How we judge the Synod

We are on the eve of the Synod on marriage and the family, so I asked contributors to Second Sight Blog to comment on the issues listed in the Instrumentum Laboris – the initial working paper. Many comments were received, and discussion continues. I proposed that we should consider what we expect, hope or fear from this Synod. We know that it has already broken new ground through wide consultation – which has included the laity. Despite the amateur questionnaire, it does seem to have reflected correctly substantial gaps between the Magisterium and the body of the Church.

Synods arising from Vatican II have in the past been very much under the control of the Curia. Both the agenda and the final outcomes often appear to have been master-minded. It has even been suggested that they were a pretence of collegiality. However the advent of Pope Francis may well make a difference this time.

Will we see the bishops in open robust exchanges, and – even more importantly – will it be they who decide the outcomes (in communion with the Pope) or the Curia? It will be a real test of collegiality, otherwise we might as well drop the whole idea. And will we receive a reliable account of the discussions? Or perhaps nothing more than the eventual publication of some kind of carefully drafted official document?

Many will remember how, at Vatican II, draft documents drawn up by the Curia were simply rejected by the bishops; they preferred to produce their own. It was a true exercise of collegiality. But in the end it failed: the concept of a college of bishops, in communion with Peter, leading the Church has not become a reality. Ironically this is most clearly seen in that swift emasculation of the very episcopal synods which were to be the instrument of collegiality. We may hope that we will see, by contrast, the coming Synod as an occasion for straight talking, and for a readiness for serious debate.

Contributors to the Blog have noted over the years a lack of active episcopal support for the Church’s position on contraception, and one of them has listed the names of the bishops who supported the rejected verdict of the Papal Commission. It will be important for the bishops to express without fear or favour their real attitudes on this question.

So far the signs indicate that there will be no substantive change in moral doctrine. But there may well be changes in pastoral practice. One of these could be a re-emphasis on the sovereignty of conscience, both its extents and its limits. It is about time for this Vatican II teaching to become a reality in pastoral practice and in general Catholic understanding.

The preparatory document speaks of confusion around the concept of Natural Law, and suggests that much may be done by explaining it in terms so simple that all of us will understand (and so presumably accept) its conclusions. But it is not a difficult concept: every entity from a washing machine to a human being has a nature, and that nature must be respected if the entity is to flourish and achieve its designer’s ends. The problem lies in identifying the detailed characteristics of that nature and correctly deducing its imperatives.

It is possible that the bishops may acknowledge that the Church herself has misunderstood an important aspect of Natural Law. As we learn more and more about the nature of human beings, both physical and psychological, we must accept that the imperatives we recognise will modify in harmony with our fuller understanding. If this were not so we would still, for instance, regard kidney donation as mutilation and natural family planning as inherently sinful. And since we have learned that our physical nature was not created directly but through evolution we have another, as yet untapped, source of understanding of what God’ teaches us through his creation.

The document rightly notes that much needs to be done to promote our openness to life. It is ironic that some European countries with an historical Catholic tradition have lower fertility rates than secular Britain and materialist United States. Is there a lesson here? However we need to be clear that openness to life does not necessarily mean the more the merrier. We all need to work towards a fertility rate which ensures a sustainable increase in population. – but no more. My recommendation is that every marriage should aim for three children. Allowing for the unmarried and the infertile, this should ensure a gradually growing population. But it should be accepted that openness to life itself cannot be simply judged by the means used to plan a family. It may even be that, in some cases, the concentration on natural methods becomes in itself an unhealthy preoccupation with avoiding new life.

The issue of those in second marriages being allowed to receive communion was clearly an important one to Blog contributors. There was no overall verdict but a strong case was made that it should be permitted in suitable cases, provided that the indissolubility of marriage is emphatically preserved. And the same might be said for the streamlining of nullity cases: it must never become a form of Catholic divorce.

So we look forward with cautious optimism to the Synod, bearing in mind that it is only the first stage of a longer process. It will of course continue at the Ordinary General Assembly in October 2015. And there will be much discussion in between.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment, Pope Francis. Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to How we judge the Synod

  1. John de Waal says:

    Firstly I should like to say that conscience is exercised not just by those who challenge and reject Catholic teaching but by those who try to live by it. It is quite possible to understand Catholic teaching and to accept it! Rebels do not have a monopoly of conscience.

    Secondly, I think Natural Law cannot be overturned without all objective moral teaching. The alternative is some form of subjective morality and the end result is chaos – in fact, more or less what we have at present in the world at large!

    Thirdly, I think there is room for development with regard to pastoral action. Catholic teaching on contraception, as with most of its teaching on sexual morality, has usually been framed in terms of extremes – serious sin and so on. Surely this has discouraged our bishops and priests from upholding Humanae Vitae for fear of appearing to damn those who have failed to live up to it? If we are to see that the degree of responsibility for our actions varies considerably according to circumstances then it is surely possible to accept that the contraceptive act is objectively wrong whilst the individual responsibility may vary a great deal?

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states : “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit,inordinate attachments and other psychological or social factors.” (CCC 1735).

    There is a great difference between a married couple with several children failing to live up to the fullness of Church teaching and single people indulging in a hedonistic lifestyle – with many situations in between. In every case, under Natural Law, we can say the act is objectively wrong but that the guilt varies.

    If what I have described is true and orthodox (and I am more than open to correction) and was publicly and actively taught by bishops, priests and teachers then, perhaps the Laity would understand better and would be more willing to learn about such teaching, to find out about Natural Family Planning and to try to live accordingly – knowing that failure does not condemn them but invites them back through the Sacrament of Reconciliation to try again – and again.

  2. pnyikos says:

    “The issue of those in second marriages being allowed to receive communion was clearly an important one to Blog contributors. There was no overall verdict but a strong case was made that it should be permitted in suitable cases, provided that the indissolubility of marriage is emphatically preserved.”

    I have only read about a third of the comments in the earlier go-around and have already encountered a lot of inaccurate comments on this issue, but no real mention of this “strong case”.

    Church teaching has been clear on this for a long time: if divorced and remarried Catholics live chaste lives, they can validly receive the sacraments even if they continue to cohabit and maintain their civil marriage. Of course, if they have had intercourse then they must confess before receiving the Eucharist. And they may lapse back into what the Church (and Jesus, according to the Bible) considers to be adultery, but they need only confess their sin each time, have a firm purpose of amendment, and they are once again in “a state of grace.”

