who can say for sure? In closing I can only offer that I find solace it something I read once by Fr. Malachi Martin. He asked the question, more or less, do you really think Jesus would let His Church be taken down the wrong path?
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
Tim, the provision imposed by the church that every marriage be "open to procreation" is what reduces marriage to a primarily utilitarian function. If the church simply accepted the moral right of every married couple to make the crucial decision about having children themselves, it would reflect an understanding of marriage that is not focused on utility. As it is, it denies marriage to young couples who make the mistake of admitting that they don't wish to have children after they marry. If one person wishes to have children and one does not, the couple should not marry. If one lies to their spouse before marriage about their desire to have children and only insists on not having children after the marriage has taken place, that is good grounds for divorce, as well as annulment. You and I have gone around and around on this subject many times. There is no point in continuing the discussion here. You have an ally in Gene, so perhaps the two of you would enjoy exchanging views.
Douglas Fang
2 years 6 months ago
Anne and Michael, I cannot agree more with you two. For me, HV looks like a product of some scholar with good will living in a palace far detached from the real life of ordinary people. It sounds good theologically and philosophically, etc. However, it totally ignores the complex multi-dimension of a real person: economic, biological, neurological, emotional, intellectual, social, cultural, etc. Based on my own observation, the number one reason for people to practice birth control is not because they are selfish hedonists, but because they cannot afford to have children more than they can, especially with such claim as the cost of raising a child now is now around ~300K! This amount of money is the difference between a decent live and a live of poverty. Similarly, the collapse of marriage in many societies, i.e. Japanese (just watch the BBC document “No sex please, we are Japanese”), can be seen as the result of a stagnant and uncertain economic condition. I can see this in the country where I came from. At my parent generation, a family with 5 or more children is the norm, whether they are Catholic or not. Now, a family with one or zero child seems to be common, whether they are Catholic or not. From the daily Gospel of yesterday (Disclosure - I read the daily Gospel from the USCCB web site and meditate on it), I see the following statement from Jesus – ““Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” It reminds me the story of someone saying that he had to abstain from sex during his honeymoon because he tried to follow NFP!!!
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Doug, Thanks for your kind thoughts. I enjoyed the story about the married couple on their honeymoon where they had to abstain from sexual intercourse because they were practicing NFP. As you know, until the couple has sexual intercourse, a marriage is not fully consummated. LOL.
Gene Van Son
2 years 6 months ago
Anne, I'm not sure where your information on Church teaching on marriage comes from but some of what you say is not quite accurate. What makes marriage a sacrament is the grace that comes from Jesus Christ, not the love relationship between the spouses. Saying that marriage is only and all about "love" drastically alters the entire concept of Holy Matrimony. You might want to pull out the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read the section on the Celebration of Marriage -- 1621 to 1654. Reducing everything in life to "feelings" is denying the nature of God. You also might want to check out the website "The Way of the Lord Jesus" -- http://www.twotlj.org/index.html.
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
Thank you for your suggestions. I am very familiar with official church teaching on marriage. I disagree with some of them. I believe the church's understanding of matrimony is based on invalid premises and has produced false and sometimes harmful teachings that lead to such practices as denying marriage in the church to a couple who have chosen not to have children, and its teachings on modern contraception. Without love, marriage is simply a utilitarian business arrangement with the intended business outcome being to produce children. As we know, this was the case for most of history, and is still the case in some cultures.
Gene Van Son
2 years 6 months ago
Yes, it was kind of obvious that you were not in agreement. I struggled with the contraception teaching myself, but after continuing to read the encyclicals and what the different theologians had to say in an effort to try to understand the 'why' of the teaching, it finally became clear to me. The Church needs to do a better job of explaining the 'why.' Love is certainly a critical component of marriage, but saying marriage is ONLY about love is a slippery slope.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Gene, After 45 years of explanation, the Church/magisterium and traditionalist theologians have failed to articulate a convincing moral theory in support of Humanae Vitae (HV). What gives you the confidence that after 45 years of various explanations and profound debate there will be a better, more convincing explanation? If your answer is the Holy Spirit, I would say that the Holy Spirit leads us all to truth in agreement and disagreement as many teachings of the Church that had been proclaimed as truth for centuries were eventually reformed. Clearly, there are some that agree with HV and I have no problem with such a judgment as one should never go against their informed conscience. However, those who agree with HV represent a very small percentage of Catholics. Witness that 80% of worldwide Catholics practice some form of artificial birth control, the majority of theologians want HV changed, 40% of U.S. priests (young and old) believe that contraception is seldom or never a sin, and many bishops agree that the teaching should be responsibly reformed. I agree that doctrine is not based on a democratic vote, but on the fundamental principles and theology that underpin the teaching. It is at this level where I disagree for good reasons. Thanks for your comments.
