Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Comment on Cardinals Letter

There has been a minor outcry against the Cardinals letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the adoption of children by homosexual couples, one or two leading MPs have suggested that His Eminence is out of touch with the vast majority of Catholics in this country. I am afraid I think they might be right.
Marriage has not been a high priority for the Church in this country. The feast of the Holy Family, the normal time when Bishops write to their people would have been a time to speak about this issue, having had a quick trawl through their letters, few addressed the issue of what marriage and therefore the family is, few contain more than platitudes.

Marriage is about a man and woman in a permanent union with children, even if it is not possible they should at least want children. The Church is clear that although the family might come in a variety of sizes it only has one shape (husband, wife and children). Until the 20th century marriage was primarily centred on the procreation and upbringing of children. I t was child centred. In the last century we recognised that mutual support and affection were also important but the Christian concept of redeemed man is that he goes beyond himself, on a natural level towards the desiring and procreation of children.
Gay partnerships are not, nor ever can be marriage, though there may be much mutual support, such a union is incapable of procreating children and indeed it is not orientated towards the upbringing of children. I am not sure that most Catholics seem to be aware of this basic understanding of marriage, and certainly during the discussion on Civil Partnerships this was not pushed or much enunciated by the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Many priests feel that much that they would want to do regarding the support of the family is not supported by diocesan structures. How many diocese make real provision for the formation of couples in Natural Family Planning? How many Marriage and Family life, Diocesan Offices see it as an embarrassment? Cardinal Murphy O'Connor when he was Bishop in this diocese on a few occasions asked tentatively whether we ought to refuse to marry couples who were living together before marriage, no policy was ever formulated or instruction ever given, even bvy raising the matter privately, he amongst the bishops was an exception. In most dioceses the question would not even be asked. I don't know but I doubt whether the issue of premarital sex is taken seriously in Catholic Schools. In our diocese we had the scandal of a major girls public school teaching children how to put on a condom, I suspect here the cause was ignorance of the Church's teaching rather than anything else.
But this is the problem, IGNORANCE because those appointed by Christ refuse to teach.


Mulier Fortis said...

Father, as a teacher in the Catholic sector I can tell you that sadly, it is NOT ignorance of the Church's teaching (though there is some ignorance of the reasons behind that teaching)

Mostly it is wilful dissent - the Church is seen as "out of touch" with the "real world" and deliberate disobedience is seen as a way to force the Church to change.

Anonymous said...

Fr - I think that you speak for a lot of people in what you have said. The contributions of the Cardinal to the current debate, and that of Archbishop Nichols on BBC tonight, do not do justice to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Your diocese is not alone in the experience of Catholic Schools teaching children how to use condoms. My family experienced the same problem a few years ago when one of our children was subject to this same 'lesson'.

Recourse to the school and the diocesan so-called Religious Education department (in the form of a discussion with the Head and the priest-director of that department) brought absolutely no support for our concerns or for Church teaching. Had we not had sound Catholic education ourselves, we would have deserted the institutional Church as a result of this experience.

All is not doom and gloom, however. There are people and institutions in the country very well equipped and willing to further the Church's teachings. It is my conviction that we will overcome the present difficulties, though a lot of prayer and mutual support will be necessary.

Anonymous said...

I agree with mac mclernon. It is often wilful dissent that is seen as the way to force change. How often does one hear people say "the Church has got to move with the times"?

Anonymous said...

Fr Blake – I was referred to your blog by Lawrence Marzouk’s article in the Brighton Argus of 28 January, the same issue in which a powerful article by Jean Calder appeared (Children’s needs are what count, page 8). It made me happy to read that you probably thought that Cardinal Murphy O’Connor was “out of touch with the vast majority of Catholics in this country.” That is also my experience, and not only in the context of adoption by gay couples.

