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Helen M. Alvaré June 10, 2015

Pope Francis is onto something in his recent linking of the crisis of faith to the crisis in the alliance of the man and the woman and the radical task this link implies. This insight is as old as Genesis; but, as usual, Francis brings old truths to life in new and straightforward ways.

A few weeks ago at a papal audience, employing the classically Catholic method of “faith illuminating reason,” Pope Francis meditated on Gn 1:27: “God created man in his own image...male and female he created them.” Francis opined: “I wonder if the crisis of collective trust in God...is not also connected to the crisis of the alliance between man and woman. In fact, the biblical account...tells us that the communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of trust in the heavenly Father generates division and conflict between man and woman.”

He then assigned to the church, and “all believers, and first of all believing families...to rediscover the beauty of the creative design that also inscribes the image of God in the alliance between man and woman.”

Pope Francis issued a similar call to representatives of more than 14 faith traditions: at a Vatican conference last November on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage: “Commit yourselves, so that our youth do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern.”

We know that in the United States a declining number of Americans tell pollsters that they practice their Catholic faith. Rates of marriage are declining generally in the population as well as within the Catholic Church. Sociological literature also reveals a significant amount of “gender distrust” between men and women, a greater willingness to use cohabitation to “test” relationships and high numbers of single-parent families.

This generation also has a front row seat to the ceaselessly repeated claims that there is nothing uniquely important or special about the alliance of the man and the woman; nothing special about their lovemaking overflowing into the creation of new life; and nothing special about that new son or daughter retaining a connection with his or her mother and father. These claims, of course, are the very foundation of arguments on behalf of divorce laws deaf to the existence of minor children, a lively U.S. marketplace for eggs, sperm and wombs and same-sex marriage.

In the past, the notion that both male and female image God has been put to use mostly in service of women’s equality. It has been a great foundation—one of the most solid—for the advancement of the human rights of women.

Currently, however, Francis is stressing how the alliance between the man and the woman images God in an irreplaceable way, such that this must inspire efforts to strengthen this same alliance. This is a radical “ask,” considering that the intrinsic and unique values of this alliance have probably never been cast in more doubt by genuinely powerful public and private institutions. In fact, it is a moment when governments might act to impede or even punish churches’ and individuals’ religious witness to the unique good of the alliance between men and women.

For a long time, I have been wondering what it would take to get Catholics to think more concretely about how to act out our conviction that marriage provides a glimpse of God and his way of love. Our teaching proposes this dynamic repeatedly, but what does it look like? Francis suggested an answer (in the same audience referred to above): more listening between men and women, more understanding and more love—all open to God’s action, and assisted, not undermined, by intellectual firepower.

Each element of Francis’ solution is briefly stated. Yet each is a giant “ask.” I’m just thrilled that Francis has set the table and hopeful it will inspire a generation of couples and scholars.

Maybe we had to be driven to the point where the value of marriage between man and woman was discounted or denied and our right to support it jeopardized before we came to grips with this basic but also deeply spiritual commission. No matter why, the moment is upon us.

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Luis Gutierrez
8 years 8 months ago
The Church could provide a good example of "man and woman together" by ordaining celibate women to the priesthood and the episcopate. Doing so would be an act of mercy to liberate the church from patriarchal gender ideology, would be a powerful sign of Catholic sexual ethics, and would be more effective than magisterial documents that few people have time to read; actions speak louder than words.
alan macdonald
8 years 7 months ago
Pope Francis, like all his predecessors, has said no to female ordination. The Episcopal/Anglican church however does it Luis.
Rosemary McHugh
8 years 8 months ago
I disagree with Pope Francis that there is a crisis of collective trust in God. I believe that there is a crisis of trust in the way that God is being presented by the churches. As a woman, it offends me that the churches seem to ignore the message from Genesis 1:27 that God made man and woman at the SAME TIME and as EQUALS IN GOD'S IMAGE. The churches have created divisions between women and men by preaching the myth of Adam and Eve, where woman is an afterthought and second class to man. There is a serious need for the churches to develop a new theology on sexuality based on the signs of the times. The truth has to be listened to, if the churches are to have a future. I attended the Synod on the Family in Rome in the early 1980s. I wanted to be faithful to church teaching. As a physician, I found that NFP only works for some couples. How can the church in 2015 still only want to listen to the couples that are able to jump the hoops imposed by men who are celibate? I do not believe there is a crisis of faith in God. There is a justifiable crisis of faith in the churches for many reasons and the men of the church are blind to it, in my view. Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, MD, MSpir
Richard Faussette
8 years 7 months ago
Dear friends, The sexual mores of Catholicism are based on the sexual prohibitions in the Holiness Code of the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 18:19-24). Each of these observed prohibitions raise birth rates and increase community cohesion. The liberal agenda promoting the abandonment of the Levitical prohibitions is highly orchestrated. The question is not whether or not to abandon the Levitical prohibitions in the face of the liberal juggernaut (based on the sexual freedoms we may naturally want). The question is: who is doing the orchestrating and why do they want us to abandon religious prohibitions that raise our birth rates and increase family cohesion? It would be advisable for Catholics, especially theologians, to understand the effects of the Levitical prohibitions before considering their abandonment. The author of Leviticus tells us what happens when the Levitical prohibitions are abandoned: "You shall not make yourselves unclean in any of these ways, for in these ways the heathen, whom I am driving out before you, made themselves unclean. This is how the land became unclean, and I punished it for its iniquity so that it spewed out its inhabitants. You, unlike them, shall keep my laws and my rules: none of you, whether natives or aliens settled among you, shall do any of these abominable things. The people who were there before you did these abominable things and the land became unclean. So the land will not spew you out for making it unclean as it spewed them out; for anyone who does any of these abominable things shall be cut off from his people." The land "will spew you out" if you abandon the Levitical prohibitions writes the Biblical author. Your kind will become "extinct." Actually, before anything else is considered regarding the liberal agenda, celibacy should be abandoned and priests allowed to marry and have families. In this way, there would be an inner core of priestly families (a remnant) that survives and procreates (like the orthodox Jewish core that has survived for thousands of years by observing the Levitical prohibitions) and an outer core of irreligious "backsliders" whose numbers would inevitably decline if and as they abandon the prohibitions. This would duplicate the Jewish structure of orthodox Jewish family groups and assimilating non orthodox communities, a strategy which has proven viable for them over millennia. The question is not whether or not gay people marry. The question is how low will the numbers of gay people get as the entire population numbers drop as we abandon the Levitical prohibitions. How much of the liberal agenda do you want to adopt before you start thinking about the future and the possibility of your descendants not being a part of that future. Most of the West is now below replacement levels. Moses warned what would happen to those who ignored the word of the Lord. He said, “You will become a horror, a byword, an object lesson to all the peoples amongst whom the Lord disperses you.” Deuteronomy 28:37 That's what you become as your numbers and influence decline: a horror, a byword, an object lesson dispersed among other peoples. Regards, Rich Faussette NYC Some of my papers are here: https://independent.academia.edu/RichardFaussette

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