    I have seen praise for Walter Cardinal Kasper on the earlier blog, including links to the stridently dissident National Catholic Reporter, but no criticism. I respectfully call to your attention, and to that of readers, two articles by Ross Douthat in the New York Times criticizing Kasper:

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/against-walter-kasper-i/

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/25/against-walter-kasper-ii/

    and a long, deep assessment by some members of the Washington, DC, Dominican House of Studies in:

    Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 12, No. 3 (2014): 601-630

    A pdf file for it is linked in the second Douhat article, labeled ” there’s a new critical assessment of Kasper’s argument” in blue.

    Peter Nyikos

    • milliganp says:

      Firstly, I do not see why I should place the writings of a secular American conservative commentator above those of a respected Cardinal of the church, Douthat writes opinion pieces, not critical theological analysis.
      Secondly, as someone who has been involved in the preparation of couples for Catholic marriage, I would clearly suggest that well over 50% do not understand the indivisible nature of the marriage bond and even more do not have sufficient Catholic foundation to understand the basic nature of a sacrament.
      Whether you blame poor Catholic education, lax Bishops (add hobby horse of choice) or just the pressure of secular culture – that is where we are. Like Chesterton’s indisputable dirt the problem stares us in the face.
      Douthat makes the point that the action of grace over time can strengthen a marriage that starts out imperfect. However the teaching of the church on nullity is entirely based on the disposition of the couple at the time they exchange vows. The church covers this possibility (that an imperfect marriage can survive) by the presumption of the bond.
      We cannot address the current difficulties by just pretending the problem does not exist.
      I doubt that any person preparing to make the promises of marriage is planning to fail but I also doubt that many (if any) are thinking, “I hope this works out, otherwise I won’t be able to receive communion”.

  3. Brian Hamill says:

    I read with interest Joh De Vaal comment that ‘The alternative is some form of subjective morality and the end result is chaos’. May I suggest that there some illogical points in the Church’s teaching on marriage. On the one hand we have clear condemnation of same sex marriages and the subsequent adoption of children by those couples on the grounds that children need to be brought up in a heterosexual situation to give due weight and support to both male and female models and the relationship between them as a couple and their varied roles as parents to their children. On the other hand when one partner totally abandons the other with the children, the parent left behind is denied the right to remarry, thus meaning that the children are brought up in a flawed situation. Briefly, in the first case the teaching seems to say that there is a need of both male and female to make a proper family, and in the second it says you shouldn’t provide this. I would suggest that it is not the moral law which is chaotic but the Church’s.

    • pnyikos says:

      Brian, as you can see from my first post, there is a way out of the dilemma you pose for abandoned parents. But I suppose most people will echo the words from the Gospel, “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?”

      In the olden days, the parents or the siblings or other close relatives of the abandoned parent would typically move in and provide needed support. But relentless propaganda against large families has made this fourth way increasingly untenable. With people typically moving far from the parental home in search of fulfilling employment, we are falling back more and more on small nuclear families as the normal state of the societal unit.

    • milliganp says:

      In addition to death in war and childbirth, prior to the discovery of Penicillin large numbers of people died from infections in often simple wounds, plus preventable diseases like mumps, measles, TB etc. In these societies women and men were left to raise families alone and no-one would have considered these societies to be disordered or deficient. However most people lived in settled communities and there were neighbours and extended family to provide additional help. There is an African expression “it takes a village to raise a child”, the breakdown of our own society beyond marriage is also something we need to consider.

      • John de Waal says:

        There is,I believe, a great difference between families which are fatherless due to death and families which are fatherless as due to marriage breakdown or abandonment. The first can give rise to poverty for sure but does not carry the baggage of resentment and bitterness that often accompanies the second. If I am right then divorce and the breakup of “relationships” have far-reaching consequences for society. Any normalising of such breakups must be bad fr society.

    • milliganp says:

      The problem is that the need for both sexes in parenting as a justification for opposing homosexual marriage and adoption is an invented argument. Lesbian women have always been able to have children with the help of a friend, obvioulsy men can’t do the same so adoption or surrogacy end up as their solution. The church plays to a common belief that two men raising a child hints at paedophilia.
      Personally, as a Church, I believe we should keep our mouths firmly shut on these matters until we are visibly commited to the support of all the challenges raised by heterosexual marriage.

      • Singalong says:

        Do you think we should say nothing to our MP’s about the government’s current proposals for all schools to “actively promote” the rights set out in the Equality Act 2010, which will include pressure for the curriculum and teachers to approve and support same sex “marriage”?

      • milliganp says:

        Without being cynical, writing to your MP on a moral issue is generally a waste of time; if they are the same opinion your letter will give them a greater sense of justification for that opinion, if they are opposed to your opinion it will merely add to their conviction that Christians are intolerably obsessed with sexual orientation and behaviour.
        Howver, as far as I’m aware RE is still a ring-fenced subject in Catholic schools, and it is primarily in RE that our moral teachings should be promoted. However we live in a diverse, tolerant, culture and although PHSE classes should reflect our core ethos they are not a place for intolerance.
        Schools already have the significant challenge of the complex parental arrangements of their pupils, in promoting what is, after all, the Divine plan for marriage we have to be sensitive to the realities of most children’s lives.

      • jimbeam says:

        Singalong, what would you — and what should we — communicate to a Catholic teenager who has same-sex desire?

        What is inherently unlawful about a civil partnership between same sex couples; I am not informed about the legality of all this: does a same sex civil union adopting the name of ‘marriage’ have anything to do with the sexual rights of one partner toward another (ie. does it necessarily encompass sexual relations)?

      • Quentin says:

        I just pop in a word here because an interesting new study suggests that when a young person is homosexually oriented, acceptance and support from his family plays a part in keeping him away from extreme (and dangerous) sexual situations.

        I note than in homosexual marriage non-consummation is not a ground for ending the marriage. Not surprising since defining what consummation would be is tricky. Similarly sexual relations with another of the same sex is not a ground for divorce. But relations with someone of the opposite sex is treated as adultery – as in traditional marriage.

