Pope Francis hosted an extraordinary global marriage conference

There was little media coverage. Where did the Francis Effect go?

He’s not sounding the progressive notes liberals thought they’d been hearing from him and some Church hierarchy lately. Just after the Bishops’ Synod on the Family recently stirred so much controversy over the issue of same sex marriage, Francis boldly declared marriage is a sacramental union of man and woman and anything else is “an association.” It got attention in Christian media, but little to none elsewhere.

The movement to redefine marriage unquestionably has enjoyed dominance in the prevailing culture, which has helped that movement shape public opinion through media, politics, the entertainment culture, academia and other ways. The movement has been unified, successful and powerful, while the other side largely has not. Until now.

Yes, the massive March for Marriage in Paris held twice within months last year, with one in the US soon after, and dedicated organizations tirelessly working to engage the marriage debate and build a marriage culture, have made a difference in many ways. But they haven’t had the cohesive and powerful effect the movement to redefine marriage has in recent years. One event may not change that, but it could be a major tipping point. Could this have been the event?

It was the high level conference the Vatican hosted this past week that unified some of the world’s greatest scholars, intellectuals and religious leaders for a unique focus on marriage. Pope Francis opened it with sharp remarks about dysfunction in modern culture and its impact on individuals and families on the most fundamental levels.

Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”

It was inspirational, to say the least. Read Maggie Gallagher:

For the Vatican it was a truly unusual event, with people from every part of the globe and nearly every major faith tradition — Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Jains, Mormons and Muslims, not to mention Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists, pouring into Rome to share their faith traditions’ insights into the meaning of this thing called sex…

Something happened at this colloquium, something I would not say was talked about, so much as on display, something deeply foundational and mostly missing in modern discourse on the family, including (perhaps especially) much rational Catholic discourse — something that cannot be explained but only experienced by the hungry human heart.

The closest words we have are so mocked and ridiculed as to be reduced in their capacity to carry the meaning: purity? chastity?

There is something men and women can be together but only when we recognize our difference as deeply precious and meaningful, for in it lies the capacity of the lover and the beloved to influence one another. I mean in particular the special power of women for men to symbolize and therefore incarnate, a world outside that which every teenage boy enters adult life experiencing: the deep power of lust. Can sexual desire ever be something other than this relentless urge to use, to possess, to enjoy, to discard, to delight in degradation that is so evident all around us?

I heard an echo of it in what prominent evangelicals were trying to put into words…

Like famous Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren.

“To redefine marriage would destroy the picture that God intends for marriage to portray, and we cannot cave on this issue,” Warren said. “It’s a picture of Christ and his Church.”

“What are we going to do about this?” he said, according to a report from Christian Today. “The Church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high.”

He continued:

“A lie doesn’t become a truth and wrong doesn’t become right…just because it’s popular,” said Warren. “Truth is truth.”

Addressing the issue of remaining steadfast in the face of today’s culture, Warren told those meeting at the Vatican that “the only way to always be relevant, is to be eternal.”

He said it’s not necessary even to be on the right side of culture, but rather it’s just important to be on the right side, and he said it is time for the Church to be a “proponent of what’s right.”

“The Church must remain strong in its values, and continue to uphold the traditional teaching of marriage and the male-female relationship, despite cultural pressures,” Warren stressed. “It should lead the crowd, not follow it.”

Participants report that several addresses brought the crowd to its feet, for sustained ovations in some cases. Such was the case (as Michael Cook noted) with Lord Jonathan Sacks. His speech was more of an eloquent oration, profoundly stirring listeners to their core.

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.

It was utter poetry.

Maggie Gallagher tried to find words to convey what it did and meant to be there at this extraordinary time.

At the end of this extraordinary three days Archbishop Chaput took the microphone to invite us to the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “I’ve been a bishop for 26 years, a priest for more than 40 years, and this was the most interesting colloquium I’ve been to in my life,” he said.

That says a lot, coming from Archbishop Chaput, who has not only attended but addressed countless fascinating, important, critical conferences on urgent issues of our times.

