By Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai (AMDG)
The October 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops dedicated to the theme of the Pastoral Care of the Family in the context of the New Evangelisation was truly extraordinary, and in many ways! For the records, it set out to present the beauty of the Christian family amidst present-day threats to family life across the globe, but more acute in the Western world.
It almost ended up saying too little, too late, about what this Christian family means and how we as a Church could support those families that are heroically living out the Christian model of family life. Catholicism suddenly found itself in an unanticipated doctrinal storm: was the Catholic Church, the only surviving institution that had rejected the ethos of the sexual revolution unleashed in Europe in the 1960s, finally conceding that the post-modern Freudians were right, after all, and the Barque of Peter wrong?
To think about this whole cloudy October of 2014 is quite frankly, irritating. How did Peter’s barque found itself in a situation in which the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, New York Times, et cetera, quickly intercepted their programs to read a new headline: Catholic Church Changes Teachings on Gays and Divorce? I disagree with those who want to blame the secular media. We gave them the headlines! I think the media was far serious about what they wanted to report to the world as coming from the Synod. Watching Cardinal Erdo and his team present the mid-term report and listening to the questions posed by the journalists present left any objective onlooker with the feeling that the media men and women sitting in that Vatican Press Office genuinely wanted to know whether Rome meant what the words in the Synod document meant!
To compound matters, the Vatican had imposed a blackout on the individual interventions of the bishops at the Synod. That left the media with only the filtering lens of Fr. Lombardi and Cardinal Erdo’s Secretariat. The media was therefore under-starved by the Synodal process. Come to think of the fact that these are men and women paying hotel bills to live in Rome! They wanted information to convince their editors that they deserved their paychecks for being in Rome for two weeks. Consequently, the so-called mid-term report - Relatio post Disceptationem, was the first real, substantial encounter that the media had with the Synod world. Who will blame them for the excitement that finally, Catholicism had caved-in into the dreams of the hostile secularists and often times, atheistic media halls? Who will blame the media for celebrating the triumph of the Eiffel ToweroverNotre Dame? Their moment had come, but only for a while!
How did we get to this position? It all started February 20th2014, when, at the behest of Pope Francis, Cardinal Kasper delivered a lengthy two-hour lecture to the Consistory of the College of Cardinals on the question of the pastoral care of the family. The most outstanding novelty of the lecture was Kasper’s proposal that couples that are divorced and civilly remarried could, after a period of penitence, be allowed to receive the Eucharist without an ecclesiastical annulment. From the post-consistory news bits, it would seem Kasper’s proposal was not warmly received by many of the Cardinals present. It is on record that Kasper got angry by the many Cardinals who spoke after his presentation, raising objections to such a proposal that clearly had no foundation in Tradition and Scripture. However, Pope Francis publicly praised Kasper, calling the lecture a “profound” theology, a theology done on one’s knees, a theology done with the feeling of the Church – sentire cum ecclesia!
Kasper went on to produce his address to the Cardinals in a book entitled The Gospel of the Family.In fact, when he came to Boston College for one of his post-consistory numerous global lectures and interviews, he made a side-comment to a professor of Boston College that those Cardinals who objected to his proposal did not understood him, implying their arguments were of a straw-man nature! His brother Cardinals showed Kasper that they understood his arguments, and that he was wrong!
Shortly before the Synod, three publications emerged, all championed by members of the College of Cardinals: The Hope of the Family by Gerhard Cardinal MULLER, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; The Gospel of the Family- as if to challenge Kasper’s book with the same title,led by George Cardinal Pell, Secretary of the Secretariat of the Economy of the Vatican; and the most expansive, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, by Walter Cardinal BRANDMULLER, Raymond Cardinal BURKE, Carlo Cardinal CAFFARRA, Velasio Cardinal DE PAOLIS, and others. In a word, these books bring alive the rich patrimony on marriage that Catholicism could offer the world. One gets the feeling that the Catholic teaching on marriage is our “best-kept secret”!
The current debates on marriage seem to fall within the milieu of moral theology. A closer examination from these books reveals a broad Catholic base:dogmatic theology considers marriage from the point of view of sacramentality and attendant qualities: indissolubility, monogamy, fruitfulness and education of children in the faith; moral theology is about the anthropology of human sexuality and parenthood; canon law views marriage from legitimacy and its pathologies; the role of pastoral theology is to promote the plan of marriage and how to live out this vision in a pluralistic and complex world; finally, spiritual theology is about the Christian life of witnessing, marriage as the domestic church, lived out in prayer, worship, sin and grace, falling and rising in our marital commitment, et cetera.
I have already written about how this Relatio came to be and its eventual demolition in the Triumph of Orthodoxy.The Final Report – Relatio Synodi, was a marked improvement of the mid-term report, in the minds of many, thanks to bishops standing up for orthodoxy. Where do we go from here? How do we prepare for the 2015 Ordinary Synod? What lessons have we learnt as Church worth keeping in mind as we prepare for 2015? Two suggestions from a simple and young mind:
Firstly, bishops, priests and the laity should foster a rediscovery of the Catholic teaching of the grammar of sexuality that is built into our experience and understanding of creation. The problematic paragraphs of the mid-term report showed that Catholicism was throwing away its understanding of the sexual language of Creation Theology, an understanding that is accessible to both faith and reason: What does creation, male and female, teach Catholicism and the world about the sexual act? What does the female and male anatomy teach Catholicism and the world about the sexual act? Does reason have a place in the sexual act, or is the sexual act an exclusive domain of feelings and emotions? If we follow emotions alone, where do we draw the line? What happens when a mother says, as we heard recently in the news in the US, that she and her daughter have sexual feelings for each other and have decided to “marry”? Can God still speak to humans, created male and female, about sex? Should revelation as contained in Scripture be allowed into the sexual act? In the final analysis, the crisis about sexuality is a crisis about God. Is sex an area that is exclusively human, or can God say a word? Should God be allowed to?
Put differently, the greatest omission of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod was the total snubbing of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body! Bishops should encourage formative seminars on the Theology of the Body. Sexuality and Creation are the big themes for 2015. I am sure, hope and pray, that Athanasius, Cyprian, Augustine, Ignatius, Basil, Gregory, Ambrose, Borromeo, will still inspire their successors in 2015!
Secondly, why should Catholicism care about marriage and the family? How can we rediscover and represent our Catholic goods of marriage in 2015: the good of exclusive, reciprocal fidelity (bonumfidei); the good of fruitfulness and education of children (bonumprolis); and the good of the indissolubility symbolized in the indissoluble bond between Christ and his Church (bonumsacramenti), are Catholic goods worth rediscovering and presenting to the world, come October 2015. What does allowing Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried without an annulment say about the Catholic teaching of the reception of Eucharist by those in objective state of grave sin, which adultery clearly is? What is the difference between simultaneous polygamy, a man having many wives at once, and subsequent polygamy, a man or woman divorcing and remarrying, first marriage, second marriage, and even third, without an annulment? If the latter could be allowed to receive the Eucharist, why not the former?
The drama continues!