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Church Chat Critique of Priests' Convocation Ignites Controversy
FOSIL columnist Tom Smith stirred a spirited conversation with his Church Chat column #113, "Smelling Like the Sheep" (below and at this link. We reproduce here the emails about it that came to FOSIL's attention, and invite you to comment right on this page.
I hope this chat is only about my diocese – but I doubt it. Just to be clear: I live in the Diocese of Belleville, IL, the 28 most southern, including the seven poorest, counties in Illinois. And our Bishop is Edward K. Braxton, PH.D, S.T.D., who was recently featured in America magazine and interviewed by the National Catholic Register regarding his pastoral letter on “The Racial Divide in the United States.” Let me put it this way: he writes better than he does.
But this chat is not about the much-needed conversation regarding the racial divide. It is about our Priests' Convocation this year. Each Fall our diocesan priests attend a three day gathering to listen to the Bishop and other presenters, pray, and visit with each other. That is a reasonable activity for any group of people who do similar work. I'm sure other dioceses do something comparable.
The title this year is “Celebrating Our Priesthood and New Insights on Vocations: Lending our Voice to Christ.” Looking at the schedule and biographies of the presenters, I doubt that any of those “…New Insights…” will include the ordination of married men or women. There are sessions on: Celebrating Our Priesthood; The Seminary Today; Priestly Spirituality; Good News for Women Religious Vocations. Plus Eucharistic Adoration for an hour two of the nights and Confessions.
By the way, the session on Women Religious is led by Mary Mother Clare, the habited sister who served on the Vatican committee investigating the nuns in the USA.
On the surface it sounds like a perfect Priest Convocation – for 1957.
Here's one of my many issues with this gathering: it is being held in downtown St. Louis and dinner one night is at Kemoll's Restaurant, one of the more plush, expensive and semi-exclusive establishments in St. Louis. Even if they get a “Catholic clergy discount”, couldn't they find a more modest, more appropriate setting for this 1957 convocation? Like the retreat center in our diocese? Or, is this one of those “Father deserves the best” moments?
I don't begrudge any priest the opportunity to dine at Kemoll's occasionally. But to feed all the priests of the diocese at Kemoll's as a clerical function is something quite different. The message it sends is disturbing.
I hope I am wrong but this whole program seems completely out of whack for today's catholic clergy. A priest gathering for a Retro-Church? Pope Francis has set a new standard for our clergy, centered on servant leadership, humility, identification with the poor, and a life style of simplicity, poverty, and pastoral engagement. He said, shortly after being elected Bishop of Rome, that bishops and clergy need to “smell like the sheep”, a wonderful and fitting phrase that depicts a servant pastoral leader. My suspicion is that our convocation goers may smell more like the Kemoll's 16 oz. choice strip steak served with sautéed wild mushrooms in a demi-glaze sauce rather than the sheep. Still reminds me of 1957.
I would hope that a gathering of our priests would include sessions like these: How Do I Live a Life of Simplicity, Poverty, and Humility as a Pastor in Southern Illinois? This session could be led by Fr. Bill Rowe. (Oh, that's right, Fr. Rowe was kicked out of the priesthood by Bishop Braxton a few years ago because Bill was too good of a liturgist.)
Another session would center on the Pope's latest encyclical: On Care for our Common Home with an emphasis on the role of the pastor in leading the parish into an understanding of this biblical message.
How about a session on the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy, a yearlong focus of the Church on the practical meaning and application of tangible compassion in the life of a parish?
That should be a rough outline for three valuable days for today's pastors. For meals, I suggest simple, inexpensive servings prepared by an appropriate chef who shares his/her recipes for humble pastors living alone in Southern Illinois.
Our pastors are on the front-lines of the Church and deserve our respect and collaboration. But the Catholic Church led by Francis, the second Vatican Council and the gospel is not the 1957 Church. Priestly spirituality must incorporate the needs and issues of this era, not the triumphalism of the past.
Or, is the past still with us?