On 24 January, you wrote: “There is a popular notion that there is antipathy from the Church towards anyone who is homosexual.” Of course there is not, but there most definitely is as soon as that homosexual expresses his sexuality in physical contact with someone of the same sex. I have a PhD in theology and I have been a psychotherapist for over thirty years, with a large section of my clientele coming from religious backgrounds. Gay Catholics living with a same-sex partner in a loving, committed, monogamous and permanent relationships have been refused absolution – and it was their resulting distress which brought them to me! – whereas an inveterate searcher after ever new and ever more hasty sexual encounters can receive absolution because he is not living in a “state of sin”. There is a problem here for your Church, Father…

You write: “Marriage is about a man and woman in a permanent union with children… Even if it is not possible they should at least want children.” Every single non-Roman Catholic Church in the Western Christian tradition has now placed procreation as the last – and therefore presumably the least important – of the three reasons for which marriage was ordained. At the time of writing my dissertation on the theology of marriage and sexual expression (1986), the Catholic Church alone still gave priority to procreation. Perhaps it is as a non-Catholic that that position saddens me greatly, for it lays emphasis on the sexual relationship between the husband and wife, as if the Church sees marriage in the first instance as a baby-producing institution. Your sentence (“In the last century we recognised that mutual support and affection were also important”) continues to imply that mutual support is still LESS THAN procreation.

Although you claim that there is no “antipathy from the Church towards anyone who is homosexual”, something of your own feelings comes out in the sentence: “Though there may be much mutual support, such a [gay] union is incapable of procreating children.” It is that word MUCH which leads me to believe that in your view gay relationships, regardless of their inability to produce children, are always less than heterosexual marriages for the simple reason that there is much less mutual support in them than there is in marriage. I wish you could experience the degree of devotion I have seen so frequently as one gay partner lives a sacrificial life caring for his disabled or dying partner, often over many years.

I agree with you that “gay partnerships are not, nor ever can be, marriage” – a stance that will for ever be maintained by the Catholic Church since procreation is its defining and validating characteristic. But please do not denigrate gay relationships as being well down the scale of valuable and valid relationships because they are “barren” in this one sense only.

(Over the weekend I wrote a letter to the Editor of The Argus in which I place my own gloss on Jean Calder’s article and in which I pull no punches as far as the Church is concerned. It remains to be seen if it appears…)

Michael Johnson, Brighton

Fr Ray Blake said...

Michael, I haven't seen the Saturday Argus, I hate to admit it but I avoid reading it. The interview was really a long telephone chat after which Lawrence wrote his piece, so I am not quite sure where you are coming from. If I do see it in the next few days I will be able to comment on what you say.

Pastorally I deal with men and woman who are struggling to become saints only a very few have achieved the necessary detachment that makes them so.

Fr Ray Blake said...

My problem if any with the Cardinal is that he has not been very clear in the past over issues that concern the family, in that sense I feel he has been out of touch with the Catholic Church. By that I mean the saints and great teachers of the Church.

Anonymous said...

A few points about this process need to be borne in mind.

A principal concern of the organisers has been to ensure that all voices are heard. We need to hear the positive witness of those for whom marriage has been the fundamental blessing of their adult lives. But there are other stories we need to hear as well: the stories of those for whom marriage has not proved to be the blessing it promised to be; the experience of those who have been through the pain of marriage breakdown; and of single parents who valiantly bring up a family on their own. In the Pope's great encyclical on marriage, Familiaris Consortio, he presented a positive vision of marriage and family life but out of that he speaks with deep pastoral concern to those whose marriages have broken down and to those who have married again (cf sections 83 and 84). Finally the Church must also hear the voices of those who for whatever reason are not married. Without their voices, the picture would simply not be complete.

Let me then share some reflections on marriage which I hope will be helpful and timely.

The birth of a child is a cause of great joy. It is an occasion of wonder and of gratitude. A new child elicits a response of love and care in parents, siblings, grandparents and, indeed, anyone who is close to the family. Likewise, the love that a mother instinctively gives to her child engenders a response of love and trust in the heart and mind of her baby. It is vitally important that this response be fostered and honoured in the early weeks and months of life if the child is to grow up secure and confident; able to give and to receive love.

