Pastoral Moral Guidance on the ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BILL – CBCP Document

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland
[Full text of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President’s Pastoral Moral Guidance, sent to Catholic in Asia March 3, 2015.]

Congress of the Philippines is poised to pass into law that was earlier known as the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bill, which is now more generally referred to as the anti-discrimination bill.  We are grateful that the CBCP was earlier asked by the relevant committees of the houses of Congress to submit its comments, and we did so.  But now, we deem it opportune to express ourselves collectively on the matter.

Non-Discrimination is a Christian Imperative

If discrimination means that certain individuals, because of sexual orientation or gender identity, are systematically denied fundamental human rights, then any measure that counters discrimination of this kind is a gesture of charity, one that reaches out to all and recognizes them in their inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God, called to new life in Jesus Christ.

This then is also the propitious time for us to call on all pastors throughout the country to be as solicitous of the pastoral welfare of all our brothers and sisters regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Their exclusion from the life of the Church, their treatment as outcasts, their relegation to the category of inferior members of the Church worthy only of derision and scorn certainly does not conform to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church as the sacrament of Divine mercy and compassion.

In this regard, the Church has much to contribute towards the education of Catholics to be more accepting of others and to see through appearances the Lord present in each brother and sister.  There can therefore be no more approval of parents who imbue in their children the loathing and disgust for persons with a different sexual orientation or with gender identity issues.  In Catholic institutions, there should be zero-tolerance for the bullying and badgering of persons in such personal situations.

Christian Anthropology and Consequences for Pastoral Care

The Church remains firm in its teaching however that reason discerns in the process of human evolution, the perpetuation of humankind, and the complementarity of the sexes, as well as from the very nature of sexuality itself that God’s image and likeness is found in either man or woman.  The Church therefore compassionately reaches out to persons with orientation and gender identity issues so that they may clearly discern, with a well-formed conscience, and in the light of the Divine plan for humankind, how they ought to live their lives.

In this regard, a common fallacy has to be contested.  Today, it is not uncommon to hear the assertion that the way a person chooses to live his or her life and with which gender to identify is purely a matter of personal sovereignty and choice.  Much is left to choice, but much is also a matter of human given-ness, a matter of human facticity.  From the perspective of Divine Revelation, much is not of the person’s doing but must be counted as God’s gift.  Among these are sexuality and gender. 

While contemporary psychology and psychiatry are far from unanimous on the causes of orientation and identity issues, it is as clear that the individual is not helpless in this regard. There are decisions a person can and must make.  There are mind-sets a person must either acquire or discard. 

On the basis of its understanding of the human condition, the Church cannot encourage persons to “choose” their gender, orientation, and sexual identity as if these were matters at the free disposal of choice.  The Church therefore looks to mature parents, school counselors, community workers, professional psychologists and personality experts, as well as to her own priests engaged in pastoral counseling, to help in the resolution of what, it must be admitted, are very difficult personal issues, always with understanding, compassion, acceptance of the inherent worth of the human person and attentiveness to what has been revealed to us about the human person.

We must also insist on the distinction between “orientation” and overt acts.  No one may be excluded from the life of the Church and its sacraments merely because of avowed orientation or identity.  However, the disapproval of homosexual acts remains part of the Church’s moral teaching, a consequence in fact of its understanding of human dignity.  If “gay rights” movements, for instance, encourage free and unbridled sexual relations between persons of the same sex, the Church cannot lend its support, for in its view, they ultimately do a disservice to our brothers and sisters.  What gay rights can legitimately champion is justice for all, fairness that must extend to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Proposed Law

Before anything else, CBCP must ask whether or not the proposed non-discrimination bill is itself a manifestation of that pernicious form of colonization to which Pope Francis referred in his recent visit to the Philippines.  Is this the “importation” into our country of values, behavioral norms and attitudes that the West has championed and peddled?

To the legislators who consider through future legislative initiatives giving legal recognition to same sex unions, the Church declares there is no equivalence or even any remote analogy whatsoever between marriage between a man and woman as planned by God and the so-called same sex unions.

Insofar as the proposed piece of legislation renders illegitimate the relegation of persons with sexual orientation and gender identity issues to citizens of a lower category enjoying fewer rights, the CBCP cannot but lend its support to this proposed legislative measure.

However, there are certain matters that the Church considers to be within its exclusive sphere of competence such as determining who should be admitted to priestly or religious formation, who should be ordained and received into Holy Order, or who should be professed as members of religious communities and orders.  The Church asserts its exclusive right to determine its own criteria and to exclude even on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity if it finds these to be hindrances to the fidelity that is expected of ordained or consecrated persons.  We believe that the Constitution of the Republic guarantees this under the “free exercise” clause of the fundamental law of the land.

In respect to Catholic schools and the guidance and counseling that it extends to its students, the CBCP herewith expresses its position that our Catholic schools remain at liberty to determine their own admission and retention policies on the basis of the manner in which the Supreme Court of the Philippines has developed the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom.  We must however reiterate that none must be demeaned, embarrassed, or humiliated for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Persons with homosexual orientation are sons and daughters of God; no less than any of us is.  Discrimination against them is contrary to the Gospel spirit. Verbal and physical violence against them is an offense against the good Lord Himself.  Through honest dialogue and pastoral accompaniment, it should be our goal to assist them to respond to the demands of chastity and that purity of body and heart that Jesus, in the Gospels, calls ‘blessed’.  When they wish to make an offering to the life of the Church according to their talents, abilities and gifts, the Church as mother provides for them.