Responseof Father Jim Dieters
To Followers of “Church Chat,”
I was quite sad to read the Tom Smith ‘chatter' condemning the upcoming priests convocation that reveals un-Christian bitterness, false assumption, injustice, and divisiveness. What a sad day for the Karla Smith Foundation and the diocese when one of its lay leaders chooses to enter into such evils of tearing people apart instead of building up the Body of Christ. The ‘chattering' displays a 2015 version of clericalism by some lay persons that the good priests of our diocese have shunned.
Ironically, we were planning to promote the Karla Smith Foundation at the convocation this year, encouraging the priests to learn about and support the Foundation through the fliers that were to be distributed. Just the opposite will happen now that it is very public that the leader of the Foundation is so resentful toward those who wanted to lead the way in promoting such a good cause.
The Smith-chat letter is filled with prejudices based on false assumptions that display ignorance and bitterness. The only correct facts are the location, theme, and restaurant name. The 63 faith-filled priests who will be attending the convocation – and are trying to build up the people of the diocese – see in this chatter how one of our lay persons is actively causing division and hatred among the faithful. When some of the ‘sheep' rejected Jesus' disciples and the leaders wanted to call down fire upon them, Jesus encouraged them to simply “Walk away and shake the dust from your feet.” The priests in our diocese who are working hard to build up the Church will follow the Good Shepherd's Voice and be asked to walk away from anything connected with the Smith Foundation, which has such a divisive leader. Our priests will be encouraged to actively search for a different source that helps people and families with mental illness, since it is such an important need.
Sadly, while the very goal of the Smith Foundation is to build up people in their struggles, the very opposite is being done by its leader. The Gospel recently revealed Jesus saying, “From within people, their hearts, come evil thoughts, malice, deceit, and arrogance. All these evils come from within and defile.” Those who do attend the convocation will pray hard at each of our Mass intentions for unity among the faithful and for a conversion of the ‘lost sheep' who are causing division and spreading violent words and injustices in our diocese.
Since Mr. Smith is so caught up in his assumptions about the food at our gatherings, it will be interesting to learn what is served at the upcoming Foundation fundraiser held at a place that makes expensive chocolates for the wealthy. The fundraiser advertisement proudly says a “feast” will be served within an evening of “decadence.” How does this fit into Mr. Smith's unjust letter crying out for “simplicity” and “identification with the poor?”
With prayers for an end to divisiveness,
Fr. Jim Deiters
Cc: Fr. Nick Junker - Convocation Co-chair
Responseof Gerald Montroy
When I first read your response to Tom's column, I thought you were being protective of the 63 priests who would attend the Convocation. You wrote Tom Smith"is causing hatred and division among the faithful." However, upon rereading Tom's column and rereading your response, I now understand you were [are] angry because Tom was unwittingly critical of you, the Convocation Chairperson, who chose to the theme of the Convocation and the venue for the dinner!
You falsely claim Tom disparaged the priests who have chosen to attend the Convocation. Not true! The focus of Tom's column was that the Convocation should focus on the positive theology of Pope Francis and follow his example of service and humility in eating at a more modest dining establishment instead of Kemoll's, one of the most expensive restaurants in St. Louis.
In your letter, writing as Convocation Chairperson, you promise retaliation against Tom by refusing to promote the good work of the Karla Smith Foundation at the Convocation and then you further vindictively assert:"the priests will be asked to walk away from anything connected to the Smith Foundation." Tom and Fran Smith have dedicated their lives to helping thousands of families cope with suicide following their own pain losing their daughter Karla to suicide. Through the Foundation they also provide assistance to the mentally ill. You promise to steer priests of the Diocese away from this wonderful charitable Foundation because your feelings are hurt.
Pardon me, Father, but did you just have a temper tantrum which might be expected from an ill tempered grade schooler? I would hope that as pastor of a parish you would not manifest such juvenile behavior by vindictively threatening retaliation. If vindictive words and retaliative behavior are your modus operandi, I suggest you seek anger management if not for yourself, for the sake of your parishioners.
