Most remarkable about the consultation regarding sex, marriage and family life, in which the Church has asked Catholics to take part, is its brave implication that things have to change, writes The Tablet in an editorial.
One sentence in the official document accompanying the Vatican’s questionnaire is an example of this. As a result of the current situation, it states, 'many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments …' in the light of which 'we understand just how urgent are the challenges to evangelisation arising from the current situation.'
This is doubtless a reference to the Church’s current policy regarding Catholics who divorce and remarry and are then told they may not receive Holy Communion, for it then says: 'Corresponding in a particular manner to this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine mercy.' In short, how does the Church start evangelising such people – and their children – and stop condemning them?
This unique consultation is taking place as part of the preparations for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops that Pope Francis has called for next October. There is a growing head of steam behind this plea. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, wrote in a recent pastoral letter that he hopes the synod finds 'some way' of offering mercy, help and reconciliation to Catholics in irregular unions or who are divorced and remarried – and he is one of the more conservative bishops in England. This has already become a key battleground of this papacy, with the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, denying that mercy has anything to do with it, thereby bringing him into confrontation with key members of the German hierarchy.
The fact that ordinary Catholics can officially contribute to this debate by taking part in the consultation is unprecedented. No longer will refusing to heed what ordinary lay Catholics have to say about such issues as divorce and contraception be a defining mark of the Church, which this consultation amounts to admitting is no longer a sustainable way to run the Church.
But the process of replacing one mindset with another will take time to adjust to, as the wording of the questionnaire occasionally conveys. The framers of the questions seem torn between accepting that the teaching of, say, Humanae Vitae on birth control has been rejected by large numbers of married Catholics, and asking how that teaching might be taught more effectively. One unexpected question – 'How can an increase in births be promoted?' – invites the polite reply – 'Why should it?' The Church cannot possibly know what size of population is the right one.
FULL STORY A truly Catholic consultation