The humane approach of Pope Francis
What I have read about “the possible change in Catholic doctrine concerning divorce, artificial contraception, and same-sex union” in some sectors of the international and local media gives me a sense of deja vu.
Way back in the mid-1960s, just before then Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” it was fashionable among pundits to predict that the Church would change its stand on artificial contraception. The reasoning was that survey after survey among Catholics at that time showed that the majority were in favor of removing the ban on artificial contraceptives. The rest is history. Despite the “majority opinion” expressed by the committee of experts (which included some Filipinos) convoked by Paul VI, the saintly Pontiff had the clarity of mind and the fortitude to demonstrate that Catholic doctrine is not determined by majority vote. He declared in no uncertain terms that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of the natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.”
So much for changing Catholic doctrine. That the beatification of the Pope of “Humanae Vitae” was the culminating activity of the last Extraordinary Synod of Bishops delivered a very important message to the so-called reformers. Like in the time of Blessed Paul VI and in other times since Christ founded His Church, there can never be a change in doctrine in anything that has to do with dogma or morals.
Even if all the states in America and more countries should make same-sex union legal, there can be no change in the following moral doctrine enunciated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (par 2357): “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 a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” The reference to natural law is bolstered by the fact that in some non-Christian religions, like Islam, the sanctions against homosexual acts can be even more severe.
What then can be reasonably expected from the document that Pope Francis is expected to issue next year as a result of the last Synod? From his writings and pronouncements, I can predict that there will be more practical measures that will “humanize” the implementation of the unchanging doctrine of the Church on such truths as the indissolubility of marriage, the openness to life that every marital intercourse should have, and the intrinsic disorder in every homosexual intercourse. The humane approach to individuals that are in morally irregular situations (a possible way of rephrasing the old expression “living in sin”) was the very example given by Jesus Christ Himself when He prevented the stoning of an adulteress and told her that her sins were forgiven but that she “should sin no more.” In this scene from the Gospel, Christ never even hinted that adultery was no longer a sin. What both the clergy and the laity should discover are concrete actions and expressions that respect the inherent dignity of the sinful person, attracting him or her to “sin no more” and especially to have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Take the divorcee whose previous valid marriage has not been annulled but has remarried. When he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis was already lamenting the practice in Catholic families (including his own) of completely ostracizing anyone who has obtained a divorce and has remarried. He said that even in his own home, the door was completely closed to any divorcee. We can begin by not succumbing to this uncharitable reaction. We should keep and even deepen our friendship with relatives and friends who have had the misfortune of a failed marriage and have decided to get a new partner.
People who are in morally irregular conditions should never feel the coldness of rejection and indifference. Their knowing our unflinching stand on the indissolubility of marriage should in no way make them conclude that we are dropping them like a hot potato. In cases where there can be objective causes of the annulment of their failed marriage, we should even offer to give them advice on whom to see, and tell them that we will pray for the success of their annulment case.
In this regard, what we can expect from the Synod is the institution of preventive measures that will reduce the number of failed marriages because one or both the spouses had not been sufficiently prescreened for such increasingly common psychological maladies as bipolarity, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders that can vitiate marital consent. Medical certificates should be obtained not only for such physical conditions as sexual potency but also for the minimum psychological or psychiatric health necessary to give consent.
Bernardo M. Villegas ([email protected]) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.
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