Gene Van Son
2 years 6 months ago
Michael and Anne: First off, you are mistaken when you say that “teachings” of the church have been overturned or that the Church has been wrong in its teachings. Church Doctrine has never changed. Ever. It’s important to differentiate between teachings (doctrine, such as three persons in one God) and practices (such as priests being allowed to marry). Second, if “love” is the only component of marriage that matters, then if a married man and woman cease to love one another the marriage ceases to be. Also two men, two women, a brother and a sister, a whole group of people, a man and his dog, and so on, should all be allowed to marry providing the marriage is based on love. In effect it is your argument, Anne that changes marriage into a contract as opposed to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. You might want to visit the website I mentioned in my earlier comment and even visit Dr. Janet Smith’s website and maybe purchase her CDs on “Humanae Vitae and Conscience” and “Sexual Common Sense.” http://www.janetesmith.com/tag/marriage/ Third, the moral theory that supports HV predates it. It starts with the teaching that there is a moral order to creation, that God is both a rationale and logical God, and that He put us here for a reason. Many of our beliefs as Catholics flow from this teaching. I’m 62 years old and I still don’t fully understand it all, but I’m trying. I can’t explain these teachings, all the nuances of Natural Law, or summarize Catholic thought in the area of Metaphysics in the course of these short comments. I read A LOT, and it’s only in the course of trying to understand the “why” throughout my 40+ years of marriage that I’ve come to the conclusion that contraception is “most likely” wrong. (I can’t say for certain because that would mean I know God’s mind and I seriously doubt any human being can say that with absolute certainty.) I can say, however, that the devil is good at what he does and he has certainly managed to corrupt consciences and influence many people (including almost the entire entertainment industry!) to put their own wants and desires before what God wants. All this being said, here is a link to a recent essay at EthikaPolitika entitled “Natures as Words Contraception as a Lie“ that touches on how this moral order thought develops: http://ethikapolitika.org/2014/09/16/natures-words-contraception-lie/ I would encourage you both to try to prove to yourselves that you are right and Catholic Doctrine is wrong by reading everything you can. I have links to over 70 Catholic websites in my browser and at least two dozen books on my bookshelf on the Catholic faith, so there is plenty of material out there. And, unfortunately, that, as I alluded to earlier, is part of the problem. The Church really does need to do a better job of educating the laity not just on beliefs but on the whys of our beliefs.
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
Gene, you are entitled to your personal opinion, as we all are. You follow your conscience and others follow theirs. It is fruitless to go into a lengthy exchange on this subject and this is my last post on the subject on this thread. I studied the birth control teaching extensively, tracing it back to its roots, over a period of about ten years. I have studied what the church says and I have read what interpreters such as Janet Smith have said. I still disagree. The teaching is rooted in ancient understandings that were accepted at one time in history but are no longer accepted by most. As one commentator put it recently, Humanae Vitae needs to join the Syllabus of Errors in the archives of historical church documents that have been proven by time to contain much error. Michael has studied this issue in far greater depth than have I. Mine was an informal study, in-depth, but done for my own knowledge and understanding. Michael's is the scholarly work effort of one who has done research for many years. He is an expert on both HV and TOB, and either has already published his work, or will soon publish, in a peer-reviewed journal. So, please stop making the assumption that we are ignorant of church teaching - that we don't understand "why" the church teaches what it does. We do understand. We disagree. Setting up strawman arguments (siblings marrying, bestiality etc) does not further the discussion. Perhaps you also need to study a bit more, because the church has indeed changed teachings - not just disciplines. There are books on the subject and many, many articles available online. If you are unaware of them, it may be because you have limited yourself to specific journals, websites and blogs. The information is there if you wish to learn about it. Peace to you.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