      • Singalong says:

        I would find it very difficult, and would pray to God the Holy Spirit for guidance in how to explain the Church’s teaching as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
        There are many stages in acknowledging another person’s freedom to act on his or her feelings, toleration, acceptance, approval, but I don’t think teachers should be obliged to actively promote choices which they think are objectively wrong.

      • milliganp says:

        Quentin, say that again! In a homosexual marriage adultery is not defined as “same sex” unfaithfulness? Is this one of the many problems created by re-interpreting an institution with millenia of meaning?

  4. pnyikos says:

    Here is a short article titled, “The Synod and the Real Crisis of Marriage” in which the issues that John De Waal and I have been talking about are seen as a minor theme in a real crisis of marriage which has seen a big drop in the population of some countries and a sharp drop in the percentage of Catholics in sacramental marriages:

    http://catholicexchange.com/synod-real-crisis-marriage

    I contributed the following comment addressing these drops:

    Much has changed since the 1950’s besides there now being “the need for more teaching and better explanation of Catholic doctrine on matters like the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage and sexual morality, and the serious obligations they give rise to.” Catholics are having fewer children than before, especially in places like Italy, with the result that FAR fewer are going into the priesthood and the religious life. [Large families have traditionally been the main source of religious vocations.]

    Catholic schools are the most natural way of bringing practicing Catholics among young people together, and these have declined in number. Moreover, almost all of them are now admitting non-Catholics as pupils, so that more mixed marriages (which are not frowned upon as much they used to be in the 1950’s) are a natural outgrowth. In my city, one of the main Catholic schools catered to these students by bringing in guests who would lecture to the whole student body about their denominations, which do not emphasize the sanctity of marriage.

    Perhaps most significantly, there has been an enormous decline in the number of young single Catholics of adult age attending Mass regularly. The institutional Church never had a very good way of bringing these young adults together; very few of them go to parish clubs for single adults, and those are becoming more and more scarce. Those which do exist have spotty guidance from married couples on courting. Unless the synod addresses this problem, the percentage of married Catholics can be expected to continue declining.

  5. Claret says:

    Just a couple of points on what has been posted on here so far. The sacrament of reconciliation is not open to divorced Catholics who re-marry , or marry a divorced person, whilst they remain as such. Jesus states that such persons are in a constant state of adultery which, the Church defines as a mortal sin. They cannot, as Pnyokis suggests, ‘simply only confess their sin each time and have a firm purpose of amendment, to put themselves once again in a state of grace.’
    It is not that simple, were it so then we would not be having this debate.
    As for the example given by Brian Hamill ref: an abandoned spouse left with children, then this would in all probability be grounds for an annulment of the marriage.
    Should the Synod seek to lessen this ‘burden of proof’ then it opens up a whole Pandora’s Box as to the indissolubility of marriage and the nature of mortal sin to name just a couple of problems.
    I might add to that the questions; What of Catholics who have divorced and re-married more than once? (Is there to be a limit as to when ‘enough is enough ?’) What of co-habiting Catholics? Should there be ‘exemptions’ for them too?

    • milliganp says:

      For clarity, the sin is grave. It can only become mortal if the other conditions are met, full knowledge and deliberate and complete consent. Since few people know or understand the teaching on marriage, most fall at the first hurdle, for consent to to be deliberate and complete the person making love (or having sex) needs to do so with direct personal intent to offend God.
      When on the cross Jesus said “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” he was, in His Divine nature looking down on all of the sin of mankind. If Christ is willing to ask His Father’s forgiveness on our behalf, we should be slow to condemn those whose sins are different to our own.

    • pnyikos says:

      Claret, as far as I know, the sacrament of reconciliation is open to every Catholic except those who have been excommunicated. This includes excommunication latae sentiae for a few sins, including abortion, but not including civil remarriage after divorce.

      Here is a website where there is a debate even longer than this one, scrutinizing this requirement of “living like brother and sister” but not being required to separate from the “spouse” of the second marriage.

      http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/but-should-they-live-together

      Though there is much disagreement about its merits, there is no doubt in the mind of either the author or the various commenters that this is the way the Church views this difficult situation. The situation of children conceived by the second marriage is an especially difficult one that comes in for a lot of discussion: are the children really served by obliging the couple to separate? Before you answer this question, do take a look at how it is handled in the above website.

      By the way, my name is Peter Nyikos.

      • milliganp says:

        Peter, thank you for the link. The logic seems fairly impeccable to me and I was impressed by the recommendations at the end that we need to create specific church structures and organisations to support broken families and witness to the power of extended families.
        However, marriage (or cohabitation) breakdown is not made different for the child by the “fix” of an annulment, the children still end up with two sets of parents and the painful memory of separation, so the authors logic would argue against annulment as a solution.

        I would recommend the article as essential reading and an excellent contribution.

      • Ignatius says:

        Thanks for the link. I read the lot and the discussion some of which, like suggesting that parents living as ‘brother and sister’ should put the kids to bed- then go home seperately to their own parents- sounds close to insane. I didn’t like the way the article seemed to completely overlook that couples who are not on their first marriage or partnership can nevertheless have wholesome unions and marriages that work . You know human beings possess a dignity conferred upon them by God and that dignity is not easily lost.

  6. Ignatius says:

    “They cannot, as Pnyokis suggests, ‘simply only confess their sin each time and have a firm purpose of amendment, to put themselves once again in a state of grace.’..”

    Claret is correct here…..and who, in their right mind, would choose to live that way. I would not and would not wish others to. I would leave the church and become, like the couples I have met in this situation, lost and aggrieved in a kind of moral no mans land, afflicted with a vague sense of anger and guilt. The situation as is simply stinks but, as Claret points out, addressing it is a slippery slope.

  7. RAHNER says:

    I imagine many (most?) Catholics find the claim that all those who are divorced and remarried are in a permanent state of adultery or mortal sin (whatever that means) to be utterly ludicrous. And as regards the ban on communion, it is unenforced and unenforceable. I am aware of several cases where divorced and remarried Catholics receive communion with the full knowledge of their Parish priest. The deliberations of elderly,celibate(?) prelates in Rome is unlikely to alter the behaviour of most Catholics………

    • RAHNER says: October 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm “. . . the claim that all those who are divorced and remarried are in a permanent state of adultery or mortal sin . [is] . utterly ludicrous.”
      I would paraphrase this statement, using rather more explicit terms, as “the claim that all those who have left their wives and are cohabiting and having sexual intercourse with other women are doing something which is morally wrong” and this to me is obvious rather than ‘utterly ludicrous’.
      It is perfectly true that “the ban on communion, .. is unenforced and unenforceable”. However to say that many such people “receive communion with the full knowledge of their Parish priest”, while distressing, is believable in view of the revelations in recent years that many priests have even been involved in acts of sexual impropriety.

