The recently-concluded Synod on the Family (4 – 25 October), a historic meeting of 270 bishops from around the world at the Vatican, published a report on some of the most controversial issues surrounding marriage, divorce and sexuality after three weeks of “rich and lively dialogue”. Pope Francis convened this summit in order to “open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints”.
The 94-paragraph report examines the profound changes in culture and social habits that have worrying ramifications on the way in which marriage and family is viewed. It not only addresses hot-button issues like divorce, re-marriage and co-habitation but also artificial reproductive technology, echoing the teachings of John Paul II in The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae, 1995).
The entire report emphasises the beauty of marriage and the family. The opening of the Synod was briefly overshadowed by Monsignor Krysztof Charasma, a Polish-born priest and Vatican theologian who declared that he was in a gay relationship and that he wanted to be an advocate “for all sexual minorities and their families who have suffered in silence”. The Vatican summarily dismissed the priest, describing his actions timed at the beginning of the synod to get full media attention “very serious and irresponsible”.
Progressives hoping to see significant changes in the Church’s position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage were no doubt disappointed with the Synod’s report, which continued to uphold the traditional teachings of the Church. The position of the Roman Catholic Church on homosexual behaviour, as stated in its authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) is clear: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from genuine affective and sexual complementarity.
Under no circumstances can they be approved”. Paragraph 76 of the Synod report, which states the Bishops’ position on gays and lesbians, fully concurs with the basic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, although it takes a distinctively more pastoral approach by focusing its attention on the care of “families that have a member who has homosexual tendencies”.
The Synod also reiterates what the Church has always taught, “that every person, regardless of their own sexual tendency, be respected in his dignity and welcomed with respect, trying to avoid ‘any kind of unjust discrimination’.”
The Bishops’ position on same- sex marriage is clearly articulated in the second half of Paragraph 76: “Regarding projects that try to equal homosexual unions to marriage, ‘There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’.”
The Synod therefore continues to uphold the teaching of the Church – again clearly articulated in the Catechism – that marriage according to God’s intention is the union between a man and a woman. As the Catechism puts it, such a union “is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring”.
The Bishops also openly and directly criticised international bodies for coercing poor countries to introduce same-sex marriage laws in return for financial aid.
In his carefully-worded address at the close of the Synod, Pope Francis said that the summit sought to take seriously the “difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family” and confront them “fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand”.
But the Pope was quick to add that the summit was also about “urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life”.
Thus, although the Church must always be cognisant of the differences in cultures and of the fact that Christianity must take root in culture – what Vatican II has called inculturation – it does not follow that it must embrace moral relativism.
“Inculturation,” says the Pope, “does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures”.
“Soundings” is a series of essays that, like the waves of a sonogram, explore issues in society, culture and the church in light of the Gospel and Christian understanding.
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Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor to the ETHOS Institute™ for Public Christianity (http://ethosinstitute.sg/).