He said nothing about the US Supreme Court decision in June allowing same-sex marriage, then prom-ulgated two sweeping canon law amendments last week to make marital annulment less cumbersome and expensive. And as St. Pope John Paul II did in 2000, he is letting all priests give absolution for the reserved sin of abortion, not just bishops, in the Holy Year of Mercy starting December 8.
Are Pope Francis’s pronouncements and decrees on the family adulterating Catholic teaching and morals? Reactions to his missives and moves have ranged from applause and adulation to anxiety and apoplexy.
Last week, a legal adviser to the Vatican’s high court, Detroit canon lawyer Edward Peters, took issue with the annulment amendments. First, he worried about collusion among spouses to annul valid un-ions due to a procedural change expediting petitions filed by both spouses or consented to by the one not filing. And Peters fears letting any bishop grant annulments may compromise rulings, since the ju-dicial process requires legal knowledge which many prelates lack.
Concerns about watering down Catholic family morals began when His Holiness said to journalists on a flight back to Rome after the July 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, that it was not for him to judge homosexuals who wish to turn to God, although the Church considers homosexual acts sinful.
Two months later, he told the Jesuit weekly journal America: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. … The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Then in the Synod on the Family last October, liberal factions pushed for changes in longstanding Church positions on homosexuality, and denying communion to Catholics still married under Church law, but living with other partners. Statements on these issues were included in the final Synod state-ment, even though they did not win the required two-thirds approval for inclusion.
What’s a good Catholic to do?
This writer and this column cannot do justice to the complex and arcane argumentation and other in-formation needed to properly elucidate and evaluate the family issues stirred by Pope Francis’s pro-nouncements and edicts. So apologies that this article will not answer the question in the headline.
Moreover, any positions put forward on these issues would almost surely need review and recasting when these contentious matters intensify and escalate even more at the concluding Synod on the Family next month. Plainly, we ain’t seen nothing yet in the Church’s deliberations and disputations on family morals.
Still, this devout, if unschooled believer humbly offers some personal guidelines on how a Catholic could approach the controversies involving the Holy Father, especially those in which his authority and adherence to Christ’s teachings are questioned.
First, as Filipino lawyer and Catholic apologist Marwil Llasos urged at a Greenhills talk on Church author-ity yesterday, the faithful should first and foremost make sure they get full information on issues and papal actions and positions in forming their views. Too often, concerned believers make judgments and take sides based on some bit of news or opinion picked up online, or at the say-so of a few friends or religious personages.
Attending seminars like the apologetics series in which Llasos spoke would be a good way to be better informed. The nine-to-noon talks free of charge are held every Saturday until December 12 at the San-tuario de San Jose parish hall in Greenhills. Among topics for discussion are Christian sects, sources of the Bible, Church history, the theology of Christ and Mary, the Sacraments, sexual morality, and the Papacy and Pope Francis.
A second rule of thumb for believers concerned about the controversies on family morals is to listen to their individual consciences. While there may be moves to soften Church positions on certain aspects of sexuality and family, Catholics always have the option to live by the traditional tenets they have been taught.
Even if the Vatican may show greater mercy toward, say, those who commit or perform abortions, that is no reason for most Catholics who abhor the murder of unborn children to change their mores. Ditto other aspects of family ethics. Living by the strict moral codes espoused by the Church and its saintly leaders for millennia would not lead to sin, even if the present-day hierarchy may change those age-old tenets.
At the same time, measures to encourage the faithful to atone for their sins, seek forgiveness, and mend their ways should be welcomed. God will always be merciful to a truly contrite sinner committed to reforming his or her life, and the Church cannot but reflect this eternally consoling truism, even as its processes validate if there is true contrition and reform.
With the Holy Father devolving certain reserved acts to bishops or priests, those privileges also de-mand that anyone exercising them should ensure that the demands of truth, justice, morality, and penance are met. Undue leniency in granting absolution, for instance, only deceives wayward souls into thinking they are forgiven, when they really are not due to their lack of contrition or commitment to avoid sin.
And bishops now empowered to judge annulment petitions should ensure that they get and listen to expert judicial advice. It is good to expedite the tardy adjudication of ecclessiastical cases, including this writer’s own 12-year-old annulment petition still on appeal in the Roman Rota after being granted in 2009.
But the most important thing is to ensure that Christian morals and values are delineated and affirmed in all Church rulings and actions. That is the only way to ensure that, as our Lord said, what is loosed on earth is indeed also loosed in heaven. Amen.