Conclusion

We foresee that CBCP will be reproved for not going “all out” in its approval of homosexual and transsexual orientation and identity.  But we pray that all will understand that the deposit of faith is not owed to us, nor is it something we are free to modify or tailor to suit fad and fancy.

We conclude by reiterating our position that your bishops and priests welcome all of God’s sons and daughters, that there is room in the Church for all, whatever our personal conditions, gifts as well as burdens might be, and the Church will be tireless in extending its support and care for those in the midst of personal conflict who must make crucial decisions for themselves in the light of the new life Christ offers us all!

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, March 3, 2015

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

 President, CBCP

 

LEAVE THE RABBITS IN PEACE!! – CBCP President on Pope Francis interview

The Pope NEVER made the rather unseemly remark that Catholics breed like rabbits. Everyone is encouraged to read both on print and on social media the transcript of the Papal interview aboard Philippine Airlines that flew the Holy Father back to Rome.

What the Pope DID SAY was that some Catholics mistakenly believe that to be Catholic, we ought to breed like rabbits — and prior to using that simile, he knew that it was harsh and so said “excuse the expression” — but it was apt and it brought home the point. And the point is that the Church has always taught that it is a Catholic obligation to be RESPONSIBLE about parenthood. Births should be planned rationally by both parents who must always remain open to new life, but who must also take into consideration their physical, financial and emotional capacity to raise children. It is not correct for a Catholic to assume the attitude: “Come what may!” This is traditional Church teaching that the Pope was reiterating, and it should be especially relevant to us Filipinos who are grappling with population issues.

It will also be important to go back to the Pope’s words at his meeting with families at MOA. There he said that Blessed Paul VI in his much-maligned Humanae Vitae prophetically understood that nations would be impoverished in the measure that they assume an anti-birth stance. The experience of aging nations with only a handful of youngsters to take on the jobs necessary for a country’s survival and growth has proved Blessed Paul VI right. At the same time, Paul VI urged PASTORS to be sensitive to PARTICULAR CASES, referring to cases that called to carefully balanced, prayerfully calibrated solutions in accordance with a well-formed conscience and in the context of the guidance received from the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

And this is certainly significant teaching for our time.

Let us leave the rabbits in peace!

But where was Asia? – Cardinal Tagle post-synod

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle hosted a media briefing on the recently concluded Synod on the Family at Arzobispado, Intramuros, Oct. 30, 2014. - NJ Viehland Photos

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle hosted a media briefing on the recently concluded Synod on the Family at Arzobispado, Intramuros, Oct. 30, 2014. – NJ Viehland Photos

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in his first Philippines media briefing after the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family closed in Rome Oct. 19 spent a few hours with journalists today to report on the synod.

Here’s just one of many concerns, views, emotions and learnings he shared :

As a President Delegate, I attended so many press conferences in the Vatican because daily there was a press briefing and press conference.

On the second press conference that I attended, it just shook me – there was not a single Asian journalist among the hundreds and hundreds of international journalists. Sad to say there was not a single African journalist also.

The Sala Stampa, the press office, was really dominated by the West. So I asked myself, “Who will report on the concerns of Asia? Who will report on the voice of Asia being raised in the Synod hall?

And that is precisely the concern of the Synod – that the various and diverse situations and challenges surface.

So maybe your outfits could assign some of you full-time in the Vatican, so when things happen you don’t just rely on reports of others and you report these. Because the things you are reporting now, if they come from other sources are somewhat filtered already according to their concerns.

That’s why when I was interviewed by the Italian TV2000 and I expressed the concerns of Asia, the interviewer said, we have not heard that. I replied – because Europeans and people of the West are all who are in the press conference.

So I was a bit busy going to the press conferences just to be able to share our concerns in Asia.

I know for a fact that some people thought that the only topic discussed in the synod was divorce and gay union. I assure you, those were discussed. But I also assure you those were not the only concerns.

And for the Filipino media to have a more comprehensive reporting, I will give you the other concerns

[Note : Some words/sentences translated from Tagalog]

More to follow

Post-Synod thoughts – CBCP President Villegas

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. - NJ Viehland Photos

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan / NJ Viehland Photos

THE SPIRIT BLOWS WHERE HE WILL!
Random Thoughts at the Close of the Synod

I have just finished attending the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convened by the Holy Father, Pope Francis.  It was my privilege not only to listen to the debates and interventions.  I also had the privilege of addressing the assembly on the role of the clergy in family renewal.  Much has been written and reported on in respect to this event, truly momentous in the life of the Church.  It is my duty, as President of the CBCP, and as a Synodal father, to share with you these thoughts at the conclusion of the synod.  It is, as has repeatedly been underscored, only the prelude of more complete discussions in the future that we all eagerly await.