      Apropos :- pnyikos October 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm para 3.
      “if divorced and remarried Catholics live chaste lives, they can validly receive the sacraments even if they continue to cohabit and maintain their civil marriage.”
      I think that this is probably correct – although :- Claret October 2, 2014 at 10:03 p m:-
      rather reasonably assumes that “divorced Catholics who re-marry , or [Catholics who] marry a divorced person” are engaging in sexual intercourse – [living in a state of chastity ? Pull the other one?!?].

      pnyikos goes on to suggest “Of course, if they have had intercourse then they must confess before receiving the Eucharist.” The catch here is “a firm purpose of amendment”. [Perhaps unlikely – but not impossible].

      All of which simply underlines the difficulties which this Synod must face to be worthwhile.

      • milliganp says:

        If I could chip in a couple of different perspectives. Up until at least the 1950’s, a couple living together who were neither married nor brother and sister would be presumed to be in a sexual relationship bearing the somewhat old fashioned title concubinage or in the UK, “common law marriage”. Such people were not expected to darken the door of the church. Communion was less of an issue since many Catholics received on an irregular basis. The fast from Midnight also meant that only those going to early morning mass tended not to have broken the fast.
        A century earlier in the UK common law marriage was commonplace, but communicating even once a year was not required.
        My point is that we don’t have a consistent earlier morality or ideal moral era to return to.

  8. Quentin says:

    I reproduce, with his permission, our fellow correspondent’s letter published in the Catholic Herald (3/10). I felt it was very relevant to the issues the Synod should be discussing. Do please comment on it directly here — if you wish.

    SIR – When considering most of the world, there is much to be said for Mary Kenny’s view that we worry too much about population growth. (Comment, September 20) Demographically most of the world is relatively stable and becoming prosperous. There is, however, one region of the world where our concern about its population growth cannot be too great, that region is Africa plus the Middle East from Palestine to Pakistan.
    Three thousand million and rising is the number to keep in mind when thinking about this region. This is the estimated population of the region in 2050. (The number comes from the United Nations 2012 revision, their medium variant.) Three thousand million – three billion – is the same as the population of the whole world in 1960, and is ten times the population of the region in 1950. This increase is one of the greatest demographic dramas in history. No wonder Sir David Attenborough is concerned about it and sometimes uses emotional language. (Mary Kenny September 20)
    Even now when, since 1950, just over one billion has been added to the population of this region, we learn of their sufferings every day in the news and in aid agencies adverts. As the second billion is rapidly added, we will see so much poverty, hunger, water shortage and conflict in the region that we will begin to regret our lack of concern about population growth.
    In 1967 and 1968, Pope Paul VI expressed his concern about the rate of population growth in his encyclicals Populorum Progressio (paragraph 37) and Humanae Vitae (Paragraph 2). He saw trouble coming, though not how terrible it would be. To put it as gently as possible, it is unfortunate that in recent decades this insight has been lost.
    Gerald Danaher

  9. Claret says:

    Rahner : People break the law. We do it very day , in many ways. Occasionally widespread and deliberate law breaking brings a change in the law but the aim of law is that it is obeyed as it is generally recognised to be for the greater good.
    The same applies to the laws of the Church who seek to discern the mind of God.
    Despite what happens ‘in real life’ the Church cannot condone what is contrary to the words of Christ.
    The altar rails are not the place for debate and if a person presents themselves for the Eucharist it would be folly to get into some kind of argument. Nevertheless a PP who deliberately encourages a divorced and re-married person to receive the Eucharist does a great disservice, not only to the Church, but also to those who are divorced but do not remarry, even though they would want to. They stay faithful to Church teaching so as not to deprive themselves of the Eucharist, and to keep within the laws of the Church. Such parishioners exist.
    It also creates division as many PP’s might like to take the same liberal action as some of their colleagues but are true to Church teaching.
    This is why we have the scandal of parishioners shopping around between parishes where they want a more ‘liberal’ priest who is prepared to break the laws of the Church. (This attitude and practice, because it involves law breaking, only causes further problems further along the line.)
    It was Christ who said that divorced persons who remarry are committing adultery.
    I often think that the Church might like to abandon this teaching so as to make life much easier for all concerned.
    Protestant Churches who like to promote themselves as ‘Biblical’ and therefore ‘authentic’ seem to have no difficulty in ignoring the words of Christ on this issue. It is to the credit of the Church that, despite all the personal difficulties for many Catholics, and for the wider Church, it seeks to stand true to holy Scripture. (It cost the Church a whole series of countries back in the time of Henry V111.)

  10. Claret says:

    To comment on the letter that Quentin has re-produced I am not sure as to what relevance it has to the Synod. Africa is not a Catholic country , taken as a whole, and the same applies to the Middle East, where Catholicism, is a negligible minority.
    Indeed it might well be that those areas that are mainly Christian are the least affected by problems arising from population growth.
    I hope that Quentin, and the correspondent referred to, are not falling into the trap of blaming Africa’s population growth on the Catholic Church and its teaching on contraception.

    • Quentin says:

      Assuming that we think that the forecasts identify a major problem which will result in great human misery, we have to consider (accepting as we do our vocation from Adam to care for the world) how we should contribute to solving the problem. There are certainly no easy answers, but it does seem clear that a substantial reduction in fertility is required. Other developing countries have found that reducing fertility has been associated with higher standards of living, and higher average longevity.

      Some may well think that persuading whole populations to use natural family planning is a realistic way of achieving this, others would not. Where do you stand on this?

  11. milliganp says:

    If I might add the sort of comment you get in the Times, “Surely, the Synod should judge us, not we the Synod”.