[P.S.] FYI: The Karla Smith Foundation booked Bissingers for the dinner while the building was being remodeled and thus were able to save significant money. It is true KSF advertisement promises "a feast" will be served with an evening of "decadence." The food choices the dinner offers are chicken, fish or vegetarian. Included in the price of $75.00, KSF is able to offer the dinner, entertainment and still make a modest profit to help defray the cost of the free programs it offers for the mentally ill and families whose lives have been impacted by suicide.
Responseof Tom Smith
Dear Fr. Deiters,
I am sorry that my recent column about the upcoming Priests' Convocation offended you. As Convocation Chairperson, you, Fr. Junker and probably others worked hard in planning and implementing this important gathering. Along with your considerable parish responsibilities, this added task indicates your leadership and concern for the diocesan church and, in particular, for your brother priests. I am grateful for your service on all these fronts, and I pray for and wish all of you continued success in your ministry.
I too am concerned about divisiveness in our church, both universally and in our diocese. For over 50 years I have been involved in various ministerial leadership roles in three dioceses and nationally. My commitment is personal, deep, and permanent. I am correctly labeled a “progressive Catholic” and, by that, I mean that I look to the future and foresee a Catholic Church even more closely aligned with the gospel and the teachings of Vatican II. While I have been loyal to all the Popes in my life, I am especially supportive of Pope Francis and the initiatives he has promoted and the lifestyle he lives.
Obviously, we have some differences regarding the coming convocation and, I would assume, on other issues as well. I consider these differences as healthy and I would welcome opportunities to dialogue about them personally. I firmly believe that honest dialogue among people committed to the church is not only desirable, but also necessary as together we seek ways to live the gospel ever more faithfully.
I do have some specific comments about your email regarding the convocation:
I made two main points in my column: in my opinion, the convocation is a missed opportunity to focus our priests on the practical implications of the initiatives that Pope Francis has created, and that the dinner at Kmoll's sends a disturbing message. I still support those points.
I want to emphasize that I write a column which, by its nature, is a personal opinion piece.
Based on response from my readers, I do give voice to a large segment of the Catholic population. I get both positive and negative reactions which I expect since it is an opinion column.
This convocation column has nothing to do with the Karla Smith Foundation. My opinions about the church, and the convocation, are totally unrelated to the thousands of people dealing with mental illness or suicide that we have helped in the past ten years and will continue to assist for many years to come. Please do not hold them hostage because you disagree with my church-related opinions. I never have and never would mix any of my opinions about the church in with my work with KSF. I respect our clients and their struggles too much to involve them in my ideas about our church.
There is, however, a faith based dimension to KSF. We adopt an approach similar to Twelve Step programs: belief in a Higher Power is a critical part of recovery whether that recovery is from mental illness/substance abuse, the need to cope with the mental illness of a family member, or the suicide of a loved one. In fact, we recently launched a faith-based program we call Companions which partners a family coping with mental illness with a trained Companion who helps the family emerge from isolation and enter into community.
You mentioned that you planned to inform the convocation about the ministry of KSF and I thank you for that. I ask you to reconsider your decision to change that plan. As I said, my positions on church matters are not relevant to our KSF programs for those in need. If you survey our local mental health scene, you will find that KSF offers some services that no one else does and that there is an immense lack of services which is getting worse because of state funding cut-backs and St. Elizabeth's closing their Behavioral Health Unit. Faith based communities, including our Catholic parishes, can help fill that ever-widening gap and KSF has a program that can help.
There is a major, significant difference between the priests having dinner at Kmoll's and KSF holding our Dinner Auction at Bissinger's. We must have compassionate wealthy people at our fundraiser in order to raise the funds needed to serve our clients. Our commitment to the poor is manifested by our free service to any family dealing with mental illness or suicide. So, yes, we encourage, invite, and entice wealthy people to a venue that is comfortable to them in the hope that they will be generous to our mission. There is no such mission when the priests dine at Kmoll's as a function of the convocation.
In terms of the “tone” of my column: I really am not a bitter person and I am sorry that you read it that way. I see some things in our church that I would like to change and I write about them. I have degrees in theology so my opinions are not just “surface pot-shots.” I also know some church history and church teaching. I use a “chatty” style because people tend to read it more and I am comfortable with it. If you read my columns regularly, or my book of columns, you will find that that there are many times when I am very positive, upbeat, and complimentary about a variety of things in the church. My “nature” is to be positive and optimistic.
