Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I salute the NZ Catholic Bishops

Over in Rome a vital meeting of bishops is being held.

Francis wants to get to the question of Catholics hurting because of the way in which teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is excluding people from communion if not from the church itself.

Fair enough: it is very hard to find the dots from Jesus' teaching on marriage to Jesus teaching on communion and make a line through them which shuts people out from communion. Not impossible but hard. And the hard line is affecting people who are more or less innocent of the charges brought against them, that they are continuing adulterers.

What to do?

Well, if you would like an upfront, brutally honest, look at me, I agree with the church's teaching and it doesn't hurt me one little bit, then read Louise Mensch in the Spectator. As fine an exposition of the line which many Catholics would like held, come what may, lest the whole teaching of the church fall down for touching one part of it.

Then, to rub salt in the potential wound Francis is opening up for inspection, read Damian Thompson, also in the Spectator, who says that Francis has created a crisis for the church.

At this point we might as well give up on hopes for change because its, er, you know, meddling and stuff, from the Pope no less, and he should know better than to follow that wacky, out of line Kasper bloke.

Actually, no. No, Louise. No, Damian.

The crisis is a crisis engendered by people who, for one reason and another are finding that their personal lives do not conform to the church's teaching in one area and are bruised by their being shut out in another area - just the slightly important area of communion at the Mass!

One group of Catholic leaders 'get it'!

Step forward the NZ Catholic bishops. Read their statement of hopes and concerns as they head over to the meeting (which began yesterday). I like the way they reach out with understanding and concern:

"A strong sense of exclusion and hurt is felt by many people who are living in situations not in accord with Church teaching in areas such as divorce and re-marriage, cohabitation, contraception and same sex unions. This sense of exclusion and hurt is also felt by their family and friends, and by those in the wider community who see what they consider to be the exclusion of others. 

The sense of exclusion can come from one or all of the following:
  • The existence of the teaching itself, which on its own is seen to exclude those who can’t match the ideal.
  • Hard-line un-pastoral presentation of the teaching, in a few cases by priests, but mostly by organizations or individuals who “police” the “rules”.
  • The attitudes of some parishioners which are perceived to be, or actually are, judgmental in relation to the life situation of others.
  • A strong personal sense of failure, of “not meeting the ideal” set by the Church, and therefore a feeling of not being accepted in the Church community.
There are a number of Catholics struggling to stay in their faith community who have been deeply wounded by the judgmental and sometimes righteous attitudes of individuals and groups who see themselves as upholding or policing the Church’s teaching. 

At the same time those who feel excluded and hurt, or unable to “live up to the teaching” as they described it, also have a deep sense of connection to the Church. They spoke of “hanging on” to their faith in Jesus Christ while trying to deal with painful feelings of being excluded from the Church. Supportive Individuals (priests, parishioners and relatives) emerged as the best catalysts for strengthening their sense of belonging to the Church.

Many respondents considered that the Church’s definition of family implicit in the questions lacks understanding of the diverse nature of modern families. The emphasis on the family as mother, father and children has led many other family groupings to feel that in the Church’s eyes (or in the view of their faith community) their families are inferior; for example, grandparents bringing up grand children, parents bringing up children alone, families resulting from second marriages, and culturally-sanctioned adoptions within extended families. 

Respondents to the questions indicated strongly that sexual abuse by clergy has undermined their faith in priests and bishops as teachers in matters of sexual morality. Many questioned the right of celibate men to “prescribe” what is right or wrong for married couples. 
In both online and other submissions, gratitude and appreciation were expressed for the opportunity to contribute. A number of people were courageous in sharing personal stories which were difficult and painful, or the difficulties they have with various aspects of the Church’s teaching. Others expressed their support for the teaching and wrote about how they tried to be faithful to it in their families. We were deeply impressed by the way in which people are striving to live according to the gospel, whatever the circumstances of their lives."

Apart from a general interest in this situation, I want to build out from this post to think again about the state of the Anglican Communion, on what we have missed by rejecting the Covenant, and on why I think all is not bleak for Anglican theology and practice as we move forward from current troubles. More soon(ish) ... as time permits!

Postscript: Bosco Peters has also written on the synod with the title 'Marriage Lite?'