  12. jimbeam says:

    Claret said: “I often think that the Church might like to abandon this teaching so as to make life much easier for all concerned.” And, “It is to the credit of the Church that, despite all the personal difficulties for many Catholics, and for the wider Church, it seeks to stand true to holy Scripture.”

    As I understand it, Jesus was teaching the reality that remarriage is adultery: we must for ourselves and in our own hearts understand the full reality of our sinfulness and fallen state, else we know not that we need saving. He was not giving commands for the fixing of Church laws (as far as I am aware, St Paul — it was him, not Jesus, who gave the foundations of the New Law in practical terms for the development of the Church — does not speak of disallowing remarriage, please correct me if I am wrong); on the contrary, Jesus explains clearly that Moses allowed remarriage for particular reasons, and we can be confident that in doing so he was not giving the “tradition of men” (Mark 7:8); rather we can assume it was given at God’s command/agreement, since Moses was in close communication with God in respect of dispensing the Old Law.

    Putting Protestants to one side, is not the Orthodox Church in communion (and thus recognised as one body) with the RCC?
    “[The Orthodox Church] permits remarriage in Church, though its divorce rules are stricter than civil divorce in most countries. For the Eastern Orthodox, the marriage is ‘indissoluble’ as in it should not be broken, the violation of such a union, perceived as holy, being an offence resulted from either adultery or the prolonged absence of one of the partners. Thus, permitting remarriage is an act of compassion of the Church towards sinful man.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_divorce#Eastern_Orthodox

    • overload says:

      St Paul “does not speak of disallowing remarriage”? Yes he did:
      “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A [wife/husband] must not separate from [his/her wife/husband]. But if [he/she] does, [he/she] must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to [his/her wife/husband].”(1 Corinthians 7:10-)

      On another point, St Paul makes it clear that believers are not to marry unbelievers:
      “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers… what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
      “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39)
      However, St Paul affirms that if one is already married to an unbeliever (in his meaning: when converting to Christ — for most today: when correctly understanding this doctrine?) one is to honour the marriage, so long as the partner is willing, otherwise the believer is “not bound in such circumstances” — does this equate to nullity? (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16)

      Blurred lines, chaotic contradictions, and gross imbalances.

      And finally remembering (as we daily should) to soberly put things in perspective:
      “…those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not… For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:28-)

  13. jimbeam says:

    Milliganp: “Surely, the Synod should judge us, not we the Synod” — ?
    We need to pray for the Synod. Prayer is powerful, and we can also pray through this conversation.

    Here is, for us in these times, a “hard saying” (sorry about the length, I hope you will find it worth the read)…
    [From Romans 7:] …a married woman is bound by [Mosaic] law to her husband while he lives… But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the [Mosaic] law… having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code…
    I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness… Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

    [continuing in Galatians 3:] Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.
    [Galatians 4:] So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you… you are now being persecuted by those who want you to keep the law…
    [Galatians 5:] …if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ!… For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
    [Galatians 6:] Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
    [Finally, 2 Peter 3:] Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you… his letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

    The Apostles exhort us: “We have spoken freely to you, [ ], and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.”

  14. Vincent says:

    I am entirely orthodox in my belief in the permanence of sacramental marriage. That is its true nature as shown both by Scripture and by the Church’s teaching. At the same time I can see how many good people find themselves in second marriages yet still wish to be able to receive Holy Communion. I simply don’t believe that such a person is living in mortal sin.
    If, as we are clearly taught, a Catholic using artificial contraception is encouraged to use the sacraments why would we not accept, at least in principle, the remarried?

    • milliganp says:

      Yet again, it’s important to say the sin is grave, to be mortal requires full knowledge and intent. A couple using artificial contraception within a valid marriage are capable of amending their situation in a way entirely different to those living together outside a valid marriage.

  15. Quentin says:

    Two further points about the Synod concern me.

    The first is that we will not get details of the discussion, but a summary at the end of the day. I realise that the speakers need to have freedom of expression, and that some interventions will be off-the-cuff. But there is a danger that unconscious censorship may influence the summaries — no one likes to wash dirty linen in public. We really need to know what out bishops think, and why they think it. A kind of ‘Hansard’ would do.

    The second is that the lay members all appear to have been chosen from ‘safe’ organisations. That is, organisations which are already committed in many matters which the Synod must explore with open minds. There appears to be no representation from the ‘ordinary’ Catholic family — with which, it would seem, the Church really wants to connect. We may remember the strong effect that the Crowleys (who represented the views of the broader Catholic population) had on the Papal Commission. It led, for instance, to Fr Josef Fuchs (the great orthodox defender of natural law) changing his mind.

    • John de Waal says:

      It worries me that Quentin assumes that “ordinary Catholic” means those who disagree with Church teaching and wish to see a change. I repeat my earlier comment, namely, that conscience is not the monopoly of dissidents and, furthermore, those of us who agree with Church teaching do not do so simply out if blind faith but from an informed faith. After all, that is what the root meaning if conscience means, ie. “with knowledge”.

      It is also worrying that the question of contraception and Natural Law have been ignored. Without Natural Law what is the basis of our moral teaching – the opinion of a majority in the pews?

      • Singalong says:

        From my particular pew, I agree, and hope that the Synod will result in better teaching and sound information so that the present confusion can be brought to an end. I wonder if it would be foolish to think of some sort of temporary amnesty for those who are now in tangled situations because they have not been taught adequately, but to expect a full and clear explanation of traditional principles to be re-established during the next few years. We cannot allow our current post Christian culture and values to undermine the clear teaching of Christ’s Church.

      • Quentin says:

        No, I mean that, if I were to consult the British population on immigration, I would not confine my enquiries to UKIP. I would try to get a reasonably representative sample. Of course the ‘safe’ organisations should be consulted, but they are not on their own representative of the Catholic population.

        Natural Law is a subject dealt with in the Instrumentum Laboris. You will be aware that the unconditional prohibition on artificial contraception has never been demonstrated as required by the Natural Law. This does not in itself tell us that the teaching is incorrect, merely that an appeal to Natural Law alone does not suffice.

  16. milliganp says:

    As a point of reflection, we live in an era where we are better “educated” than at any previous point in history. Yet many Catholics are ignorant of the key tenets of faith, and perhaps more importantly, the underlying principles. Is it that we teach Humanities like English and History in a relativist way (i.e. heavily based on the expression of personal opinion)? As a scientist I’m blessed with following a subject which is highly objective (Einstein’s famous quote on the speed of light reads “186 thousand miles an hour, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law”), not that those who practice science are without criticism on morals or ethics.