I'm afraid I could go on a lot more but I will mercifully stop here. Thank you for your patience if you got this far. I repeat that I apologize if I offended you and, as I said in the column: “Our pastors are on the front lines of the Church and deserve our respect and collaboration.” I believe that statement even when I disagree with some decisions and a variety of things in the church. I also repeat my willingness to dialogue in person.
May God bless all of you,
Responsesfrom FOSIL Readers
Stones Cry Out, the FOSIL newsletter, published
See the Winter, 2015, issue at the dark red link on the right top of this page.
Church Chat column returns; new Roger Scripture commentaries posted
Tom Smith has resumed writing his popular Church Chat essays. Click on the link in the red bar, above. One essay describes the new book and new website collecting Tom's Chat articles; another give his ideas on "big umbrella" Catholicism.
Roger Karban has been giving us several more of his Sunday-by-Sunday columns on the Scriptures; we post them as fast as we can. Click on the link in the red bar, above. Roger's beloved columns appear in diocesan newspapers, in the National Catholic Reporter, and in NCR's sister publication, Celebration.
Local Scripture Study Group Takes the Other Survey
Lester C. Himstedt 631 Ember Crest Drive Fairview Heights, IL 62208 618-726-7747
December 16, 2013
Rev. Monsignor Brian Bransfield Associate General Secretary 3339 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20008-3678
Bishop Edward K. Braxton Diocese of Belleville 222 South Third St.
Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri Via della Conciliazione 34-00120 Vatican City
Rev. Mr. George Mills, Jr. Corpus Christi Parish Office 206 Rasp St. Shiloh, IL 62269
We are a small community of faithful Catholics who gather regularly to study the Scriptures and pray together. We feel it important to participate in Pope Francis' request for comment on questions raised in preparation for the 2014 Synod on the Family.
We also respond because of Evangelii Guadium, which calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must pursue pastoral dialogue, “out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.” We are grateful for Pope Francis' request for comments on the all-important issue of Family, and offer our thoughtful and prayerful response in a survey found on the following pages, hopeful that it reflects the sensus fidelium of the faithful in the Church of Southern Illinois.
As many of our responses indicate, we feel the need to become a more forgiving Church community, rather than an organization promoting “rules” for families that conflict with today's Catholic family culture. We note simply that Pope Francis has criticized “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act.”
The Apostolic Church was open to change as witnessed in the New Testament; why shouldn't today's Church be open, too? We hope and pray that you find our effort helpful.
The survey responses that follow were developed with the assistance and/or approval of the following individuals:
Mary Ann Himstedt
Lester C. Himstedt Contact Person
SURVEY PREPARED FOR 2014 SYNOD ON THE FAMILY
Faithful Catholics of Southern Illinois
The Diffusion of the Teaching on the Family In Sacred Scripture and the Church's Magisterium
Describe how the Catholic Church's teaching on the values of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et Spes, Familiaris Consortio and other documents of the post conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today?
There's a real dichotomy between hierarchical preaching (Magisterium) and the lives of married couples (Families), easily confirmed by the latter simply ignoring Humani Vitae or, even worse, their mass exodus because of this teaching. Catholics continue to hear much against birth control and same sex relations but very little on how to foster family life. Catholic theology ignores societal changes over the centuries, e.g., the need for many offspring to help support families vs. the high cost of raising children today.
In those cases where the Church's teaching is accepted fully are there difficulties in putting it into practice. If so, what are they?
The hierarchy must recognize and accept the lived experience of couples which is so different from the clerical culture. Educated Catholics, especially those formed by Scripture, are more prepared to follow their conscience. They recognize that the Magisterium has moved from procreation as the primary goal of marriage to now include mutual support as an equal goal. The Church must recognize development in the realms of culture, medicine and society.
How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programs at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?
