Bernardo M. Villegas
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Humanizing Absolute and Unchanging Doctrine

           What I read about the “possible change in Catholic doctrine concerning divorce, artificial contraception, and same sex union” coming from some sections of the international and local media gives me a sense of deja vu.  Way back in the mid-1960s, just before the soon-to-be beatified Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, it was fashionable among pundits to predict that the Church would change its stand on artificial contraceptives   The reasoning was that survey after survey among Catholics at that time showed that the majority were in favour 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 Pope Paul VI, the saintly Pope 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 will be the culminating activity of the ongoing Extraordinary Synod of Bishops should deliver a very important message to the so-called reformers. Like in the times of Pope 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 the US 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 even be more severe.

          What then can be reasonably expected from the Synod on the Family that Pope Francis has convoked.  From his writings and pronouncements, I can predict that there will be more practical measures that will “humanise” 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 telling 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 to have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

          Take the divorcee whose previous valid marriage has not been annulled but has remarried.  As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was already lamenting the practice in Catholic families (including his own) of completely ostracising any one 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.  These people should never feel the coldness of rejection and indifference.  Their knowing our unflinching stand about the indissolubility of marriage should in no way make them conclude that we are dropping them like hot potatoes.  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 pre-screened before marriage 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.

          By the same token, maintaining the intrinsically evil nature of every homosexual act does not mean refusing to accept in your own home a relative or friend who is living a gay lifestyle.  That is the way we should interpret the revelation of the Catholic couple married for more than fifty years who appeared before the bishops in the Synod. The couple reported that they welcomed into their home one of their children and his gay partner.  Continuing to show the parents’ love for a child, despite his morally disordered life, is a requirement of both human  affection and supernatural charity.  Although it is admittedly a difficult balancing act, knowing how to clearly distinguish between the  sinner and the sin, being infinitely patient with the former as God is and uncompromising with the latter, is what we can expect as concrete guidelines from the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.  Let us continue to pray to the Holy Spirit to inspire the Bishops so that they can teach us how to humanise the implementation of the unchanging and absolute truths that God has deposited with the only true church, the Roman Catholic Church.  For comments, my email address is