Gallagher continues:

The conference ended not with a statement but with a promise: A movie will be made to express our deepest affirmations. Jacqueline Rivers and Reverend Gene Rivers read from the script for the story, the story of our lives:

For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate. . . . This we affirm.

After that, we all stood and applauded for what seemed like ten minutes, reluctant to leave, reluctant to have it end, which of course it should not, because now our task is to find new ways to go forth and carry on the great human story of the generations.

The colloquium wrapped with great warmth, a determined sense of purpose, and the Affirmation Carolyn Moynihan shared here. It was more the end of the beginning.

Vatican marriage conference hears top scholars, global clergy

This extremely diverse group was unified by their profound, fundamental belief in the definition of marriage, and its importance.

Haven’t heard much about it in the media? Is that surprising? Is the Pope Catholic?

The answers are probably no, no and a resounding yes.

Here’s Francis on marriage:

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

Then Monday, the Humanum Colloquium convened at the Vatican on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.”  The three day, international, inter-religious high level gathering got an opening address by Francis. It was dynamite.

Complementarity, the Pope said, “is at the root of marriage and family.” Although there are tensions in families, the family also provides the framework in which those tensions can be resolved.” He said that complementarity should not be confused with a simplistic notion that “all the roles and relations of the sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children.”

Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”

How do you follow that?

With some powerful talks and addresses given by other Catholic leaders, along with officials and representatives of Protestant, Muslim, and Jain traditions. As well as leaders and scholars from Eastern Orthodoxy, the LDS Church and the Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist traditions.

Some of the best of those coming in the next post. Consider Francis first. And meanwhile, explore Humanum.

Pope Francis hosts high level conference on marriage

This follows the recent ‘Extraordinary Synod on the Family’, and it’s truly extraordinary.

It’s an international, inter-religious colloquium called Humanum.

The Vatican-sponsored gathering, on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” will take place Nov. 17-19 and feature more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism.

The conference will aim to “examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society,” according to organizers.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and the Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, will be among the participants…

Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops N.T. Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali.

Pope Francis will address the conference and preside over its first morning session Nov. 17, following remarks by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith…

The conference is officially sponsored by the doctrinal congregation, and co-sponsored by the pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, for Interreligious Dialogue and for the Family. The heads of all four curia offices are scheduled to address the assembly.

Topics of lectures and videos will include “The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the World’s Children” and “The Sacramentality of Human Love According to St. John Paul II.”

The press, American and international, that has framed Francis as a renegade, progressive, breakaway pope thrusting the Catholic Church into the cultural tide to get with the times, has been derelict in reporting some of his more incisive remarks and actions. Like these remarks:

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

Noting that there are many who cohabitate, or are separated or divorced, he explained that the “key” to helping is a pastoral care of “close combat” that assists and patiently accompanies the couple.

And where did we see these comments reported other than Christian media? Or news of the current colloquium on marriage, Humanum? Michael Cook reported on it here. It deserves widespread attention, especially in the atmosphere of the dominant culture.

It’s much more than a conference, and it began on Monday morning with an address by Pope Francis. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke, followed by representatives of the Protestant, Muslim, and Jain traditions. The gathering includes leaders and scholars assembled from Eastern Orthodoxy, the Latter Day Saints Church, the Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist traditions. Speeches will be given by Dr. Jacqueline Cook-Rivers, Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren, Sister Prudence Allen, and Pastor Christoph Arnold, and Dr. Russell Moore. The three days of intensive talks include “scholars panels,” presided over by Princeton Professor Robert George, Havard Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, and many others. Professor George said “we must unite across borders and traditions to uphold marriage and build or rebuild vibrant marriage cultures in our societies. I’m glad that Pope Francis sees that and was willing to have the Vatican convene this gathering of religious leaders and scholars.”

This is big, universal, inclusive, multi-cultural, diverse, timeless, and very positive. More to come as the high-powered, focused, intent and determined assembly of international participants proceed over these three days of extraordinary brainstorming sessions.