  17. Ignatius says:

    At this point I would tear my hair if I still had any. Do any of you actually know anybody trying to live under the constraints of re marriage and refusal of eucharist that you all seem so happy to affirm as objective reality? Have any of you lived under those constraints yourselves?…I would love to know. Its not the clarity of the teaching that is the matter but of the weight of the burden laid upon the shoulders.

    • milliganp says:

      I’ve still got a limited supply of hair, so I’ll pull some out on your behalf. There is a danger in this debate that we see refusal of access to the Eucharist as the last line of defence in the Church’s teaching on marriage. It would be an interesting comparison to make if we suggested women on the pill should be denied access to Holy Communion. I would suggest the Communion rail is not the correct place for us centre our battle with 21st century moral relativism.
      One of the issues we have not discussed much is the problem of scandal and its effect on the young. From my limited experience marriage breakdown has a profound effect on children and effects the adult decisions they make because of their childhood suffering. At present there is a TV “comedy” on the subject of children of a broken marriage; one of the lines spoken by a child goes “the problem of a single mum is that she isn’t single all the time”. Having a string of “serial uncles / stepdads” also has a profound effect on a child’s ability to understand emotional stability.
      In my experience in marriage preparation it is commonplace for those presenting for marriage to have had several (often many) sexual partners, often to have cohabited with more than one partner and to see their ultimate marriage as, principally, a social statement rather than a profound change of nature.
      Perhaps we need to develop an ontological theology of marriage, the irreversible change of two becoming one.

  18. Ignatius says:

    Well if you have any spare put it on e bay and I will happily bid.

    “..There is a danger in this debate that we see refusal of access to the Eucharist as the last line of defence in the Church’s teaching on marriage. It would be an interesting comparison to make if we suggested women on the pill should be denied access to Holy Communion. I would suggest the Communion rail is not the correct place for us centre our battle with 21st century moral relativism…”

    I agree with this. I cannot see that a person, male of female, possibly an abandoned parent and an innocent party in divorce based on an adulterous affair by the partner can, in good conscience, be refused the sacraments because of their subsequent re marriage to another. In my own life as a catholic those things that have helped me the most in difficult times have been eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. Remember that the person who married and was then abandoned has, by their life so far, accepted their unsuitability to live in abstinence…they fell in love and married intending it for keeps. Yet we propose to lovingly place them in a state whereby they may never marry or have sex again,may never have the possibility of childrearing again, may never have their hurts healed by another or have the solace of partnership. Yes there are huge problems with society but that was not their problem, yes promiscuity is hurtful but they were not the promiscuous one. Speaking of these things, while it is true that a broken marriage bodes not well for fidelity I know from experience that monogamy does not spring either from the example of parents who stayed together either – it springs from commitment and the right partner. If one fails why should the other be so punished?

    • This, in my opinion, is a very convincing argument :- “Remember that the person who married and was then abandoned . . .” does not fit my paraphrase (October 4, 3:50 pm) and presents quite a different meaning to ‘divorced and remarried’ which does suggest that there might be some equivalent to the ‘Pauline privilege’ permitting a valid remarriage.

    • Singalong says:

      Ignatius, of course you are right, these are very hard cases, and I am sure we all know people so affected. One in particular, very close to us, breaks our hearts to see such sincere hopes and intentions, and potential for growth and a good family all denied. How to exercise compassion? If there are no grounds for annulment, and the Synod eventually decides to allow remarriage in these circumstances that might be a solution, bit it would be hard to avoid a slippery slope situation, which no doubt is currently being discussed.

      I wonder if it is better to try and follow the hard sayings of Christ, such as, take up your cross and follow me, hard is the way and narrow the path that leads to life, and I do speak as one who personally finds it very hard to accept suffering. Many, many people are not able to live lives to which they are ideally suited, it is part of our earthly life in this vale of tears, as we say in the Hail, Holy Queen.

      More real friendliness and genuine communities where we support and help each other, emotionally and with practical matters, as well as real personal prayer, makes it more possible to use the graces we are given to help us cope with the challenges and hardships which God allows in our lives. Avoiding the temptations which can lead to the prospect and consideration of remarriage if it remains forbidden by Christ’s Church certainly needs fervent prayer.

  19. Nektarios says:

    It is interesting to see so many here taking the high moral ground. It is stating the obvious.
    But we all have to live in the real world, and that world is a `fallen world’ where there is no such thing as perfection till Christ comes again – and that lack of perfection is as true of the Synod
    as all of us.
    So many are taught in Church certain things about faith, life and practice, but take it in a relativistic way. This is the way they were taught in school and in university. Relativism is just another name for humanism. Humanism essentially means, that man, the individual is the highest and only authority.
    We are living in a post Christian world and being evangelical is riddled through in many places
    with relativistic thought and practice. This has brought spiritual weakness and relative morals.
    Simply taking the moral high ground is not enough for we are all sinners, we all lack perfection.
    I do not judge your Synod or those engaged in this debate. There are fundamental truths that are immoveable for us as Christians and then there are other matters that can be held in different ways, discussed and applied differently.
    Not to do so, would be to impose a Theocracy by sinners full of imperfections.

    • milliganp says:

      Jesus’ great enemies were the Pharisees who held to the letter of the law, but not its spirit. However the Gospel does tell us that sinners encountered by Jesus did go through a conversion experience which included changing their ways.
      For me, this raises the question – do people find their engagement with the church a true encounter with Christ? The sad reality is that many obviously don’t. Is this the great Franciscan reform, to make the church more Christ like so that it can effect the transformations Christ promised?
      In the Luke 7 account of the woman who washed Jesus feet we hear the voice of the Pharisee saying “If Jesus were a prophet he would know this woman was a sinner”. The Jesus the woman touched was the Second Person of the Trinity, the same person we all encounter in the Eucharist. Perhaps the lesson of that story is that we should not hold people back from the personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist for it is, perhaps, that encounter that will change them.

      • Vincent says:

        The story you tell us of the woman of ill-fame reminds us that God does not keep a tally sin by sin. He merely asks if we have ‘loved much’.