Catholic catechesis, including homilies, usually addresses “adult” morality and children's sacramental preparation separately. In addition, the Magisterium uses obtuse language to preach rather than speaking to the heart of families. While small parish communities are being closed family catechesis becomes even more rare in large parishes. Nor are there national or diocesan programs available. Large evangelical and Mormon churches, which have strong lay involvement, seem to promote family so much better than ours. Some parish practices that promote families include such things as requiring parents to be involved in their children's formation programs, or having small groups of couples gathering to share their family experiences.
To what extent---and what aspects in particular---is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church's teaching on the family?
Immigrants found their faith and family culture protected by their own parish priest. Today local culture has replaced church influence on Catholics because it is no longer the core of their educational or social life. The church's autocratic, monarchical style, rooted in clericalism, limits church influence in today's democratic and conscience-formed cultures.
Marriage According to Natural Law
What place does the idea of natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
People today are heavily influenced by modern scientific knowledge of human biology, reproduction, sexuality and psychology. They are not swayed by a theology based on ancient, outdated Aristotelian philosophy.
Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
No. American Catholics by and large favor equality of all peoples based on the current understanding of natural law. This certainly includes equal rights for all, including marriage for gays and lesbians, who are not seen as so-called “disordered”.
How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
American Catholics realize the fact that individuals who divorce and usually remarry may be unfortunate, but such decisions are for the most part not made lightly. The fact is that the failure of a love relationship is usually a very difficult experience. As a forgiving Church, Catholic communities everywhere must continue sacramental ministry to them; doing otherwise is a theological travesty.
Scripture documents early Christian struggle with this issue (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:12-15). However, canonical practice of marriage nullification today is almost universally derided as dishonest. Perhaps we should look to the practices of other communities for direction.
In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with.
Most diocesan policies deny sacramental marriage to such individuals. Some few pastors treat them with respect and even address the opportunity of a marriage in the internal forum or recommend acquaintances who will provide a religious ceremony.
Catholics who simply do not wish to be married in a Catholic ceremony in a church setting is the more serious issue. It is important for the Synod on the Family to address this issue.
The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization
What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic church” be promoted?
Pre-marital preparation is now universally required in American dioceses, but pastoral practice depends entirely on how well the local pastor and his associates provides this catechesis. Unfortunately, these one-time assessments focus more on compatibility rather than family values. Programs such as Cana and couples retreats are helpful resources, but the Church lacks both a solid theology or educational program to promote modern family life.
Liturgies have become more stilted and clergy-focused by recent changes mandated by the Vatican which limits a focus on family celebrations needed as an integral part of evangelization.
How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life's complexities and today's culture?
Formation of small faith communities, usually a lay initiative, sometime offers families an opportunity to pray as family. Sacramental preparation, where parents are encouraged to participate, often provides an opportunity to focus on family prayer.
In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?
Catholic parents simply try to lead lives with values their children can emulate, but their example is too often offset by rigid church doctrine and practice, such as that regarding gays and remarriage. The younger generation is fleeing the Church in record numbers because they hear, but do not see, the Christ that is preached.
In what way have the local churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?
While there are so many new organizations that the Vatican has touted as available for lay ministry (Communion & Liberation, Legionnaires of Christ, Opus Dei)), none of them address “family” as such. Aside from celebration of the annual Holy Family feast, the Church offers nothing.
What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and Christian family today?
The Old Testament shows that Jewish celebrations were originally begun to express gratefulness for their various harvests. Since celebration of the official Holy Days has fallen by the wayside the Church should consider utilizing national holidays as special days of family prayer and celebration such as Thanksgiving, Veterans Day and Independence Day. These would provide better opportunities for families to gather and celebrate national values within a family setting.
What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?
Programs such as Cana and couples retreats are helpful resources, but the Church lacks both a solid theology or educational program to promote modern family life.
Liturgies have become more stilted and clergy-focused by recent changes mandated by the Vatican which limits a focus on family celebrations needed as an integral part of evangelization. Formation of small faith communities, usually a lay initiative, sometime offers families an opportunity to pray as family;. Sacramental preparation, when parents are encouraged to participate, often provides an opportunity to focus on family prayer.
Families today usually use professional, social & medical resources provided by both religious and civil organizations in times of family crisis. While pastors do offer some family and crisis counseling, today they are most often referral agents.
Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
Is cohabitation ad experimentum, a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
A majority of couples cohabitate prior to marriage today. This is accepted culturally, with Catholics no different than anyone else. There are various reasons for cohabitation, e.g., financial dependence and incomplete education, but moral values rarely enter into the arrangement.
The “beginning” of marriage has always varied among cultures, which suggests that morality of cohabitation is always a work in process. Culture, rather than church catechesis, greatly influences when a marriage begins.
Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available.
Common law marriages are recognized in most states but regulations vary state by state, and same sex unions are gaining legal acceptance as either as civil unions or marriage.
Such statistics are possibly available through census data which could be available to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?
Yes they are, but such statistics would be difficult to ascertain. Divorce & remarriage carries little stigma in American culture. Denial of sacraments simply drives people away from any church practice.
Until the 5th century the Church recognized marriage as practiced by local custom. Perhaps such recognition, rather than the current canonical requirements, would help Catholics practice an authentic married life with a subsequent sacramental blessing reserved as a special milestone in their marriage.
Because of canonical restrictions pastors find these situations extremely difficult to resolve, especially when such couples attempt to be practicing Catholics. In some instances where pastoral care determines that the parties involved have acted in good conscience, the pastor counsels them in the internal forum.
In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?
Unfortunately, the Church presumes guilt by those living in a so-called irregular situation. Catholics are aware of Church doctrine, and yes they feel extremely marginalized. While pastoral care varies significantly, some pastors are welcoming and through the Rite of Christian Initiation and canonical nullification of a previous marriage welcome them back into full communion.
Other injured parties, though, are too often simply ignored and eventually leave the Church. Sensitive pastoral ministry can often alleviate pain for the parties, especially in light of Pope Francis' recent comment in another setting: “Who am I to judge”.
What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?
Too many innocent parties simply suffer in silence, accepting their presumed excommunication. Sensitive pastoral ministry to alleviate pain for the parties is critical.
Scripture documents early Christian struggle with this issue (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:12-15). We must also seek a reasonable resolution today since canonical practice of marriage nullification is almost universally derided as dishonest. Perhaps we should look to the practices of other communities for direction.
Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?
YES! Use of professional counselors rather than canonists would make the process more positive, and begin the process of nullification with the presumption that the petitioner is an innocent victim. The Church should develop a pastoral approach to examine the petitioner by assessing whether or not they are acting from a good, well-formed conscience. This process should be pastoral and positive vs. canonical and accusatory.
American clergy working in marriage tribunals in the 1970s petitioned the Vatican to reconsider and simplify canonical regulations and replace with a more pastoral approach. The 2014 Synod needs to address the issue.
Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God's mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?
Not a pastoral ministry! The Church needs to develop an approach dedicated to improve pastoral support of divorced Catholics, one which provides counseling and faith formation. It should begin the process of nullification with the presumption that the petitioner is an innocent victim . Catholics in this situation deserve a pastoral approach which examines whether or not they are acting from a good, well-formed conscience. This process should be pastoral and positive vs. canonical and accusatory with the recognition that Catholics have little understanding of the practice of canonical nullification.
Catholics need access to sacraments whatever their marriage status, for sacraments are intended to nurture and develop our faith. Simplification of the nullity process would be helpful, but would not totally resolve the issue.
On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?
Yes, and 18 individual states in the U.S. have enacted laws to recognize civil unions and/or marriage among same-sex couples. 60% of Americans, including Catholics, approve such unions. We are pleased that our State of Illinois is one of them.
What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches toward both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been very forceful in attacking legislation allowing such unions. Such efforts are considered a homophobic screed and a waste of critical resources by a majority of American Catholics.
Scriptural texts and the current understanding of human nature seem to accept natural tendencies in all of its variations. Those whom nature has created as “gay” or “lesbian” suffer needlessly from official church teaching. They and their families are unnecessarily driven away from the church by this teaching. Parents of gays and lesbians are especially hurt by such teaching.