There I make this comment:

"Alongside ‘marriage-lite’ I suggest a need to talk about ‘truth-lite’ (in respect of whether marriages can be annulled in the way Romans say they can … hasn’t a process to sort out unfortunate mistakes in marriage (“Help, I have married within the degrees of sanguinity!”) now stretched to find any and every possible way to annul a marriage rather than consider that, actually, a genuine marriage has been dissolved?), ‘mercy-lite’ (in respect of whether failure in marriage deserves ongoing refusal to participate in communion), and ‘sin-lite’ (in respect of all the Catholics currently receiving communion thinking they are married but when their marriage breaks down and they receive an annulment, doesn’t that mean that they were living in sin for all those years they thought they were married?)"


liturgy said...

Thanks, Peter, I've updated my post with a link to this one.



carl jacobs said...


When you are doing something wrong, aren't 'exclusion and hurt' objectively good things for you? Aren't they what cause you to stop and think and perhaps change your behavior?

You are trying to remove a corrective to behavior on the grounds that the corrective hurts. It's supposed to hurt. That's like the whole point.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
Yes and no.
Yes when the exclusion and hurt lead to repentance and change of behaviour.
No when I am caught in something such as a second marriage for which repentance (potentially) could mean severing the relationship with consequences re spouse, children etc.
What is the point of excluding a remarried person from communion for the rest of their lives if they have repented of the wrongdoing on their part which led to the breakdown of the first marriage? Is it 'as an example to others'?

I am sure you and I are agreed that we want no lessening of commitment to marriage in either Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox churches; nor do we want any kind of 'cheap grace' so that (for instance) having successfully been re-admitted to communion after my second marriage, I think it will be sweet after my third and fourth marriages.

But we would appear to be disagreed on those second marriages in which one (or more) party to the marriage is excluded from communion for the rest of their lives, despite genuine, costly grace repentance.

I particularly salute Catholics in that situation who are not prepared to go through an annulment process which they would view as a charade (i.e. they accept that their first marriage was valid).

Jean said...

I think with many things Jesus instructed on regarding the law he took the argument from one level - the surface - to another, that of the attitude of the heart. The letter to the spirit of the law.

Nearly all biblically references insinuates a man who divorces his wife has failed in his committement to protect and love her. Noting contextually that surviving without a husband in Jesus's time forced a woman into poverty and social stigma. It is like He is saying divorcing, allowing for the hardening of hearts under Moses having been used like a get out of jail free card is not a valid excuse. It would have been a new concept to those in the audience to consider they could not just 'leave' a wife if was inconvenient or required something on their part this would have been totally acceptable to them. Jesus is telliing them plainly if you do this you are committing a sin.

Translated into the modern day is different on the surface but not in spirit. One could say do not as a christian enter into marriage lightly or give up on a marriage easily, it was intended from the beginning to be a lifelong partnership. God hates divorce because it damages people involved in the relationship, including any children. Now this applies equally to women since women are now able to be the divorcer. Notwithstanding being under the spirit of law not the letter, situations which arise in breaking of a marriage and resultinng divorce happens in which case I can only take a stab that the consequences may pain Jesus, but He who knows the heart of the people will judge and offer grace accordingly.

As for the connection with divorce and communion this confuses me completely. Help? What is the biblical precedent for connecting the recieving communion and being a sinner (divorcees and all of us included). Did not Christ break his body and offer his blood, while we were yet sinners? Was Judas given communion? If it (the eucharist) is the offering of Christ's life to us as broken people are there any who can be barred? I am unsure how the theology within the Catholic Church came to link the two? Others may know.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
I don't really understand these things myself, but if I were heading to Wikipedia I would be looking up: venial, mortal and grave sins.

(See also discussion in comments on the Liturgy post).

liturgy said...

It is interesting, isn’t it, how we find it so difficult to understand divorce and remarriage of heterosexuals breaking communion, and yet can so easily take for granted that a committed same-sex couple not only breaks communion but makes it impossible for church leaders to even meet civilly together let alone share communion.



Father Ron Smith said...

One possibility in this area that might just have been missed is that the current attitude of conservative churches towards divorced, re-married, people and unmarried parents and homosexuals could bear the accusation of being 'Gospel-light' - Good News-light, or Compassion-light - which could be just as antithetical to the Gospel as being any of the other Something-lights mentioned in this thread. After all, Jesus came into this world to save sinners - that's all of us, even the (self) righteous. None of us can be accounted worthy of God's grace or compassion and mercy - no less the Church than any individual member.