Meanwhile, next year’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, already a major global event, got something like a rocket booster when Pope Francis finally confirmed rumors Monday that he would indeed attend.

After Pope Francis officially confirmed that he will visit Philadelphia next fall for the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the trip will be a blessing for the event and the world…

Archbishop Chaput said he hopes the World Meeting of Families will provide some clarity for the lay faithful on issues of family and marriage.

“What we hope to achieve through this meeting is a strengthening of family life,” he said. “Not just in the Catholic Church but also in the world, in so far as we can contribute to others’ clarity of thinking on marriage and most importantly the commitment of husbands and wives to each other for the sake of their children.”

People from every continent are coming to the World Meeting of Families, and Archbishop Chaput said he wants the event to be as inclusive as possible.

“We even have a scholarship program to help the poor come from different parts of the world because this is supposed to be a meeting of the whole world and not just of people who can afford the travel to the United States,” he said. “We have plans to make this a very inclusive gathering with people from all over.

Their representatives are meeting in Rome right now. This is a major event. I don’t need to wish to be a ‘fly on the wall’ to hear it. Some of the major participants are friends and regular guests of my radio show, and they’ll be back soon, to talk about it all.

Meanwhile, watch this space.

Synod wrap: What else got discussed, how Francis concluded

What most media didn’t cover, or cover well.

In the second week of the Synod on the Family that just wrapped up at the Vatican on Saturday, bishops and cardinals participating in this major two week event broke into their language groups and held daily meetings on the topics they considered most urgent, and addressed those that emerged in the notorious document days before. The press narrowed those down to ‘the Church’s stance on gays’, and ‘divorced and remarried Catholics’ and communion,while the working groups discussed so many more problems people are struggling with globally, and issued summaries revealing the depth and breadth of  those discussions. Keeping them off the record frustrated not a few of the participants.

Cardinal George Pell gave voice to those frustrations.

According to a report by Marco Tosatti in La Stampa (and translated on Fr. Z’s Blog), Cardinal Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, announced that the reports of the small working groups would not be made available to the public. Tosatti reported that this announcement was met with opposition from Cardinal Pell, and then “an avalanche from many others along the same line, underscored by thunderous applause.” Robert Royal, editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, writes that Cardinal Pell “slammed his hand on the table and said, ‘You must stop manipulating this Synod.’”

Thanks to this reaction in the General Synod, which has been reported as a “revolt,” summaries of the small working groups’ interventions were posted by the Vatican press office. The English summaries reveal broad and deep dissatisfaction with the interim draft and plans to add substantial new text affirming the constant teaching of the Church “on the truth of human life and sexuality as revealed by Christ,” along with other “major amendments” and other small ones which, “nevertheless … have significant meaning attached to them” (Circulus Anglicus “A”).

It’s all here. Much of it is really quite beautiful. Like the English language round ‘B’, moderated by South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier. That group included five members from Africa, seven from Asia, and one each from Oceania, the United States and Europe. They felt strongly, they said, that the ‘relatio‘ (interim document reported all over the world’s media the week before) “ended up placing too much emphasis on the problems facing the family and did not stress the need to sufficiently provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope for Christian families who despite many challenges and even failures, strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation with the Church and society.”

The task of the extraordinary Synod was to draw up a picture of the family and of the challenges facing the pastoral activity of the Church in today’s complex and diverse world. Inevitably this meant that it would focus on problems and on some of he principal challenges of particular concern in the Church today.

However, the report of the Synod should go beyond a mere focus on the problems and the pathology of marriage and the family…Many in the group felt that a young person reading the Relatio [interim report] would if anything become even less enthusiastic about undertaking the challenging vocation of Christian matrimony. The Synod report and the message should direct itself towards young people, to help them understand and be attracted by the Christian vision of marriage and the family, in a world in which they are exposed to many contradictory visions…

The Church needs a radical renewal of its style of ministry to families. Marriage is a lifelong task [and] accompaniment [is] not limited to preparation for the wedding…

It’s important to not that the moderator for this session was one of two late additions Pope Francis made to the group that would draw up the final document for this Synod.