INCLUSIVE AND FAITHFUL LOVE

There are two concerns of the Church: first, the Church must be able to extend to all that hospitality, that care, that mercy that Jesus ordained would be the mark of his community, his Body, the Church.  None should be systematically excluded because of circumstances personal to the individual.  All should be aided in the path of constant conversion and renewal.  All should be offered the hope of the Gospel.  All should be comforted by the love of brothers and sisters in the One Body of Christ. In this regard, Pope Francis warned us of the temptation to be simply “do-gooders”, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.

In the name of misplaced mercy Pope Francis said we face the temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

The other concern is as legitimate as the first: that the Church must preach a message that is not just a concession to popular demand, but is truly Christ’s, and that the Church must remain constantly docile to the prompting of the Spirit.  This is the reason that the Church must be unceasingly devoted to that discernment by which we all seek out the will of God and read from the Gospels, as interpreted by the Tradition of the Church in a living faith, a response to the questions of our time. There is also a temptation, according to Pope Francis, of  hostile inflexibility that is, wanting to close oneself within the written the letter and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises; within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous.

HURTING FAMILIES

Filipinos who presently find themselves in irregular relationships — live-in unions, de facto separation from spouses and partnerships with other persons — must be helped by pastors particularly by the Sacrament of Penance, to follow the demands of true and unselfish love in the Spirit of the Gospel. We cannot presume to judge and condemn.  Rather, the presumption should be that there is a genuine effort on their part to live according to the demands of our faith.  The danger of scandal should never stand in the way of genuine charity, and the Catholic faithful must be reminded that much of what Jesus did was scandalous to the ‘righteous’ of his time.  Where, however, in the pastoral assessment of bishops and priests, the full and unqualified admission of persons in irregular unions to the life of the Church causes charitable and sincere Catholics to doubt and misunderstand the teaching of the Church, then some prudent arrangement must be worked out that will be beneficial to all.

PERSONS WITH SAME SEX ATTRACTION

Persons with homosexual orientation are sons and daughters of God; no less than any of us is.  Discrimination against them is contrary to the Gospel spirit. Verbal and physical violence against them is an offense against the good Lord Himself.  Through honest dialogue and pastoral accompaniment, it should be our goal to assist them to respond to the demands of chastity and that purity of body and heart that Jesus, in the Gospels, calls ‘blessed’.  When they wish to make an offering to the life of the Church according to their talents, abilities and gifts, the Church as mother provides for them.

To the legislators who consider giving legal recognition to same sex unions, the Church declares there is no equivalence or even any remote analogy whatsoever between marriage between a man and woman as planned by God and the so-called same sex unions.

We can be tempted to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing, said Pope Francis.

CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

In facing our Catholic brethren in painful broken marriage situations or our brothers and sisters with homosexual attraction quietly struggling to be chaste, Pope Francis said we must avoid two temptations: The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast; and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick, add to their already unbearable burdens.

Our Filipino Catholic laity must be fully engaged in the apostolate of the family for the family is precisely the competence of lay persons.  Active Catholic couples are asked to lead in initiatives that assist couples in living the reality of the sacrament of matrimony, and in the rearing of their families according to the spirit of the Gospel.  Our bishops and pastors encourage and support these lay initiatives.

I wish to borrow this prayer at the end of the Message to the People of God at the conclusion of the synod:

Laguna,NJ Viehland

Husbands, wives serve in farmers’ cooperative in Laguna,NJ Viehland

Father, grant to all families

the presence of strong and wise spouses

who may be the source of a free and united family.

Father, grant that parents

may have a home in which to live

in peace with their families.

Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila,NJ Viehland

Father, grant that children may be signs of trust and hope

and that young people may have the courage

to forge life-long, faithful commitments.

Alabang,NJ Viehland

Workers packing coffee in Alabang,NJ Viehland

Father, grant that all may be able to earn bread with their hands,

that they may enjoy serenity of spirit

and that they may keep aflame the torch of faith even in periods of darkness.

Elderly people dance during party by Ed Gerlock

Elderly people dance during party by Ed Gerlock

Father, grant that we may all see flourish,

a Church that is ever more faithful and credible,

a just and humane city,

a world that loves truth, justice and mercy.

 

Rome, October 19, 2014

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

CBCP President

 

Prayer for the Filipino family

Last month’s Symposium on the Filipino Family: Catholic and Women’s Perspectives organized by the Theology Department of the Jesuit-owned Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City opened with a moving prayer-slideshow prepared and led by theology instructor Maria Elisa A. Borja.(rightmost in photo).

Speakers and organizers of the Symposium on the Filipino Family: Catholic and Women's Perspectives. Extreme right is Maria Elisa A. Borja - NJ Viehland Photos

– NJ Viehland Photos

The inter-disciplinary event involving women sociologists and theologians was inspired by Pope Francis’ encouragement and the upcoming synod on the family to dialogue about the situation of Filipino families and Church teaching on women and the family, organizers said.

Following is the text of the prayer for all who wish to join in praying for a fruitful Synod on the Family to run in Rome Oct. 5-19.

A Prayer for The Filipino Family by Maria Elisa A. Borja, Ph.D. cand.
(inspired by A Prayer for Children by Ina C. Hughes)

Heavenly Father, we come to you. Listen to our prayer for the Filipino family.