When Christian parents have a child their first thoughts will be of the baptism of the child. It is not only the family that has a new member: the Church rejoices to welcome the new child into its embrace and this happens in baptism. Through the pouring of water and the invocation of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the child becomes a son or daughter of God and embarks on the process of Christian initiation. The crucial point here is that family life and life in the Church are inextricably connected. That connection is the context in which we speak of the family as the "domestic Church". The family is a cell within the Church where the grace of Christ is received and lived. What does this mean in practice?

St Paul, in a famous passage in the letter to the Ephesians compares the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and his Church. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ disclosed God's absolute love and commitment to the human family. Through faith we reciprocate this love: we do it explicitly at Easter when we renew our baptismal promises. When a man and woman celebrate the sacrament of matrimony they commit themselves to one another in total fidelity for the rest of their lives. It is in and through their love for one another that they reciprocate the love of God for each of them. This love is open and receptive. In particular, it is open to the gift of new life that God may bestow upon their union. Christian marriage never rejects or resists the gift of life but embraces it in love. Christian marriage is also exclusive. It presupposes that sexual intimacy finds appropriate expression precisely in the context of marriage: the life-long union that is open to procreation and is recognised by society and blessed by the Church. A married couple will be caught up in a wide range of relationships beyond their marriage but sexual relations are reserved for marriage. Outside marriage, sexual relations cannot take on their profound meaning and significance as a medium of other-centred love that is open to new life. We see, therefore, the inextricable connection of human love and divine love within the sacrament of matrimony.

When a couple bestow the sacrament of matrimony on one another, they are also responding to their vocation in life. All the baptised are called to a particular vocation in life and it is important that any programmes provided by schools on human development or human love should be presented in the context of Church teaching on vocation, on marriage and on sexuality. In other words we need to present young people with a positive view of the future as either involving commitment within marriage or else a single life in which their sexuality will find full expression but not in the form of physical intimacy. Experience has shown that when this is explained to young people positively - as an invitation to life - then it is understood and welcomed.

Some further indications must be made in relation to the Church's vision of human life and sexuality. The first is to acknowledge honestly that this view of human life and human love conflicts sharply with the "wisdom" and the habits of mind of the culture in which we live. But precisely because of this we must be faithful to the truth about marriage and sexuality that has been handed on within the sacramental life of the Church. I experienced a most powerful witness to this truth in the Mass celebrated in the Cathedral earlier this year for couples celebrating the 25th, 40th, 50th and even 60th anniversaries of their marriage. I was deeply moved by the witness of the couples I met and could see the pride in the eyes of their children and grandchildren as I greeted them after the Mass. The Church was acknowledging their fidelity to the grace of the sacrament of matrimony.

And we must acknowledge equally frankly that Church teaching in this area proposes high ideals and costly demands. The fact that we may struggle and falter in our response to the Church's teaching in these matters does not negate the truth of that teaching. Moreover, the Church fully acknowledges the social and psychological constraints operating in people's lives which militate against a full and perfect response to the demands of the Gospel in this area of life. In this context the sacrament of reconciliation should be seen as the great grace and opportunity that it is.

The Church in its wisdom has continued to stress the importance of personal confession as the framework in which the priest can address the unique circumstances of the Christian's life in a way that is true to the reality of their lives as well as being true to the demands of the Gospel. It is a context in which the priest can help people to discern what God is asking of them at this particular moment in their lives. We are called to love one another as Christ loved us in his suffering and death on the cross, and we are called to live this love within our own unique role and vocation in life.

Let us therefore pray for one another and pray for the success of this day of reflection on "The Church and Family Life". Let us ask God to bless us as we seek to respond to the call Christ continues to make to each one of us today: "Love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:34).

With my blessing and good wishes,

+ Kevin
Archbishop of Southwark

Given at St George's Cathedral, Southwark, on 8 September 2004, The Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Anonymous said...

A very good homily if only all our bishops........ but who will read a comment of this length?

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