excellent points Gene. But, I think Anne is correct that more reading on her part, or more study on Michael's part might not be sufficient to bring them to accept the Church's teaching. There are so many teachings that they do not accept, so the fault line goes deeper than reason can reach. Once the acceptance of authority is undermined, it is only a matter of time that one drifts further away. Grace is needed to accept the Church's authority, more than anything else. What amazes me is how some Evangelical Protestants have accepted the truth of HV.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Gene, I never said that the teachings of the Church have been "overturned". I said that many teachings of popes and the magisterium that have been taught as truth for centuries were eventually changed. Some of these teachings were reformed, and not merely developed, such as slavery, usury, the negative injunction against the freedom of religion, etc. As to the moral theory that predates HV, it is true that we believe in a moral order but it is one thing to assert with a truth about the moral order based on Scripture/revelation, and quite another to base it on symbolic speculation such a proclaiming God's procreative plan with moral certainty. For example, according to HV, NFP and the inseparability principle is God's procreative plan for us all. No one knows God's procreative plan with moral certainty and this is one reason why HV should not be declared a "moral absolute". I do not have a so-called "proof" about HV and the absolute moral truth with certainty. Neither does the magisterium. However after 5 years of study, I have written a 20 page essay that was judged contributory by a prominent Catholic Theological Journal and will be published shortly. Based on my education and reflection, my informed conscience judges HV as a teaching that must be responsibly changed as a temporary judgment. This means I am always educating myself and open to new scholarship, new knowledge, and the grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit. God gave me a good faith, but also intelligence and practical reason. The moral sources of truth will always be: Scripture/revelation, Tradition, Human Experience and Reason. The truth is also known by connaturality and the gifts of the Holy Spirit as well. As you rightly say, the Church needs to do a better job in educating the laity, not just about our faith but on the whys of our moral beliefs. We live in a divided Church and in a crisis in truth. Let's pray for God's grace and mercy as we strive to love him with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strengths, and our neighbor as ourselves. We can disagree and remain faithful Catholics.
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
Why is basing marriage on love a "slippery slope"? Love is the foundation for marriage. There are other factors that must be considered besides love when deciding to marry, or when deciding to extend that love to children, but without love, the marriage would be simply a business contract. Love is the foundation for raising a family if the couple chooses to have children. It seems that marriages that are loveless are those that most often end in divorce. My husband and I have been married for 41 years. We married because of love, we chose to have a family because of love, and we are still married because of love. Without love, we would not have gotten married and if the love had died, the marriage would have also. As far as the "why" of the church's teaching on contraception goes, it seems they convinced you. I have no problem with couples choosing NFP as their birth control method. But the majority do not find it the best choice for their own marriage. I understand the "why" of the teaching. I agree with Michael Barberi - I disagree on the underlying principles - on the historical underpinnings of the teaching. The hierarchical church has often been wrong in its teachings.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Anne, I largely agree with your point of view. My short comments were merely to address one or two assertions made in Tim O'Leary's quote. I wrote a 20 page essay that covered the pivotal fundamental philosophical and theological issues regarding Humanae Vitae that will be published shortly. It also went beyond your issues as well to other cases where Humanae Vitae becomes unreasonable and irresponsible. For example, a married women with children is told by medical experts that another pregnancy will be life-threatening. According to Humanae Vitae, she cannot use the most prudent means to safe-guard her life and avoid another pregnancy such as sterilization, tying of her fallopian tubes or taking the pill. In this case, NFP is imprudent and far too risky to safe-guard one's life from a potential pregnancy. This women must practice a life-time of sexual abstinence. The magisterium sees this as one of life's difficulties where the agent must merely embrace "heroic virtue" regardless of the consequences. The hierarchy of values is turned upside down in this case because the most prudent means to safe-guarding one's life is being subordinated to the requirement that all sexual intercourse in marriage must be open to procreation. For a young woman with children and a husband, lifetime sexual abstinence will destroy or serious harm her marriage. It is unrealistic, impractical and unreasonable for the majority, if not all, married women. It is also unnecessary.