We pray for Filipino families filled with selfless love and joy,
but also for families that are plagued with hatred and selfishness

We pray for Filipino families who live by OHANA…
where “nobody gets left behind or forgotten”
but also for families who leave each other behind,
who alienate and forget one another

We pray for Filipino families who come to church and say their daily rosary together,

Children and relatives of inmates greet priest after Sunday Mass at Maximum Security prison chapel - NJ Viehland Photo

Sunday Mass, maximum security prison chapel,Muntinlupa City           – NJ Viehland Photos

but more so, for families who do not celebrate Sunday mass together,
and those who do not pray at all

We pray for Filipino families who eat together and share stories and laugh,

By Ed Gerlock

– Ed Gerlock Photos

but most especially for families who do not eat together,
who do not share, and who do not laugh

We pray for Filipino families bonded and whole,
but also for families broken and fragmented

broken by separation or divorce
broken by alcoholism or drug abuse
broken by physical, verbal or psychological abuse

We pray for Filipino families who live comfortably
but more so, for those who have nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep,
who cannot work or study
who suffer in poverty

Quezon City, NJ Viehland

We pray for Filipino families whose love sees through
the struggle of caring for a special child or aging parent,
but also those who are tired and feel so burdened by it

We pray for Filipino families who have a father, a mother, children and relatives
and those who have no fathers, no mothers,
whose parents are working far away in another country,
whose mothers mother other children
so they cannot mother their own

Airport by NJ Viehland

Boy at airport                   – NJ Viehland Photos

We pray for two-parent Filipino families,
but most especially, for single parents,
for solo mothers and those who live in dire poverty
because they have to raise a family alone

We pray for families who do outreach
and reach out to the bigger human family,
but more so for those who are exclusive, who separate,
who don’t care about any other family but their own,
who discriminate against those who aren’t part of their family

We pray for Filipino families who build each other up,
but also for families who tear each other down

We pray for Filipino families who have lost their faith in You, Lord,
and lost faith in each other
Filipino families dealing with painful memories that haunt them at night
Filipino families struggling to make it through another day
Filipino families consumed by material goods but empty in spiritual things

We pray for every Filipino family,
with two parents or one
for widows/widowers and orphans

Iriga, NJ Viehland

Fatima Center for Human Development, Iriga City         – NJ Viehland Photos

We pray for stronger fathers
stronger mothers,
greater bonds of love

Man and baby - NJ Viehland Photos

Man and baby       – NJ Viehland Photos

We pray for the bigger Christian family, who is Church,
that all may feel welcome, loved and at home in it,
especially the least, the last and the lost

Listen to our prayer, Lord

May the Holy Family of Nazareth be our strength and our guide,
May the Blessed Mother who is Mother of Jesus
and therefore, mother of us all, intercede for every Filipino family

We ask this in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of us all,
in unity with the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

A Synod on the Family! But where are the families? – Commentary

Muntinlupa prison,NJ Viehland

Maximum security prison chapel, Muntinlupa City                        – NJ Viehland Photos

 

Latin hymns are a distant memory today. They had been thrown out with liturgical solemnity. Nonetheless, a few sacred masterpieces remain etched deep in people’s psyche. “O esca viatorum” is one such hymn with a sacramental impress. 

That Eucharistic song reminds us of how Jesus broke bread as esca viatorum — wayfarers’ food – with two disciples en route to Emmaus. The manna-like role of the Eucharist was especially evident at the Last Supper.

Sustenance to the harried

When Jesus shared bread with his Apostles, he was not unaware of the imminent betrayal by Judas or the denial by Peter. Jesus communed with them, nonetheless. He was not unaware that almost all of his fellowship members would desert him that same night. Yet, he also knew such communing would sustain most of them in faith — food for the onward journey.

That healing effect of the Sacrament of love may have been very much in Pope Francis’s thoughts when he addressed Eucharistic congress organizers at September-end. He spoke of the Eucharist’s role “in bearing hope, forgiveness, healing and love to all in need, in particular to the poor, the disinherited and the oppressed …walking with them in search of an authentic human life in Christ Jesus.”

Walking with people?

Sadly, the great Sacrament’s role in “walking with” people on their search through life’s problems has been thwarted often by efforts to distort the Eucharist into a disciplinary tool. The ongoing debate about denying Communion to couples in troubled marriages is an example of such intervention.

Already, some laypersons have been driven away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation by abuse of the confessional or its reduction to a disciplinary tribunal. Such misadventures should caution pastors against denying the Eucharist to some faithful just when they need the Sacrament for spiritual sustenance in fellowship.

Marikina, by NJ Viehland

Mission sending, Couples for Christ, Marikina                                          – NJ Viehland Photos

Much evident vacuum

Some theologians’ efforts to distract the upcoming synod with disciplinary issues are not unlike half-century-ago moves to hijack Church renewal with cosmetic liturgical reform.

The Synod on the Family is already hassled with lack of genuine lay participation. Very much like earlier synods on family and laity, this assembly too appears to be overcrowded with bishops and experts. Hence, it is likely to ventilate perceived views on family issues more than the genuine views of families. In fairness to Christian families, such an unrepresentative assembly should not be further abused as a referendum on divorce.