  20. jimbeam says:

    “we all have to live in the real world, and that world is a `fallen world’ where there is no such thing as perfection till Christ comes again”

    Belief — the law of the Holy Spirit — is blocked by the spirit of anti-Christ, and the Church is desperately clinging to Law, reverting to a Mosaic pre-Christ idea of obedience to the Law (yet even with this there seem to be great inconsistencies); yet many are well aware that this is not actually producing Godliness — not “building up in love”, but is rather corrosive.

    However (as others have said above) the answer cannot be to make human compromises as to Natural Law (if anything is to be changed, only God given concessions should be sought/ asked for). Singalong talks about focusing on eduction. I agree, however it has to be first and foremost education in true belief (faith), which is the root of our salvation, the means to “sinning no more”, and the only thing which gives meaning, perspective and life to the Natural Law (see my comment above [October 4, 2014 at 5:11 pm] quoting from Ss. Paul and Peter).

    In view of the fact that there is an obvious long-running crisis with all kinds of sinners going to the Eucharist with a guilty and un-examined conscience (which scripture tells us is damaging to them and the Church: “guilty of Christ’s blood”), the solution cannot be to enforce the unenforcible upon those glaringly detectable sinners who are imprisoned in cycles of “mortal” sin (noting milliganp’s repeated comments on “mortal” sin)—and who isn’t imprisoned so? Doing so gives a completely false and hypocritical picture of reality as also pattern of discipline and order.

    My suggestion, in view of the vast and unwieldy nature of the modern Church (which is barely comparable with the Church of the Apostles), is that, baring the unbaptised/excommunicated, no bans on the Eucharist should be taught or enforced. Those — for instance — remarried, should not be judged by the Church, which, however, is not to say that their way of life is to be condoned! The correct doctrinal teachings on such things needs to be compassionately and effectively communicated, with the message that we are all responsible for ourselves in examining their own conscience before coming to the Eucharist, and I suggest there needs to clear teaching about the meaning and implications of not doing so—at every mass.

  21. overload says:

    Horace Townsend mentions the ‘Pauline privilege’ — it is interesting how St Paul, in knowledge of the Lord’s “absolute” commandment regarding marriage, is none the less free to make exceptions which experientially are conductive of peace.

    A bit of thinking “outside the box”: since the Orthodox Church apparently allows remarriage and is in communion with the Catholic Church, I wonder if there is a loophole whereby a Catholic can get remarried — and take communion — in the Orthodox Church? Anything that encourages constructive communication with the OC has to be a good thing — I am thinking also about the prophesies of Fatima.

    Vincent asks “if we have ‘loved much’” — Do you mean to say that with love I can destroy the power of sin without having to address the behaviours of sin?

    • Vincent says:

      Sin does damage by its nature whatever the intention. However we are judged by our love (or refusal to love). Love of course includes taking proper care that we are doing a good thing. And we are obliged to do the good thing we perceive, rather than the bad, even if we have it objectively wrong.

    • milliganp says:

      On your first point, the Orthodox Church is not in communion with the Catholic Church and I do not believe the Orthodox are open to Catholics “swapping churches” to take advantage of the option to remarry.
      On the “loved much” quote by Jesus we have to ask is Christ talking about the love the woman is showing Him or has He identified, in her past life, a structure of compassion and love that the pharisee does not recognise – and that we might not recognise.
      There is an old Latin hymn “ubi caritas et amour, Deus ibi est”, where there is charity and loving care, God is present. Even in irregular relationships there is often significant love and care.
      “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice” Isaiah 42:3.

      • Ignatius says:

        “There is an old Latin hymn “ubi caritas et amour, Deus ibi est”, where there is charity and loving care, God is present. Even in irregular relationships there is often significant love and care…”

        I like this hymn very much. I remember visiting in prison once, the vulnerable prisoners wing for sex offenders were all filing into the chapel at the beginning of the service. In front of me shuffled along two older men, clearly worn down and broken by their own lives. Yet in a brief moment I saw one hold out a seat for the other and smile at him with something like tenderness and warmth; twenty years ago that moment was but I shall never forget it.

      • Quentin says:

        In the matter of salvation through love, my sense is that God does his darnedest to save everyone – and on the least possible excuse. His darnedest is only limited by his refusal to override his gift of free will.

  22. Brendan says:

    I understand what you are getting at, Quentin. But by being ‘ limited ‘ I don’t acknowledge that characteristic as being in relation to being ‘ God .’ In a ‘ sense ‘ it is because we have the ‘ gift ‘ of free will that in your words, He ” has done his darnedest .”
    Pope Francis has asked the Synod members to ” open their hearts ” to hear the beat of the Catholic World. This I sense is how we can ‘know ‘ particularly in the pastoral sense , in the ” matter of salvation through love ” , the way God wants us to move forward and to further His Kingdom on Earth .
    I don’t suppose for a moment The Guardian Newspaper would have the faintest idea what I’m talking about. But I have confidence that through God’s Prism ( The Catholic Church ) , that through His Spirit – the Pope and Church Leaders ( representatives ) will arrive at the right course for the future.

  23. Brendan says:

    Even at this moment I feel a call to ‘ metanoia ‘ – along with the Church Militant ( the Faithful along with the Extraordinary Synod ) . We cannot feel the pain of another person – which remains impenetrable to us , like the emptiness that person feels when Communion is taken away under Canon Law – however much a ‘ spiritual ‘ communion may ameliorate the situation.
    But we can and must accompany that person as people who have walked a similar road ( which we all have ). A new way of being The Universal Pastoral Church as I perceive, is being called for by Pope Francis as the main strategy of his pontificate, from the Vatican right down to parish level encompassing the basic unit of the ‘ family.’
    The devil as they say is in the detail – but one thing that objective faith tells us is that we ( The Church ) are protected by The Spirit , even in His mysterious way plucking triumph from disaster.
    My concern is the person in that ‘ emptiness ‘ who ‘ feeling alienated from their roots, cannot bring his or herself to re-join the family of the Church. This pastoral duty is first and foremost what The Synod must grapple with. As Pope Francis in his opening address reminds us, it is not about being ‘ clever ‘ or scoring points off one another , it’s about opening ones heart as wide as anyone has done before. The change essentially cannot come in the unchangeable, but in ourselves.

