Editor’s Note: The Pope is here! Specifically, he’s in Philadelphia celebrating with American Catholics who are attending a big conference about Catholic families. This is needed focus for Catholics who want the church to thrive. With the size of Catholic families decreasing significantly over the years it will take more than increased immigration and converts to sustain and grow the church. This latest “apostate introspection” takes a studied but somewhat cynical view of the Church’s efforts.
By Catherine Dunphy
When an institution like the Catholic Church hosts an event like The World Meeting of Families, you better believe the organizers will make it a big deal.
Catholicism, derived from the Greek katholou, means “according to the whole, or universal.”
And that is exactly what the Church and John Paul II meant to convey when this conference was founded in 1994.
I think it is accurate to say that for the Church and its followers, the history of papal authority and succession is all the leverage it needs to express its positions as universal norms.
In Canon Law, the Church teaches [Can. 1055 §1] that:
“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.”
So for Catholics, marriage is one of the seven sacraments. But that has not always been the case. It was not until the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 that marriage came under the jurisdiction of the Holy See. Prior to that marriage was primarily a social or political arrangement between families. The early church was not a strong proponent of marriage. Celibacy was preferential because of the belief that Jesus’ return was imminent and that marriage was of this world and a distraction of the flesh.
Regarding the development of the theology of marriage, much of the church’s doctrine on marriage finds its inspiration in unfortunate source material, i.e., the book of Genesis, specifically the Yahwist creation myth of Adam and Eve, Gen 2:4.
Back to Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families.
As a former Catholic, I admit to having a somewhat cynical view of this congress. Unfortunately, the website and agenda only further my point of view. It includes presentations with general themes such as:
Radical Surrender: Living Vocation according to God’s Will
And odd attempts at Catholic humor:
There’s No Vacation from Vocation: Discerning God’s Calling within One’s State in Life.
And for Tolkien fans:
One Ring to Rule Them All: The Covenant of Marriage.
There’s a lot of talk about marriage, but unsurprisingly very little to say about the shifting landscape of marriage after the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equity, unless you count the presentation, Always Consider the Person: Homosexuality in the Family. Here is its description in the online brochure:
What are some ways that Catholic families can respond to a family member’s disclosure that they are same sex attracted, or the announcement that they are gay or lesbian? Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic who embraces and Church teaching, and his mother, Beverley Belgau, will share their own stories as a way of highlighting some of the challenges faced by same sex attracted Catholics and their families. They will also talk about how Catholics should respond with both grace and truth to gay or lesbian friends or family members who struggle with or reject Catholic teaching on chastity.
Overall, The World Meeting of Families looks like it will be a rousing attempt to help Catholics feel good about their church. Why else would there be an Adoration Sign-up page on the Congress website?
But what about the rest of us? What are your thoughts about the approach this Congress takes to marriage equity? Is the Church’s position still relevant or is it just a holdover from a bygone age?
Catherine Dunphy – A humanist, atheist and former Roman Catholic chaplain, Catherine is a member of the Clergy Project and former Executive Director, she is author of From Apostle to Apostate – the Story of the Clergy Project, published by Pitchstone Press in July, 2015.
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