In the lead up to, and the aftermath of, the recent federal election, any real issues of Christian morality were studiously avoided, or so it seems. And one can only wonder if reference was made to such values in the subsequent negotiations over who should govern the country. No clarion call was issued, for example, for the defence of Christian marriage, a key issue, and what flows from it.
The hallmark of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy has been his unwavering consistency and crystal clear teaching on Christian morality. At no time has he sidestepped major challenges of contemporary culture, namely the erosion of the family and marriage.
One of his major concerns has been the attempts at radical redefinition of marriage, and the consequences for the health of society. It would not be revealing secrets to say that in Australia marriage is being seriously threatened, and the situation is not much better in other countries.
Pope John Paul II in the last book he had published, Memory and Identity, discusses the notion of destructive modern ideology. One of his targets was the European Parliament’s agenda to recognise homosexual marriage as legal and normal. He questioned whether it was not a part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious than hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.
Pope Benedict has not been slow to draw similar conclusions when he describes de facto unions, homosexual unions, trial marriages, and so-called homosexual marriages as forms of ‘pseudo marriage’, which degrade not only the human personality and human sexuality, but also God’s love for the human family.
He states: ‘The mystery of God’s love for men takes its linguistic form from the vocabulary of marriage and the family … God’s approach to His people is presented in the language of conjugal love,’ the marital covenant that is the symbol in Christianity of the history of salvation.
The Church herself has always taught that some of the redefinitions of marriage and sexual love are a grave misuse of human freedom. Pope Benedict says that freedom has come to mean a kind of relativistic libertinism, which says that society and individuals can redefine marriage based on personal, legislative or judicial fiat while rejecting human history, human experience and, of course, revelation. A case in point is obviously the issue of homosexuality, which is attracting much attention nowadays.
While the Church acknowledges the need for sensitive and compassionate ministry to homosexuals and support for their basic human rights, it must be emphasised that ‘homosexual activity, as distinguished from homosexual orientation, is morally wrong’. The moral obligation for such persons, which arises from this fact, is a corollary obligation for all of us to respond to their need for pastoral care.
A similarly sensitive response is also required for separated and divorced Catholics, both in deeds as well as in words. In fidelity to Christ, the Church teaches that sacramental marriages are indissoluble. The staggering rate of the number of divorces in Australia, many of them involving Catholics, reflects the tragedy of marriage failure in a society that shows little appreciation of the sanctity of marriage.
In light of this situation the Church has a two-fold responsibility: it must proclaim more strongly, not less, the indissolubility of Christian marriage; it must also extend special pastoral care to separated and divorced Catholics so that even as they experience the heartache of marital failure, they may also experience Christ’s loving concern and understanding mediated through their Church.
We should pray that the day will come when governments will acknowledge that the Church has something to offer in her teaching on marriage.
Kevin Manning is Emeritus Bishop of Parramatta.
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