  24. Ignatius says:

    ” But we can and must accompany that person as people who have walked a similar road ( which we all have ). ”
    Sorry, Brendan, could you clarify the above statement in simple English, perhaps giving an example of this similar road which I have walked on?
    The reason I ask is that individuals I have spoken to in our parish who have ‘walked the road’ of being refused communion have pretty smartly walked away from our parish community citing isolation and loneliness as their experience; none I have asked (there have only been a couple of people) seemed to recognise this ‘spiritual’ communion.

    • milliganp says:

      I think “spiritual communion” is a potentially dangerous red herring. In the days when few communicated on a regular basis people were encouraged to make spiritual communion through a specific prayer (it was in my 1950’s simple prayer book). I believe it was promoted by St Alphonsus Ligouri. It as thus seen as an alternative to reception of communion.
      However if you look it up on Wikipedia you will see that Pope St JP II recommended it as a proparatory prayer before mass and reception of the Eucharist.
      To talk about spiritual communion as an alternative to reception of Holy Communion sounds like a fudge, Christ didn’t institute the Eucharist with an “alternately say a prayer” cop-out.
      “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jn 6:53

      • jimbeam says:

        I hope you are not cherry-picking Jn 6:53.
        “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (my italics) 1 Cor 10:16
        The woman at the well was apparently given an alternative option.

      • Singalong says:

        Prayers and an explanation of spiritual communion are still in the Simple Prayer Book 2011, pages 96-97

  25. Ignatius says:

    Singalong,
    “I wonder if it is better to try and follow the hard sayings of Christ, such as, take up your cross and follow me, hard is the way and narrow the path that leads to life…”

    I’m very suspicious of this. Martyrdom is, generally speaking, visited upon one by the actions of others. We are not called to fashion our own martyrdom complex, life brings enough problems to test us with as it is. In China around the time of Tiannmen, and probably still, you could find the view that only Christians who had been to prison were the true believers…a very dangerous line of thinking and one which we do well not to emulate, in the sense of constructing our own spiritual ‘hoops’ to jump through I mean.

    • Singalong says:

      Ignatius, my comment was indeed referring to the inevitable suffering, and sharing in the cross of Christ which is often required in following Him, particularly in being faithful to the vows of marriage, even when a spouse has been deserted. Our natural human compassion would hope to spare anyone such pain, but it may not be possible, as when Our Lord Himself prayed for His chalice of suffering to be removed. I don’t think you need to be suspicious of this way of thinking.

      • Ignatius says:

        Singalong,
        But that’s what I mean. Deciding that one has to stay faithful when deserted, say this happens in ones 30’s and one has the strong desire for relationship, sexual love and parenthood. The apostle Paul famously said that it was better to may than to ‘burn’ and only laid celibacy at the door of those able to cope with it; the church of course does otherwise. To lay down ones life for what might be an abstract theological construct is not the best way to honour Christ I don’t think. You know we are made human, made in the image of God but as human beings with conscience, not as hearts of stone to ourselves and our bodies.

      • milliganp says:

        Part of the process of Blessed John Henry Newman’s (today’s feast in England and Wales) conversion to Catholicism was reading Augustine on the Donatist crisis. The Donatists believed the church should be a church of saints not sinners; in particular they opposed the readmission to the church of those who had apostatized during the persecution of Christians under Diocletian. Augustine came down resoundingly against the Donatists and, in this rejection of Donatism, Newman realised that the Anglican position was intellectually unsustainable.
        Although we are all called to be martyrs, many would fail if faced with the stark choice of a concentration camp or the rack. Yesterday’s Gospel was Luke’s presentation of the Lord’s Prayer which finishes “do not put us to the test”.
        We are called to promote and proclaim heroic virtue but must also have compassion on the many who fail.

  26. Gerry says:

    Claret, Apologies for the lateness of this comment, a lot is happening and I’m 89.
    I’m afraid there is no doubt at all that a major part of the blame for Africa’s population growth must rest with the Catholic Church and its teaching on contraception. This is not only because in sub-Saharan Africa almost half of the schools and medical clinics are connected to the Catholic Church and therefore cannot urge people to use artificial contraception; and not only because at international conferences on population and development the Vatican has a powerful influence because it is so well organized and determined and is able to demote the need for family planning; but also because the Vatican has effectively blocked United States’ and Germany’s and no doubt many other countries’ efforts to provide family planning to the poor in Africa and elsewhere.

    If you are interested in this matter which – when coupled with over-consumption – the Royal Society and many others believe presents a “profound challenge to human health and wellbeing and the natural environment.” (Royal Society. People and the Planet Report 2012) you can read about the Vatican blocking of USA efforts to provide family planning in Stephen D. Mumford’s “The life and Death o f NSSM 200 – How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy”. It’s heavy going but worth it if you want to see the Vatican in action. JPII made enormous and persistent efforts to stop developed countries providing family planning advice and help to developing countries. (NSSM 200 = National Security Study Memorandum number 200)

    I’m afraid that, whether or not you accept the evidence, there is no doubt who is going to get the blame. A Times Leader on 19 September, commenting on research that indicated that population increase, particularly in Africa, is likely to be much greater than once thought, states “A sea change in attitudes from the slums of Juba to the gilded corridors of the Vatican would make possible a virtuous circle of smaller families and economic growth”

  27. Gerry says:

    Before we move to another subject I’d best clarify NSSM. Here is the opening page of Stephen D. Mumford’s book:
    “NSSM 200 was the definitive interagency study of world population growth and its implications for United States and global security, requested by President Nixon in 1974. The study was undertaken by the National Security Council, the CIA, the Defence, Agricultural and State Departments, and the Agency for International Development. Among its conclusions:
    “World population growth is widely recognized within the Government as a current danger of the highest magnitude calling for urgent measures…There is a major risk of severe damage (from continued rapid population growth) to world economic, political, and ecological systems and, as these systems begin to fail, to our humanitarian values.”
    My comment: Happily most of the world worked this out for themselves and acted effectively, though rather slowly in India. The only big region of the world to fail to act is Africa and the Greater Middle East (with some shining exceptions such as Iran in particular and Tunisia) All the severe damage to systems feared by the NSSM contributors can now be seen in this region.

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