How will the Synod resonate with a typical parish? There is of course no such thing as a typical parish, so I can only really reflect on my own experiences of parish life.
The first thing that should be clear is that while many Catholics, particularly those in the upper age brackets, are married, that is to say, have been married in Church, there are many other couples, usually, but not always, in the younger age bracket, who do not fall into this category.
Of this latter group, some are married in register offices but could be married canonically, but see no reason to do so, even though their parish priest may have urged them to do so. Some couples are not married and have never been married, and see no reason to change, again, even though their parish priest may have raised the issue of marriage with them. Some are in second unions. Some would like to get married, but, sadly for them, are living with partners who decline to marry them.
In most parishes, unless the Church is a fine building, there are few marriages solemnised. When one looks through a baptism register, one is struck by the way that about half the baptised go on to get confirmed, but hardly any of them are married in Church. (For those who don’t know, the parish of baptism has to be informed of marriages, and to note them in the register.)
We all know that marriage is in severe decline in Britain; and the Catholic Church shows a similar decline. There is no firm evidence that I have come across that shows Catholics to be much different from their fellow non-religious citizens when it comes to marriage.
Needless to say, people who are in objectively sinful situations are approaching the Blessed Sacrament. They must be aware of the Church’s teaching on this matter, but they have made up their own minds on this matter.
Given the current situation, should we relax the rules?
Church law should model a Church that is there to lead the world, not to follow where the world leads. Many in this country have lost faith in marriage. There is a real risk that marriage may effectively die out in Britain. Indeed, in some parts of the country it already has. A society without marriage will not remain a society for long.
As marriage withers in Britain, things will get worse, but they must eventually get better as people rediscover marriage. And marriage is what they will rediscover after wandering all over the landscape of ideas, because there is no true substitute for marriage. It is God’s invention, after all; it may not be perfect, because we are imperfect, but it is a better than any other arrangement that we can come up with. As the chap in the cartoon says: “If you know a better shell hole, go to it.” Now, the darkest hour that comes before the dawn, now is not the time to give up on our bimillenial faith in marriage.
Can the Synod do anything to help marriage? After all, that is its aim, one hopes. It can certainly tackle the following major challenges that the Church faces today, which I list for the sake of convenience. There may of course be others.
• The Synod can suggest new ways of talking about marriage and communicating the eternal verities about marriage and human nature.
• The Synod can suggest a new approach to marriage preparation, which, as has been observed, needs to start at birth.
• The Synod can pioneer some sort of Catholic programme of sexual education for the young for use in Catholic schools and parishes.
• The Synod can try and discover ways of helping those who are married stay married.
• The Synod needs to stress healing for all those damaged by negative experiences of family life.
It is, I am first to admit, quite a shopping list, and hardly a complete one. On these and other fronts, the Synod could do some good. As for the Kasper proposal, it should be clear where I stand on that.
If the synod lets divorce in by the backdoor, it will be a catastrophe for the Church; part two of Fr Lucie-Smith’s focus on October’s synod
Podcast: Fr Mark Drew and Madeleine Teahan discuss what’s really going to happen at the synod on the family
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