Monday 25 November 2013

Consultation on Marriage and Family Life: Part II

                                                Decently clothed near relatives

Right. Well the first thing I want to share today is that you really don't want to google 'wet towel over head' in looking for images to put at the top of a blog. What started as an innocent attempt to find an image suggesting hard intellectual graft lead to a wall of (admittedly often pleasant looking) young women abluting themselves. (Still slightly in shock, I have resorted to chimps modestly attired in body hair.)

Passing swiftly on, here follows my first attempt to reply to the Consultation of Marriage and Family Life. As you'll see, I haven't attempted to deal with every detailed question raised, and have tried to keep hammering home an overall message. It's probably a bit ranty at the moment, and it won't be going in as is.

My previous post on the subject is here.

Questions for the Consultation on Marriage and Family Life:

1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium

Understanding of the Church’s teachings varies considerably according to the people in question. However, I think the broad outlines of many of the Church’s teachings on moral rules concerning such matters are widely known. (So most people (eg) know that the Church believes that contraception is wrong and that divorce is impossible.) Where there is generally little understanding –both within and outwith the body of the faithful- is any understanding of the reasoning behind these rules. As a result, they are widely regarded as arbitrary commands. Moreover, due to a widespread absence –again, both within and outwith the body of the faithful- of belief in the divine teaching authority of the Church, these ‘arbitrary’ commands are disregarded.

2. Marriage according to the Natural Law

Again, understanding of the Church’s teachings varies considerably according to the people in question. Outwith the Church, there is almost no understanding of Catholic teaching on natural law: it is generally regarded simply as the arbitrary pronouncements of a patriarchal, outdated institution. Within the Church, there is little understanding of the natural law as being based on an understanding of human nature and its flourishing: too often, both from those who try to be faithful and those who do not, it is seen merely as a set of rules imposed by authority.

3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

Generally, families are left to sort out their own approach to raising children. Those families whose parents are already devout will find ways and means of support. Those who aren’t won’t. Catholic schools are widely seen as unreliable in their support for the transmission of orthodox teaching and practice.

4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

In Scotland, we are moving to a widespread acceptance of the impermanence of marriage and of its cultural triviality. There is little sign that, among the general Catholic population, that there is much resistance to this cultural background.

The Church needs to be much better at explaining its counter-cultural understanding of family life. Whilst compassion and support must be shown to the very many who are victims of the prevailing mores, that compassion includes making sure that the vision of a better life isn’t diluted. Certainly, it is difficult to live out a life which isn’t damaged by present cultural values. But it is essential that this damage is seen for what it truly is.

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex

The Scottish Government is in the process of introducing legislation to extend marriage to same sex couples.

For many people within the Church and outwith it, such a change has been welcomed as an extension of a human right to an oppressed minority group. The Church’s opposition to it is seen as simply homophobic.

Homosexual people, both in and outside relationships, need to be clear that the Church is for them: we are a Church for sinners. But this can’t be at the expense of the sort of clarity about teaching that they themselves (and indeed others) need to move on in their quest for sanctification. There needs to be clarity a) about the nature of marriage; b) about the complementarity of the sexes and the essential nature of that sexual difference; c) about the relationship between supernatural and natural ends (so that someone who is troubled by sexual longings can offer up this Cross to progress towards their supernatural end); and d) an absolute demonstration that, wherever they are on their journey towards God, the Church and its members really do love them as fellow sinners. Too often, however, genuine attempts at demonstrating such compassion have been confused with the underplaying of Church teaching.

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

Given current attitudes towards marriage in Scotland, we can expect to see large numbers of children from such irregular backgrounds. Whilst there is an opportunity here to pass on a fuller account of Catholic teaching to both parents and children, there is a difficult balance to be struck between not diluting the teaching and not driving away people who have imbibed a secularized understanding of life. My suspicion is that a combination of a shortage of priests, poor formation in both clergy and lay catechists, and a general unwillingness to challenge modern culture have resulted in lost opportunities here, along with lost opportunities in much of Catholic education.

7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

While most people, within and outwith the Church, know that the Church opposes artificial contraception, this is widely regarded as an arbitrary command. As in my reply for 1), there is no understanding of the reasoning behind such rules. Coupled with this, there is a genuine difficulty in reconciling the practice of modern employment and education with the operation of natural fertility: the modern understanding of a woman’s life does not fit easily into having many (or often, indeed any) children.

Solution? 1) Clarity about the fullness of the teaching behind the rules and a complete vision of the Catholic family and a society which enables that. 2) Recognition of how difficult it is to live out such a life in the modern economy.

8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person

For many people, the romantic encounter with a member of the opposite sex and the struggles to bring up children remain a point of entry into a deeper experience of humanity. The Church needs to foster a sense of what modernity has lost in covering up this depth and how, albeit imperfectly, individuals can reclaim it.

9. Other Challenges and Proposals

1) There is a constant tension between compassion and the welcoming of the imperfect on the one hand, and the need for clarity about the Church’s vision of humanity. There is a huge danger that in the search to express its unconditional love for all, the teaching of the Church is obscured and its role as a means of sanctification obscured. We need to both teach the truth and show understanding to fallen humanity: these are both parts of the Church’s mission of love.
2) In general, the modern Church, particularly in Scotland, is extremely poor at explaining the reasons for its moral teachings. To the extent it does, it tends to rely exclusively on fideistic wording rather than on an account rooted in our human nature, and, more particularly, its natural end.
3) The term natural law is often heard as emphasizing the law part, and its rational basis in human nature is misunderstood. In general, there needs to be an intellectual revival in a broadly Thomist approach to human flourishing in order to emphasize that natural law is not based simply on arbitrary divine commands.
4) Catholicism should work with other religious and cultural groups to build alliances against prevailing anti-Christian understandings of humanity. However, such ecumenism should not obscure the intellectual riches of Catholicism. For example, by underplaying the differences between the reasons for Catholic teachings and the (broadly) fideistic basis of modern evangelical Protestantism or the plat-du-jour secularized philosophies of liberal religion, Catholic teaching is seen as simply the arbitrary decisions of a group of old men, which will, as in many other religious groups, be changed as a new generation with new ideas comes into power.

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