Anne Chapman
2 years 6 months ago
Michael, I have a friend whose wife died under the circumstances you describe. He is older than we are - in his 80s - and when he and his wife were young, the birth control options were fewer and less reliable than those of today. After three children in close succession, his wife's doctor told them she was at high risk for death if she had another pregnancy and he suggested that she have a hysterectomy. Perhaps neither vasectomy nor tubal ligation were available in that era. Being "good" Catholics, they consulted with their priest who told them it would be a mortal sin. Absolute abstinence turned out to be an impossible goal for this young couple and so they relied on the church's recommended birth control method of periodic abstinence. But she conceived again. She died of the complications predicted by her doctor, leaving a young husband and three young children. She was about 30 years old.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Anne, Thanks for sharing that with all of us. The magisterium knows about many moral dilemmas and concrete cases involving the teaching HV. However, it has refused to officially address them. In my opinion, the reason why they have not addressed the case you mention is obvious: they have no reasonable and convincing explanation why the most prudent means to safe-guard a women's life from another pregnancy must be subordinated to the requirement that every marital act must be open to procreation. The magisterium claims that the only solution is Lifetime sexual abstinence in this case. This is unreasonable, impractical and unnecessary. It would severely burden the marriage, or in many cases destroy it, cause marital disharmony and pain, not only for the husband and wife, but for existing children.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
Michael - you say you "largely agree" with Anne, after she states that "The demand that marriage must be "open to life" - meaning procreation - is an insult to marriage." This seems a departure from your own thinking, where you have previously argued that as long as the whole marriage is open to procreation, not every sexual act need be. Since a refusal to be open to procreation for the whole marriage is valid grounds for an annulment, it means such a position is contrary to a Catholic marriage. Did you mean to deviate further from Catholic teaching in agreeing with Anne?
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Tim, The Catholic Church does not require married couples to have children, or a specific number of children for the marriage to be valid. More importantly, please explain to us how limiting all acts of sexual intercourse in a marriage to infertile periods for a long time or "a lifetime" as Pius XII taught us provided we have good reasons …renders these marital acts "open to procreation".
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
Another quote from the synod (Instrumentum Laboris, #5) on Humanae Vitae: "In the wake of Vatican II, the papal Magisterium has further refined the doctrine on marriage and the family. In a particular manner, Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, displayed the intimate bond between conjugal love and the generation of life. Pope St. John Paul II devoted special attention to the family in his catechesis on human love, his Letter to Families (Gratissimam sane) and, especially, his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. In these documents, the Pope called the family the “way of the Church,” gave an overview on the vocation of man and woman to love and proposed the basic guidelines for the pastoral care of the family and the presence of the family in society. In specifically treating “conjugal love” (cf. FC, 13), he described how the spouses, through their mutual love, receive the gift of the Spirit of Christ and live their call to holiness." (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20140626_instrumentum-laboris-familia_en.html). I would point out that faithful Catholic marriages last longer than all the rest. (http://thefederalist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Figure-1.png). As to a possible future encyclical on human relations, I do think Humanae Vitae didn't give enough attention to sexual concupiscence (desire for pleasure or gratification) as the main motive for the sexual revolution of the past 50 years (contraception and abortion are the means to an end). It is not just a desire to separate the unitive from the procreative. There is even a stronger demand to separate the gratification from the unitive (the hookup culture, online sex, prostitution, polyamory, S&M, etc.) and the procreative. This is pretty much the basis of the widely popular pulp fiction (50 shades, etc.) and the massive pornography industry. All of this puts the self-gratification in the center, and the unitive gets short shrift, while the procreative is made completely subservient to the satisfaction of the couple (test tube babies, etc.) if not thrown out altogether. The distinctions in HV almost seem quaint when compared to what the devil has managed to bring to the fore. And yet, there is more distress, disease and depression than ever - at epidemic proportions. When chastity is not ridiculed, it is seen as harmful to one's self-actualization. Even for those who want to be good, it is seen as impossible. But, God has promised that His grace is sufficient to permit us to be chaste. Do not despair.
Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago
Moderate sexual pleasure was added to the ends of marriage a long time ago. Married couples are not required to separate the desire for pleasure from the so-called "narrow" unitive meaning of sexual intercourse or procreation that Humanae Vitae claims. It is one thing to solely desire pleasure devoid of love or procreation. It is another to claim, as JP II did, that married couples who use artificial birth control have a false, evil and destructive love…..as well as a utilitarian attitude and a diabolic love grounded in concupiscence. At the same time, JP II asserts that couples who practice NFP love each other as subjects and not objects, and have a true, good and lasting love. This is ridiculous, unsubstantiated, and absurd. Humanae Vitae was written for married couples who want to regulate their fertility through birth control methods in the practice of responsible parenthood. To conflate Humanae Vitae with sexual intercourse among unmarried agents is missing the entire point of the teaching and the moral argument that Humane Vitae should be responsibly reformed.

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