The “editorial committee” charged with writing the final report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family due today, was recently increased by two, when Pope Francis named Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (Durban, South Africa) and Archbishop Denis Hart (Melbourne, Australia) to the committee.

The choices of the two new committee members are interesting. Cardinal Napier, described as a traditionalist, had been outspoken in objecting to what he saw as African concerns being ignored by some at the Synod.

(As noted here and here.)

Archbishop Hart succeeded Cardinal Pell as the Cardinal Archbishop of Melbourne. The Cardinal has been viewed by many as leading the loyal opposition against attempts to modify or dilute settled teachings.

Confusion still exists over how the arguably most contentious section made its way into the interim report: the three paragraphs in a section still entitled “Welcoming Homosexual Persons” in the official Italian interim report. Father [Federico] Lombardi [Director of the Vatican Press Office] told reporters that the emphasis given to this topic in the Interim Report surprised him as “he recalled only one speech out of about 265 about gays during the debate” of the Synod’s first week.

This reflects the concern Pope Francis has expressed from the beginning of his pontificate for the “peripheries” of human existence, the far reaches of the world and the real life experiences of people living on the margins. It also very well may reveal his sensitivity to Cardinal Kasper’s remarks about the African contingent’s views on marriage as necessarily excluded or dismissed because of differing perceptions of relationships. The two additions were good picks.

In the English language groups, the summary labeled circular “C”, moderated by U.S. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was another exemplary summation of teaching and pastoral concern for the intricacies, difficulties, truth and beauty of marriage.

Marriage is a gift of God to man, a blessing Given by him for the well-being of His creatures, made in His image. From the beginning God ordained that it is not good for man to live alone and so he created a helpmate for him, one equal to him, that they may live in complementarity. This gift, this mystery of attraction and love between man and woman, was from earliest times recognized as coming from God. In the New Testament, the relationship between man and woman is deepened…and explained fully as mirroring the relationship between Christ and his Body, the Church.

All the working group summaries are worth reading over, especially given how misrepresented the Synod was in global media.

Pope Francis concluded the event with what is no doubt one of his finest, most important addresses delivered to date.

I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

– The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

It’s going to be a very interesting, busy, and for some, an uncomfortable year of taking that message to heart, and to their home dioceses, adjusting to the reality that the Holy Father – as Pope Francis as done all along – is very keen on comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. No one can claim his favor rests on them, unless they seek and strive to serve the purposes he laid out in this speech and has emphasized since he became pope. They reconvene ‘with and under Peter’ – Francis as his successor – in a year. And the final word on how best the Church can obey and conform to the will of God, will come from him.

Synod report: Is there a seismic shift in Catholic approach to marriage?

No. There’s no change whatsoever in the Catholic Church’s teaching and doctrine on marriage and sexuality, contrary to what you may be hearing.

The Synod on the Family is wrapping up its second and final week for now, making news by the day and even by the hour it seems. Some of it is generated by ravenous media bereft of information and even opportunities for the feeding frenzy of press briefings other than what individual bishops will give them after the sessions.

Just when I was cheering on Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama speaking boldly to the West about trying to export ideas about marriage, family, human life that are foreign to African’s ideas, for trying to make Africans accept the West’s ideas and adopt them in Africa in spite of their direct conflict with what Africans’ believe and stand for in defense of human life and dignity, Germany’s outspoken Cardinal Kasper speaks out again, on the record with Zenit.org, about how “impossible” it is to reason with people of such beliefs.

The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

(However, it sounds like he just did.)

ZENIT: But are African participants listened to in this regard?

Cardinal Kasper: No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

ZENIT: They’re not listened to?

Cardinal Kasper: In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

See? An admission that the African contingent is simply rendered irrelevant, not listened to, except among themselves, on their own continent. How dismissive.

ZENIT: What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

Cardinal Kasper: I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general crite

ria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

That’s interesting, given that Archbishop Kaigama said he same thing days earlier.