A lesson for the next synod

Providentially, this two-week synod is to be followed up next year by a month-long synod on family-related matters. The experiences of the upcoming assembly should encourage Church leaders to provide for genuine representation of families at the follow-up synod. Such a synod with active participation of families should be left free to discuss real problems troubling modern families. Also, families should be left free to find faith-based solutions suitable to their specific cultural realities.

No doubt, such a family synod would need wise counsel, not impositions, from pastoral fora experienced in “walking with” families in the Eucharistic role noted in the earlier cited papal discourse. Regional family ministries and regional episcopal bodies will be more competent to offer such counsel than quirky lobbies with a kink to tamper with the ethos of local family life. 

END

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Cardinal Tagle highlights issues, concerns from pre-Synod feedback

Nuns were among people who attended Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle's lecture at Loyola School of Theology Sept. 3, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

Nuns were among people who attended Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s lecture at Loyola School of Theology Sept. 3, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, one of three presidents of October’s Synod on the Family, presented to professors, students and guests at the Sept. 3 Theological Hour of Loyola School of Theology highlights of the responses to a pre-synod survey of dioceses that are incorporated in the synod’s working document or Instrumentum Laboris.

Following are excerpts of this section of his lecture, from a personal recording of his lecture (words in parentheses are the reporter’s)… Cardinal Tagle said: I just have to enumerate some of the topics and I hope you don’t look at them simply as a list of concerns. Give yourselves time to ponder and see whether these concerns are part of our experience. If not then they might be speaking of concerns of other people.

In our Council (of the Synod of Bishops) of 15 persons, the discussion could be at one time heated, at another hilarious. We from Asia and from Africa would say, “Wait, wait wait, that is again a north Atlantic concern. That’s not our concern in Asia and Africa. Let me tell our stories…” They would say, “Wait, wait wait, that is the concern in Asia, not in Europe.” It’s good that we are able to listen to one another, and I tell you, those were tiring discussion, but moments of pure reflections.

I would always come home from Rome attending those meetings with my mind, my imagination ready to explode just trying to enter into the world of some people – the stories I heard from Africa, stories that I heard or testimonies from refugee camps and the impact of war on families. Sometimes I said to myself, “Oh, our concerns are really cute, really cute.” Couples separate because, “I don’t like ube (purple yam) ice cream.” Then we have stories about families really torn apart by war. How do you minister to families among the stateless people? Many of them are in Asia.

DSC_0014

 In the past, when we talked of interreligious dialogue, theologians came to mind…but now it seems to be happening worldwide. Interreligious dialogue must happen in the families. And how it worked? Our people were getting married to engage in interreligious dialogue on a daily basis not just in the classroom. The dialogue in the classroom ends, but if you’re married to someone who does not belong to the same faith or religion, how do you engage in that for life? Are we equipping, are we preparing our Christians and families to be agents of interreligious dialogue? It’s a different type of communication skill….

What one of the writers of this Instrumentum Laboris (working paper) did was to organize this narrative of responses into three main sections. I think there were 12 people who worked on the collation and the summary of the responses – half of them women, half of them males so that the different perspectives would be there.

Communicating the Gospel of the Family in Today’s World

Ed Fermin of Miriam College hands to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle the working document of the Congress on the Filipino Family convened by school family councils, PTA particularly from Catholic Schools - NJ Viehland Photos

Ed Fermin of Miriam College hands to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle the working document of the Congress on the Filipino Family to be convened by school family councils and parent-teacher-associations particularly from Catholic Schools – NJ Viehland Photos

The first section was titled Communicating the Gospel of the Family in Today’s World. Remember, the synod of bishops is about evangelization. It is the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization. The latest synod was on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith. So the theme continues but now focused on the challenges of and to the family.

When we think of family, does evangelization enter our mind? Do we connect the pastoral care of the family to evangelization? This is the one big chunk. The responses affirm that the family is mostly Good News. The family is Gospel. It is Good News. The Gospel of the family – and I guess all of us can resonate with that. We in Asia our joys are always connected to the family. Our pride and also our sorrows are always connected to the family.

The family is Gospel – especially because the family is part of God’s plan for humanity, for revelation and even for salvation. This plan of God for the family, for marriage is contained in the Scriptures and the many documents of the Church. It is intimately related to the vocation of the person and, in the tradition of the Church, to natural law.

Now, I pick up some of the concerns and what I think will be applicable for a school of theology and for people engaged in pastoral work. One big concern that emerged in this section is related to the knowledge and acceptance of the faithful – by the faithful – of the teaching of the Church and the Bible regarding the family.Responses show that the level of knowledge and acceptance varies from place to place. Generally speaking, the Biblical teaching regarding the family is quite widespread but there is much work that remains to be done in terms of appreciation of the Biblical teaching regarding marriage and family.

How about the documents of the Church? – Gaudium et Spes, Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, and all the many statements of the episcopal conferences, homilies of the pope, etc.? The knowledge of conciliar and post-conciliar documents does not seem to have taken a foothold in the faithful’s mentality. In some parts of the world, they have no knowledge of those documents. This came up in the survey.

So, our commentary on it is this: While the content is important – family and marriage – it seems that in this first portion, the question is really that of evangelization. In a school of theology, I think you’d be interested in addressing some of the concerns that surfaced in the discussions. Aside from the dissemination – they say, oh, priests do not even know those documents, how can they talk about it? The responses say our parish priest never mentioned any of those documents, probably he does not know those documents exist. But not our graduates of LST !You know it’s a joke!

