Family synod document re-treads old ground, warns Jesuit

A Jesuit commentator says that the working document for October’s synod on the family reminds him of the build up to the family synod in 1980.

Fr Thomas Reese said “for anyone familiar with the 1980 synod on the family, reading the new [document] fosters a feeling of déjà vu”.

The same issues are discussed, the same factors are blamed for problems and the same solutions are proposed, he argued on the National Catholic Reporter website.

“Granted the return of all these old topics in the new ’instrumentum laboris’, one could conclude that the 1980 synod on the family was a failure, but it is not clear how this new synod will do any better,” Fr Reese wrote.

He did concede that “unlike the 1980 instrumentum laboris, this new working document does not blame dissident theologians for the failure of the laity to accept Church teaching on sexual ethics”.

“Rather, it admits that the sexual abuse crisis and lavish living by clerics have hurt the Church’s moral credibility.”

Fr Reese singled out one problematic area in which the document admits the Church is struggling to defend its teaching in the court of public opinion.

The Church for centuries has used the concept of “natural law” to defend its teaching, but the working paper confesses that “the concept of natural law today turns out to be, in different cultural contexts, highly problematic, if not completely incomprehensible”.

As a result, “the natural law is perceived as an outdated legacy”, the document laments.

It reports that “in not only the West, but increasingly every part of the world, scientific research poses a serious challenge to the concept of nature”.

“Evolution, biology and neuroscience, when confronted with the traditional idea of the natural law, conclude that it is not ‘scientific’.”

Fr Reese observed that the working document admits this has serious consequences for Church teaching.

“The demise of the concept of the natural law tends to eliminate the interconnection of love, sexuality and fertility, which is understood to be the essence of marriage,” the working paper says.

In the October synod, bishops will discuss feedback from the Vatican questionnaire sent out last year.

Another larger synod next year will formulate proposals on Church action to be forwarded to the Pope.


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