What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
Officially the US hierarchy decrys such unions. But the question, which states “have chosen to live” presumes that gays and lesbians “choose” their lifestyle rather than being born into it. We note that the early version of the Catholic Catechism stated that no one chooses their sexuality. This is the question that needs to be addressed by the Church, as science and society have already done.
In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
At minimum, they should be treated the same as those couples who are living without benefit of a sacramental marriage. This presupposes that they are treated with real pastoral love and concern.
The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages
What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
There is a growing percentage of Catholic families that now must live apart from the sacramental life of the Church, namely, those in some proscribed, so-called irregular marriage. Pastoral care demands that the magisterium search for some pastoral vs. canonical way to bring them to full Catholic practice. Only then will their children be attracted to the same life-giving faith.
How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
They fall into two (2) categories: Those who simply disassociate themselves from the Church, and those who continue to seek acceptance of sacramental practice for their offspring. What they really ask for is a redefinition of the teaching of the Church, especially of the catechesis that finds them unfaithful, or worse, “disordered”.
How do the particular churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?
There is very little outreach to these children, simply because their parents are considered outcasts. That is the unspoken attitude of the mainstream hierarchy.
The very term “irregular marriage” sends a negative message & alienates these families from active church life. When parents do seek church formation for their children they are often accepted only as 2nd class citizens.
What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?
For the most part these children as considered 2nd class citizens, as are their parents. It takes courage for a pastor to publicly accept and mainstream parents and children.
The Openness of the Married Couple to Life
What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?
Contraception for Catholics is simply a non-issue, no matter how much or how often hierarchy and pastors reference humanae Vitae or the magisterium. They find such instruction intrusive in the most personal aspect of their lives and consider this a matter of their own conscience.
They mostly consider natural family planning an inconvenient an ineffective form of birth control. The laity apparently spoke as part of Paul VI's previous consultation, and when their advice was ignored Catholics in general simply ignored his encyclical on birth control. They continue to hope that the American hierarchy would address this issue head-on rather than approval of birth control by silence.
Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple's accepting this teaching?
As indicated previously, birth control is no longer an issue among Catholics, and is simply not discussed by the clergy.
What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae Vitae?
Dioceses occasionally promote a workshop, usually focused on family planning, but there is little interest shown by laity.
What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?
Confessors readily admit that this issue seldom comes up in the confessional. Lay Catholic practice also indicates that birth control prohibitions are simply ignored.
What differences are seen in this regard between the Church's and civic education?
Rules requiring separation of church and state in the U.S. prohibit discussion of moral values on this issue, so there is no comparison.
How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?
Pope Francis' recent call for financial equality among all people in Evangelii Gaudium really speaks to this issue. It would also be helpful if Catholic faithful be allowed a place at the hierarchical table to address the complexity and difficulties of raising families in today's environment.
The Relationship Between the Family & The Person
Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?
This would require a dramatic change in attitude and practice within the hierarchy, who are inclined to view their special vocation as “all-knowing” teachers rather than as pastors seeking to allow the laity a voice at the table. Voiceless people always tend to feel like outcasts, as they truly are.
What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person's encounter with Christ?
Loss of a job, prolonged and unresolved illness, divorce, death of a child, the list is endless and each one can potentially obstruct a person's encounter with Christ, unless the care of others wraps them in a comforting embrace. Church regulation and practice today have become a major obstruction to a person's encounter with the true Christ.
To what extent do the many crisis of faith which people can experience affect family life?
So many parents today see their children leaving the Church, and they are saddened for their loss. They often understand that Church doctrine and practice, which at times is so restrictive and unjust, especially to women, is the cause of this loss.
The parents themselves too often struggle as a result of these same inequities in Church structure.
Other Challenges and Proposals
What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?
Lay people, and especially lay & religious women, are the heart and soul of our church and need to be included more fully in the leadership of the church. Today's hierarchy, including local pastors, function within a clerical culture which is too privileged, self-serving and unaccountable for their actions.
Church ministry, including sacramental ministry, has evolved significantly over the centuries. It seems unchristian to a majority of Catholics today to limit access to Catholic sacraments because of a celibate, male mandate unlike that of the early, apostolic practice.