How about our pastoral workers? Our catechists? Our family life ministers? Do they know of these documents? Have they studied those documents? From where do they draw their so-called teaching about marriage and family? Do they come from Scripture and from their immersion to the will of God? Are these as contained in Scripture and the documents of the Church?

Another concern – the language of Church documents. The language of Church documents probably must shift as cultures and mindsets shift and we have here a test case – natural law. We did a survey in the Council – what do people think now when they hear the word “natural”? It’s quite different from the philosophical use of the word “natural” in natural law. For some people, natural is spontaneity. If I don’t like you, and I tell you, “I don’t like you,” that’s natural. I’m not going against my nature. So they say, if we quote Church teaching using the language of natural law, some people might say, “Oh, natural law, so if this is spontaneous to me I’m following natural law.” “Ah, what a beautiful girl. She’s married. Uh – natural law – I’m attracted to her so I’m obeying natural law.”

So the challenge is we experts presume that our language which is clear to us is absorbed by others in the same way that we understand it. Not anymore, so we have to review the language of the Church. In fact, there’s a proposal already – instead of talking of natural law – can we be more Biblical? Narrative – the use of narrative, the use of symbols – and we speak also to peoples of other faiths and cultures for how many people still get formal training in natural law theory? Related to that is the question of evangelization – related to the language of the Church.

Do we consciously, deliberately factor in the emerging mentalities of the time and how these emerging mentalities, perspectives and culture influence our people’s view of reality – people’s view of themselves, people’s view of family and relationships?

Another area, they say, we should look into – training, the formation of the clergy, the religious, the pastoral workers. Why are they incapable of communicating effectively the Gospel of family? They say, how come the media are more powerful? They are able to penetrate minds and hearts of people whereas the Sunday homily does not. So one of the recommendations is – please review the whole section of Evangelii Gaudium on the homily.

So, we’re not even talking about the content of the Gospel, but we are talking here about evangelization and we, of course, are put on the spot. And then they also say, maybe we should also take the path of beauty – the world of the laity – by witnessing to the beauty, the joy of married life. Maybe people will be attracted to marriage and Christian marriage, especially.

Without negating the role of the clergy in teaching.. they say, when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel of the family and of marriage, the lay people, especially the married ones, should assume the main role. I attended years ago a whole-day congress of the family. The first speaker was a religious woman. The second speaker was a priest. The third speaker was a bishop. The fourth was the bishop again – in the homily of the Mass. No one realizes, where are the lay people? Where are the married people? I said if you will invite me again for the same congress and this is the same line-up of speakers I will not attend. Of course they got mad at me. That’s the reason they did not invite me again.

We’re making a statement. It’s about marriage. It’s about family life. If I may expand this – what do the bishops say about charter change? Why us again? What do the lay people who took political science and the constitution – why not speak up? Why us again and again and again? So we talk about marriage. We talk about the things that lay people know better…I’m just giving some example.

Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges

The second section is titled The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges. So, the Holy Father has been stressing we cannot avoid doctrinal and moral discussions, but the whole thrust of the extraordinary assembly is really the pastoral care of the family. So in this whole second section, new challenges – I don’t know if some of them are really new. Some of them have been with us for centuries – but the challenges that our contemporary families are facing, what are these then?

The first to be identified is the crisis of faith and its impact on family life. But it seems that this crisis of faith is not confined to the Catholic Church. We got a report that among some countries in Europe, while the practice of Catholic faith has declined dramatically, it has declined more dramatically among the Protestant Churches. And among the Jews, there’s an increasing number of what they call “cultural Jews” or not practicing – in the same way that we have cultural Catholics – baptized, with certificates, married in Church, confirmed, received the First Holy Communion from the archbishop, but all of it cultural.

Now the big question for us here is when people come to us for sacramental marriage, is faith a consideration? When people continue living in marriage, sustaining their family, is faith the motivation? In a context of a world where faith is considered as superfluous, even irrelevant, does faith still influence people’s choice about marriage and staying in marriage? Is marriage simply a social or cultural event? This question arises not only for people who come to us for marriage, but even in the day to day living of commitment. Is faith the reason why they remain committed to one another? So the question to ask is how can we make faith again one of the primary motivations for entering into sacramental marriage and to remain committed to married life?

Here, some questions about sacraments – the theology of sacraments and the pastoral approach to the preparation and the post-sacramental guidance that we give to people who are married post-marriage. I think we can all tell stories about how, not only marriage, but the other sacraments as well, have become social and cultural events and not anymore events of faith. So the question is how does it impact marriage and family life?

You start your married life with faith as the one significant factor. Do you expect people to remain faithful to each other in marriage and to the family because of faith? So even in our theology of sacraments… a big part is pre-sacramental preparation. There are a lot of seminars for baptism, confirmation, first confession, first communion, marriage. But the question is: Is there a pastoral program post-sacramental? How do we guide the newly baptized? How do we guide the newly confirmed? How do we guide the newly married? I do not know of any viable post-sacramental program existing in parishes and in dioceses. We spend so much time in the preparation, and afterwards there’s no sustaining guidance. If we look at the catechesis, the catechetical guidelines of the Fathers of the Church, some of them are post-sacramental: Do you recall the oil that was poured on you and how the oil felt as it flowed on your cheeks, etc… It is a reflection in life now of the grace of the sacrament received. So – there is the crisis of faith.

