Catholic bishops defend right to teach about family life, marriage and children
McAleese ‘bonkers’ comment ‘a compliment’, says Vatican synod secretary
“As for being ‘bonkers’, well in the oriental tradition there exists the phenomenon of ‘God’s Mad People’, so I will take those comments as a compliment,” said Vatican synod special secretary Archbishop Bruno Forte. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Senior figures in the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops yesterday strongly defended the Catholic Church’s right to offer detailed teaching and advice on matters related to family life, sex within marriage and the upbringing of children. Last week, former president of Ireland Mary McAleese called the idea of the Synod fathers ruling on family life “bonkers”, asking how celibate males with no experience of marriage or child-rearing could be expected to say anything useful about family life.
Asked about those remarks by The Irish Times, Synod special secretary Archbishop Bruno Forte said: “It seems to me a very old-fashioned idea to suggest that the person who has chosen not to marry because they have consecrated their life to God and to others, that such people cannot understand these problems. So I would have to say that such an affirmation, with all respect to the public role of the person who made it, is rather tenuous . . .
“As for being ‘bonkers’, well in the oriental tradition there exists the phenomenon of ‘God’s Mad People’, so I will take those comments as a compliment. After all, these ‘mad children of God’ [priests] are often the same persons to whom countless people, married and with children, turn for advice . . .”
Archbishop Forte was speaking at a presentation in the Vatican yesterday of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document sent out to Bishops’s Conferences worldwide by way of preparation for next October’s Extraordinary Synod, entitled The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation. The Synod, attended by bishops and lay groups, is the closest the Catholic Church comes to a parliament.
Next October’s Synod, the first under Pope Francis, has prompted eager anticipation, especially after it was revealed last autumn that a 39-point questionnaire had been sent out to the local churches, asking priests and laity about church teaching on issues relative to the “crisis of faith”. The 72-page Instrumentum Laboris offers an overview of the concerns in replies from more than 100 Bishops Conferences and 800 lay groups and individuals.
Not surprisingly, the Synod Fathers have to conclude that the church’s ongoing sex scandal has totally undermined its moral standing, especially in North America and Europe: “Responses from almost every part of the world frequently refer to the sexual scandals within the church (pedophilia, in particular) and in general to a negative experience with the clergy and other persons. Sex scandals significantly weaken the church’s moral credibility.”
In relation to marriage, the document laments the insincerity of many church marriages, contracted by non-practising couples from a Catholic tradition, couples whose relationship with the parish starts and stops with their wedding day, adding: “The primary reason for non-practising Catholics to return to their parishes for the celebration of a marriage . . . concerns the ‘aesthetical aspects’ of the celebration . . . and equally a conditioning from the religious tradition of the families of the couple to be married, transmitted to them in some fashion. Oftentimes, the festivities and the traditionally external aspects prevail over the liturgy . . .”
Doctrine vs application
The document concludes that people who are separated, divorced or single parents “sometimes feel unwelcome in some parish communities”. Furthermore, it speaks of the “great challenge” to develop a Catholic teaching which strikes a balance between accepting people (for example, homosexuals) and “guiding them to authentic human and Christian maturity”. Archbishop Forte pointed out doctrine will not be under scrutiny in autumn’s Synod, rather the “pastoral application” of that doctrine.