We get international organizations, countries, and groups which like to entice us to deviate from our cultural practices, traditions, and even our religious beliefs. And this is because of their belief that their views should be our views. Their opinions and their concept of life should be ours…

We have been offered the wrong things, and we are expected to accept simply because they think we are poor. And we are saying poverty is not about money. One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.

So we are not poor in that sense. We may be poor materially but we are not poor in every sense. So we say no to what we think is wrong. And time has gone when we would just follow without question. Now, we question. We evaluate. We decide. We ask questions. This is what we do in Africa now.

Catholic scholar and Vatican expert George Weigel was my guest on radio Wednesday, and said “These northern European bishops seem not to have understood that conceding to the zeitgeist, conceding to the sexual revolution, which they have been trying to do since Humanae Vitae, is one of the reasons why their churches are empty. There is no future for dumbed-down Catholicism in this culturally challenging moment. The notion that the way you deal with this cultural tsunami that is sweeping across the western world is to bend before it, is foolishness of the first order. And that is what the African bishops are saying to the Europeans: ‘Don’t you impose your Western decadence on us,’ and good for them for saying it.

Weigel referred to Kasper’s interview as trying to silence the Africans by telling them ‘shut up, we’re not listening to you.’ Which he called “astonishingly arrogant,” and “which I hope he gets called to task for severely, publicly.” He called the expressions scandalous, and added that he’s “frankly glad it’s out in the open.” But he strongly asserted that Cardinal Kasper’s brother bishops and cardinals need to respond to those remarks. “This was an act of cultural snobbery.”

Weigel had just published a good piece in National Review trying to calm nerves over what is and isn’t happening in Rome at this Synod.

For the better part of a half century, the New York Times, and similarly situated purveyors of news and opinion, have eagerly awaited the Great Catholic Cave-In: that blessed moment when, at long last, the Catholic Church, like many other Christian communities, would concede that the sexual revolution had gotten it right all along and would adjust its teaching and practice to suit. A Times “breaking story” on October 13, under the headline “Vatican Signals More Tolerance Toward Gays and Remarriage,” might have struck the unwary or uninformed (or those equally committed to the Times agenda in these matters) as a signal that Der Tag, the Day, had finally arrived.

Thus Elisabetta Povoledo wrote that “an important meeting at the Vatican used remarkably conciliatory language on Monday toward gay and divorced Catholics, signaling a possible easing of the church’s rigid attitudes on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.” It would be hard to cram more misinformation into one sentence.

Weigel proceeds to dismantle the false reporting in the piece, and all other false ideas of Catholic teaching not up for amendment in this synod.

The 2014 synod is an agenda-setting exercise that was intended by Pope Francis to help prepare the work of the 2015 Synod on the Family. The pope knows full well that marriage and the family are in crisis throughout the world. In his own remarks before the synod, he said that he hoped the synod would lift up the beauty of Christian marriage and Christian family life in a world too dominated by what he’s often called a “throwaway culture,” the throwaways all too frequently including spouses and children…

The synod fathers are wrestling with difficult questions. How does the Catholic Church best approach, in a pastoral and charitable way, those who are living in what the Church has no option but to consider, objectively speaking, irregular situations? How does a Church of sinners — which is what all of us Catholics are — call people in those situations to the conversion to which all Christians are constantly called? How can it bring people to see the truth of their situation, and how can it best help them deal with that? These are not simple matters; matters of the heart rarely are.

Similarly, Princeton Professor Robert George published this commentary in The Public Discourse with the challenging question ‘Has the Catholic Church Changed its Teaching on Sex and Marriage?’

When you went to bed this past Sunday evening, the Catholic Church taught the following:

Marriage is indissoluble.

Catholics who attempt marriage following a divorce—without a declaration that their first bond wasn’t after all a valid marriage—enter a (presumptively) adulterous relationship. So long as they maintain a sexual relationship with their new partner, they cannot judge themselves to be in a state of grace and therefore cannot worthily receive Holy Communion.