The second area here is very real. I don’t have time to explain everything, but these are some of the critical situations that have been identified pertaining to marriage and family.

1. Communication difficulties. This is not new. But I think what is lamented here is that we have many means of communicating – we have the cellphone, we can text, we have the Internet, we have the e-mail, but the question is have these means and gadgets really taught us how to communicate or are they merely means of transferring information swiftly? Just that, but no communication is happening. Even on an international level, we see a breakdown in communication – countries, heads of state, who don’t know how to communicate. Of course they have access to the most modern means of communication, but they are not communicating.

Priests and their superiors – when I want to talk to a priest I don’t use a cellphone. Because I say, where are you? I’m in the chapel. How do I know? I use the landline. I call Father, he’s not here. If you use the cellphone – where are you? I’m in the adoration chapel. Why did you answer your phone if you’re in adoration?

2. Another: violence and abuse – especially of women and the girl-child.

3. Different forms of dependence and addictions – we know the effects of these on relationships.

4. The uncritical use of media, and the values being communicated by media.

5. Now here – work and the competitiveness of the consumerist world. People work work work. They don’t have time to have coffee or tea with their spouses. They don’t “waste time,” as they say, with their children. They excuse this by saying, “We have to work” and they are “working for you.

6. Migration, of course. We were talking about divorce, when the Council asked me, “Do you have legal divorce in the Philippines?” I said no. Do you have legal separation in the Philippines? Well, there is legal separation. But many couples are separated not because they hate one another, but because poverty pushes them to leave their families. It’s a different type of separation. It’s not separation that’s “good riddance” but separation with pain. I became a bit dramatic discussing that.

Then I asked them, do you have Filipino migrants in your dioceses? They said yes. Do you have pastoral programs for those migrants so they will remain faithful to the families they’ve left? They say no because the only type of separation they know is divorce.

7. Poverty, consumerism, individualism and the scandals in the Church. The scandals in the Church, especially those committed by the clergy, some responses say these have had a big impact on the family and how the family has even justified the breakdown. Some say, how can they judge us, when they’re unfaithful. Look at our priests, they’re also unfaithful. So the counter-influence of infidelity.

Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila,NJ Viehland

8. Societal expectations – Some children don’t have a time for leisure. They don’t enjoy games on weekends. They have to work, even during summer breaks. They expect it.

9. Wars, the refugee problem, disparity of cult. These are some difficult situations, but connected to them are the difficult pastoral situations that are confronted by the Church.

10. Co-habitation, living together ad-experimentum, and there’s no more wedding because they say, we are poor, the government does not give us housing, and so why marry and become miserable? De-facto unions, which is connected to co-habitation – “Let us live together “- and in some countries those de-facto unions, without marriage or civil recognition now enjoy some rights.

11. And of course, the separated, the divorced and re-married divorced people. Here, the children are left alone.

12. Teen mothers, who often end up being single mothers.

13. Canonical irregularities in the reception of the sacrament. This has been discussed over and over again – divorced and remarried whether they can receive Holy Communion

14. The canonical procedures for the declaration of nullity of marriage – There’s a call to simplify the process or to de-centralize the process for the declaration of nullity of marriage and to make it cost-friendly. They are too costly.

15. What do we do with non-practicing Catholics – baptized, but non-practicing Catholics – who get married sacramentally, when you know they are not practicing, but they’re Catholics?

16. Same sex union, and the pastoral care of the children, because some of them have adopted

Challenges to a school of theology

These are some of the critical and difficult situations. What are some of the challenges to a school of theology?

The survey indicated a fluidity – the fluidity of a temporary understanding of family and marriage. In the past, we had a stable understanding of marriage. A man and a woman. Now it’s fluid, and in fact, some reports said, there are moves to delete or remove the word “marriage” because the word is too confining. The word marriage involves only a man and a woman, so they say remove that and replace it with union because it is more open – a man and a man, a woman and a woman, a man and a woman, a man and a chair ! We don’t want to be restricted. We want to use marriage and then find a man, but we’re limited by that word to choose a woman, but if we use the word union – ahhh – it’s now open.

This is related to the shifts in anthropology – understanding the human person, the understanding of freedom, the understanding of conscience. How can the Christian institutes of learning contribute to the whole discussion?

Going to our pastoral responses – it was also indicated that the Holy Father was deeply touched by this. In most of the reports, we were told that couples in irregular marital situations feel shamed and even condemned by the Church. They feel that because of the irregularity of their situation they don’t belong to the Church and the Church does not have room for them so they distance themselves.

So the question arose then – how do we reach out to them and assure them that in the Church they still find a community and home? How can we pastorally guide them, especially their children? How can we help them draw hope especially in their painful situation? And the Holy Father even list some questions because in some Churches children are denied Baptism when the pastors learn that the parents are in an irregular canonical situation.

So for theologians, the question raised for us to reflect on is what are sacraments? Are sacraments rewards to the righteous? Are sacraments to be used as punishment – in this case -of innocent children? Can we deny sacraments to children who belong to families that are in irregular canonical and sacramental situations? How do we blend these formulas in Christian teaching yet showing the hope that God offers to people in painful situations?

