A friend of mine reports this conversation:
"Father, my boyfriend is depressed; I want you to talk to him".
"Okay, can you tell me a bit more?"
"Yes, he left his wife and children to move in with me and now he feels guilty"
"So, what are you asking?"
This not so unusual a request. It is significant that it is a young man. I invariably get depressed young men, sometimes suicidal young men who want to speak to me about some spiritual problem, 'I can't pray' or 'I want to return to the sacraments' or even sometimes, 'I think I want to be a priest but...' and then when one gets below the surface there is a whole series of broken relationships, sometimes even of children from discarded relationships. I suspect if you heard their confession none of this would figure, maybe simply, 'Bless me for I have sinned, it has been X years since my last Confession in that time I have missed Mass over a number of years, I have been dishonest and I have been unkind at times', maybe even I have wasted food or some other eco-sin.
What is often neglected, is any mention of sins against the 6th and 9th Commandment, that could be because of embarrassment, or simply as I suspect just sheer ignorance that these are totally contrary to the teaching of Jesus. In fact I have rarely married a couple which is not co-habiting, nor experienced embarrassment when they give a shared address. Admittedly a few couples are living together simply because it is impossible to buy a flat without two incomes, and some, a tiny number are trying to live chastely.
We believe in the Natural Law: sex and procreation outside of marriage, aberrant sexual behaviour, pornography, sexual fantasy, coupled with drug and alcohol use and hedonism, in general are chickens which must come home to roost. Again as the Holy Father has been saying recently the misery that so many children experience, because their parents are continually rowing or because of an absent father and in the case of boys the absence of an effective male role model, only add to feelings of guilt many young men live with. Brighton has a very high rate of male suicide, someone suggested to me recently one of the problems is those who might give help are feminised, which only adds to problem.
I get a bit concerned when priests of a certain age (which they are mostly) say, 'we must be merciful'. The problem is that for the last 60 years we have done nothing else but be so 'merciful' that we have failed to be truly merciful and proclaim Jesus' teaching, which is the ultimate and only real mercy, or as Pope Francis says, 'God's final word is called Jesus'. For many young people, men especially, it is that they simply don't know how to live.
Maybe someone needs to sit down and write a simple 'Rule of Life', I suspect such a document will not come out of the Synod!