To return to the sacrament, the partners must repent—which requires ending the new sexual relationship—and be absolved.

Marriage is the conjugal union of sexually complementary spouses—husband and wife.

Non-marital sexual acts, including all same-sex sexual acts, are seriously sinful.

Same-sex sexual desires are intrinsically disordered: that is, not ordered to the good of conjugal union. Experiencing such desires or inclinations is not sinful, but acting on them is.

The next day, Prof. George wrote, you would find that the Catholic Church teaches exactly the same.

“Hang on there, professor. Haven’t you heard? On Monday the Catholic Church changed its teachings on marriage and sexuality. There has been an ‘earthquake,’ a ‘seismic shift.’ Things will never be the same. The Church now welcomes remarried people to communion, has dropped its objections to homosexual conduct, and denies that homosexual desires are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ Or it’s about to do all of that. Francis is a new kind of Pope, and it’s a new day. He has brought Catholicism into line with the teachings of the Episcopal Church USA, the Unitarian Universalists, and the New York Times editorial board.”

If you are indeed thinking something like that, it’s because you’ve heard about something called a relatio post disceptationem, a document released on Monday as an interim report on discussions occurring at a Vatican synod of bishops (called an “extraordinary” synod because it is preparatory to a larger synod—an “ordinary” synod—that will occur next year) on contemporary challenges to the family.

The relatio, then, is raw material for this week’s discussion, which will prepare for next year’s discussion, which may provide fodder for a document by the Pope.

So it’s conducive to something preparatory to something (possibly) advisory.

It has no teaching authority whatsoever.

What’s more, it proposed no changes—none—in the doctrine or moral teaching of the Church.

Why did some people think it did? More on that next time. (Short answer for now: translation.)

Divorce culture report

The subject is finally getting mainstreamed. It took a whole generation suffering the ravages of family strife for it to make its way into the public conversation. Probably because the children who suffered most are now adults, in the media and the arts.

It’s come up on my radio show time and again, and I was planning to take closer look at the subject in the next week or so. This WSJ cover story on a section of the weekend edition really caught my attention.

Every generation has its life-defining moments. If you want to find out what it was for a member of the Greatest Generation, you ask: “Where were you on D-Day?” For baby boomers, the questions are: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or “What were you doing when Nixon resigned?”

For much of my generation—Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980—there is only one question: “When did your parents get divorced?” Our lives have been framed by the answer. Ask us. We remember everything.

How sad. Keep reading the piece. It’s wrenching.

Growing up, my brother and I were often left to our own devices, members of the giant flock of migrant latchkey kids in the 1970s and ’80s. Our suburb was littered with sad-eyed, bruised nomads, who wandered back and forth between used-record shops to the sheds behind the train station where they got high and then trudged off, back and forth from their mothers’ houses during the week to their fathers’ apartments every other weekend.

“Whatever happens, we’re never going to get divorced.” Over the course of 16 years, I said that often to my husband, especially after our children were born. Apparently, much of my generation feels at least roughly the same way: Divorce rates, which peaked around 1980, are now at their lowest level since 1970. In fact, the often-cited statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce was true only in the 1970s—in other words, our parents’ marriages.

Not ours. According to U.S. Census data released this May, 77% of couples who married since 1990 have reached their 10-year anniversaries. We’re also marrying later in life, if at all.

And there’s the key. Yes, they have learned and have committed themselves to not repeating the devastating, destructive behavior their parents didn’t try hard enough to avoid. But they’re also postponing marriage, delaying it much later, if they marry at all. Which is a whole other demographic problem for society. Co-habiting is the norm, whether it eventually winds up in marriage or not.

We need to listen to this generation.

I believed that I had married my best friend as fervently as I believed that I’d never get divorced. No marital scenario, I told myself, could become so bleak or hopeless as to compel me to embed my children in the torture of a split family. And I wasn’t the only one with strong personal reasons to make this commitment. According to a 2004 marketing study about generational differences, my age cohort “went through its all-important, formative years as one of the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history.”

They’ve heard the excuses, and they aren’t buying it. They bear the scars.