Let me go to the last portion. This is supposed to be a theological hour, so the third section is titled Openness to Life – the transmission of life and parental responsibility in upbringing of children. This section I think is very much welcome. It talks about openness to life. Openness to the transmission of life – the whole issue of contraception, the whole question of individualistic mentality, that is brought into our attitude about life and the transmission of life were very much present in those questions.

Related to the issue of contraception and individualism are also what we have already mentioned are the difficult shifts in anthropology and the understanding of the human person, the gender ideology, and so the questions therefore of fatherhood and motherhood….and the entry of the gender issue and same sex marriage and what happens to concepts of fatherhood and motherhood. I remember there was a movie titled “Ang Tatay kong Nanay” something like that. So what happens to motherhood? Is that concept still valid? Is it an empty concept? What happens to fatherhood?

Responses also said that the teaching of Humanae Vitae and other documents of the Church should be captured and transmitted in its fullness for they are not teachings about contraception and natural methods, but about the decisive human experience of love. This is the main context and should be the main context in our discussion of the openness to life and the transmission of life. It’s not just about a method, it’s about an experience of a radical and decisive experience of loving that makes you generous to life.

This section included the transmission of the faith in the transmission of life. So the whole question of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist – and they ask the question why are parents hesitant to transmit the faith? Why do they pass on the responsibility to Catholic schools and catechists? If you run a Catholic school, you hear parents say this often: “That’s why I sent my child to your school for you to teach him or her about the faith!” I say, “Well, what are you doing better? That’s part of transmission of life, you transmit the faith also. Why are you making us the surrogate transmitters of life and faith?” It seems to be a universal experience. They hire a catechist, they hire tutors, they send their children to Catholic schools and say, that’s your mission – transmit the Catholic faith to them while the parents do nothing. The question is why? Why are they hesitant to do that?

Manila catechists and Catholic school teachers -NJ Viehland Photos

Manila catechists’ and Catholic school teachers’ conference on family -NJ Viehland Photos

Transmission of life and faith must be a concerted effort of the wider Christian family – of the schools, the parishes, the lay movements with special attention to the godparents. They said if the child comes from a family with an irregular situation, maybe we can tap more fully the godparents for the transmission of the faith. But then again, the question is how do we choose godparents and are godparents still aware of their role in the transmission of faith? Parang (As if) it’s a whole review of the whole sacramental practice also.

And because of migration, we said we should take care of the grandparents who are now parenting their grandchild. In fact some grandparents are requesting for seminars on parenting their grandchildren. They said I’m supposed to be a grandfather, not a father to these children. How do I conduct myself as a father when I am a grandfather? I don’t know whether it is an academic question or an existential question. That’s why grandparents spoil their grandchildren – because they’re behaving like grandparents, not as parents. What do you say to the children, and what pastoral program do we have to equip grandparents as parents?

And finally they say, in all of this, can we be creative and joyful in our approach to the family? This is the complexity of the issue. Any person, any group who claims they have clearly defined answers to all of these questions and difficulties are deluding themselves. That’s why this synod in October will be spent on how, and serious listening, and entering worlds that are not familiar to us – the complexity of issues, the diversity of cultures and situations.

When we engaged in one discussion of the canonical nullity of marriage the Holy Father pointed to the full will. He said maybe many marriages are not valid because of lack of will. Playing devil’s advocate, I said, what do you say to this: In Asia, there are some cultures that arrange marriages and spouses meet each other a few days before marriage, or the day before marriage. I know a couple of Chinese descent. Their marriage is arranged. They just celebrated their 40th anniversary of marriage. The four children, their marriages were not arranged. They were free to court anyone, they were free to get married to anyone, unfortunately, three of those marriages ended up in separation. Which is the valid marriage? Will we declare arranged marriage as invalid for lack of will? And declare those separated as marriages still valid because you chose and while they chose, they separated.

That question of mine ilicited a response from an African bishop. That bishop said that is happening in some sub-cultures in Africa. He said the key is with arranged marriage, clans intervene when there are problems and they help the couple to sustain their marriage. So the complexity of the issue – it’s just fascinating to listen to each other – and the invitation to institutes of higher learning to contribute through research and pastoral creativity to resolve our debate.

The whole spirit, according to the Holy Father, is that of pastoral solicitude – pastoral solicitude that upholds doctrinal integrity, yet mindful of the imperfection of the human condition. Yes, we have the ideal. But how do we guide and lead people broken and weak and sinful to the ideal? How do we give hope to those who have missed the ideal? Part of the spirit is to celebrate the heroism and the beauty that we find in couples who have remained committed to their marriage and to their families.

The Holy Father, from the beginning of his pontificate, has emphasized that “the Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness.” (Angelus, 17 March 2013). This accent on mercy has had a great impact even in matters relating to marriage and the family, in that, far removed from every kind of moralism, it confirms the Christian outlook on life and opens new possibilities for the future, no matter what the personal limitations or the sins committed. God’s mercy is an opening to an ongoing conversion and a continuous rebirth.

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END OF NOTES [for official transcript, contact Loyola School of Theology, Theological Hour]