I am used to page every morning I do have access to internet to browse through all the news, obviously as a Catholic priest also through the Catholic news world. And somehow reading through the last months or so brought up the thought that our church is suffering of a sort of “Humanae Vitae syndrome”. I don’t think I have to mention how ill received the decision of Paul VI was with most of the faithful and generally around the world and even years and decades of Catholic teaching did not change it. It is a reality even our Pope Benedikt XVI acknowledges that Catholics around the world do not obey the rule not to use contraception and have this kind of family planing.
This is by now means a dogma nor put it in doubts the essentials of Christian teaching, believing in God, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. But it seems that this topic is distracting us as the church from being heard or taken seriously in other moral or ethical matters and as a matter fact: never has the majority of faithful embraced or adhered or accepted this vote of Paul VI. The latter makes the teaching even more difficult from a theological point of view. At the end it all has to do with sexuality and it’s connection with sin as proclaimed by Thomas of Aquino and before St. Augustine.
Reading now through the news I just realise how much this question of sexuality is still bordering us as a church and leads us to fights which might be preventable if you just listen to science and new research, the other way of finding God according to our pope and both cannot contradict each other for this reason. Melinda Gates, a Catholic is under heavy fire for her campaign to bring contraception and family planing to those areas in the world where poverty is prevalent. The US American Bishops go to court and do a “fortnight for freedom” to battle a health reform which brings so many blessings to Americans. But the questions of contraception overwrite it all, it seems.
Seeing it in the context of sexuality – Scotland’s bishops are gearing up for a fight against same-sex partnerships on the civil side and declaring, that “marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meet any cost in its defence”. In Australia one can read the same story and in Uganda, the Catholic Church sites with people, who demand the death penalty in the context of same-sex love.
Have a look at the USA again and the battle of the Catholic nuns, specially the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). About 80% of the 57,000 U.S. nuns and sisters belong to the LCWR. The Vatican announced that the group’s leadership and programming would be taken over by three bishops because their stance on sexual issues are not identical with the teaching of the church. The same applies to the case of Sr Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M and her book” Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (2006). The Congregation of Faith wrote to the most respected Catholic theologians in the United States: “”Among the many errors and ambiguities in this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage,”
For myself, I also just want to mention the field of HIV and AIDS where the stance of the Catholic Church does not win her friends despite the fact, that our church is doing so much in this field which is good. To give answer meant to different questions like the condom question which can be in the cases of HIV and AIDS a question of life and death is simply not good enough anymore. And to mention, even as a sideline remark, that condoms aggravate the problem is more than questionable.
I wonder why those topics with sexual connotation are really that important to the faithful that we spend so much time and energy and money and dedication to it. Are there no more important issues? Isn’t it time to reconsider and reconcile our non-dogmatic teaching and put love, faith and hope to the front of our sermons. And acknowledge that we part of civil society, but that civil society is more diverse and has other obligations then we as a church. We can voice our concerns, we can contribute to discussions and we should do so. And otherwise we should concentrate on all those topics where the world is in flames: human rights, dignity, enough food for all, ethics of politics and economics, bio-ethic… – just to name a few.. It is not that those involved and silenced and ignored have the intention of throwing out the whole of moral theology and teaching. Their intention is clearly to enhance the way we see and judge situations in life and to develop our theological and pastoral standing. Or simply to give honest answers to the questions of todays faithful.
And within this context one has to mention the Sensus Fidelium; that is what the Christian people believe, accept, and reject. The Sensus Fidelium is connected to the promise of Christ to protect us from error with the guidance of the Spirit. Church hierarchy have taught what to believe, accept, and reject, but always with acceptance or a corrective response by theologian and the faithful even from the very beginning, as described in the Act 15. Obviously there has been in increase of faithful till today – so the Sensus Fidelium is a challenge. In conjunction with”Ecclessia semper reformanda” (The church must always be reformed” the challenge becomes even bigger. And maybe here lies the biggest question mark: Is the hierarchy willing to listen, to recognise and honor the fact, that the faithful and the theologian have a major role to play in developing of the theology. And is the Role of the Congregation of Faith not also in facilitating this process instead of only marking where freedom of speech and academic teaching with in the Catholic Church is at it’s very end. So a transformation from “watchdog only” to facilitator of serious dialog in the framework of the Sensus Fidelium.
And nobody should say that the church is not able to change the decision of previous popes. Slavery, democracy, freedom of religious choices are examples how much the church has changed. And Benedikt XVI has done it just now with the words “pro multis” in the Eucharistic prayer – and he argues that we have learned more and most put it into practice. I salute him for his courage and I hope that this also applies to other topics.
We need a serious dialogue, which it looks to me, parts of the German episcopate in their “Dialogprozess” have started. I salute them for this.