People my parents’ age say things like: “Of course you’d feel devastated by divorce, honey—it was a horrible, disorienting time for you as a child! Of course you wouldn’t want it for yourself and your family, but sometimes it’s better for everyone that parents part ways; everyone is happier.”

Such sentiments bring to mind a set of statistics in “Generations” by William Strauss and Neil Howe that has stuck with me: In 1962, half of all adult women believed that parents in bad marriages should stay together for the children’s sake; by 1980, only one in five felt that way. “Four-fifths of [those] divorced adults profess to being happier afterward,” the authors write, “but a majority of their children feel otherwise.”

But a majority of their children feel otherwise. There is something intolerable about that clause. I can’t help feeling that every divorce, in its way, is a re-enactment of “Medea”: the wailing, murderously bereft mother; the cold father protecting his pristine, new family; the children: dead.

When I had my first child at 32, I went into therapy for a while to sort through, among other things, just why the world—as open and wonderful as it had become with my child’s presence—had also become more treacherous than I ever could have imagined. It wasn’t until my daughter was a few months old that it dawned on me that when the pediatricians and child-care books referred to “separation anxiety,” they were referring to the baby’s psyche, not to mine.

The thought of placing her in someone else’s care sent waves of pure, white fear whipping up my spine. It occurred to me that perhaps my own origins had something to do with what a freak show I was. After hearing about my background for some time, my distinguished therapist made an announcement: “You,” she said, “are a war orphan.”

Orphans as parents—that’s not a bad way to understand Generation X parents. Having grown up without stable homes, we pour everything that we have into giving our children just that, no matter how many sacrifices it involves.

This is painful, but also therpeutic in its telling.

Marketing surveys reveal that Generation X mothers don’t seek parenting advice from their own moms. Why would we take counsel from the very people who, in our view, flubbed it all up? Instead, says the research, we depend on the people who actually raised us, albeit wolf-pack style: our friends.

To allow our own marriages to end in divorce is to live out our worst childhood fears. More horrifying, it is to inflict the unthinkable on what we most love and want to protect: our children. It is like slashing open our own wounds and turning the knife on our babies. To consider it is unbearable…

Call us helicopter parents, call us neurotically attached, but those of us who survived the wreckage of split families were determined never to inflict such wounds on our children. We knew better. We were doing everything differently, and the fundamental premise was simple: “Kids come first” meant that we would not divorce.

And yet, about half of them do, and the writer goes on to admit, painfully, that she and her husband did as well. And as well as they could conceive to do.

I don’t know what makes a good marriage. I am inclined to think that Mark Twain was right when he wrote in an 1894 journal: “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” But I did know something about divorce, and I wanted—and my former husband wanted—to do it as “well” as possible.

And they believe they did, though it’s still splitting up the family, divorcing mom from dad, and leaving the children in some degree or fashion of turmoil.

I have yet to meet the divorced mother or father who feels like a good parent, who professes to being happier with how their children are now being raised. Many of us have ended up inflicting pain on our children, which we did everything to avoid.

But we have not had our parents’ divorces either. We can only hope that in this, we have done it differently in the right way.

There is no right way. Let’s don’t, finally, delude ourselves.

This is a necessary conversation and a good and public examination of motives and intent and sacrificial love. Sort of…

One line in the piece struck me as needing and deserving more attention focused on it. It passed with this brief snip:

We also paid no heed to his Catholic parents, who comprised one of the rare reassuringly unified couples I’d ever met, when they warned us that we should wait until we were married to live together. As they put it, being pals and roommates is different from being husband and wife. How bizarrely old-fashioned and sexist! We didn’t need anything so naïve or retro as “marriage.” Please. We were best friends.

Or so they assured themselves. But the wisdom of “one of the rare reassuringly unified couples I’d ever met” came from a couple informed by faith and tradition of the ages, tried by relativism yet proven by results.

That’s where this story leads. And in a ‘back to the future’ journey, it may finally be the path to a new-fashioned marriage culture.