Synod urged to restore rightful place of conscience

A Belgian bishop has urged the synod on the family to have the courage to bring the Church’s moral teachings more in line with the lived experience of the laity.

In a letter reported by The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said there is a gap between the moral teachings of the Church and the moral insights of the faithful.

He ascribed this partly to the failure to develop the collegiality between bishops and the Vatican decided virtually unanimously at the Second Vatican Council.

Bishops found themselves caught between their desire to minister to the faithful in the new pastoral manner and loyalty to popes who stressed the primacy of the magisterium, he said.

The Church must “dare once again to start with ‘life’ and then move on to ‘teaching’”, the bishop argued.

This is at a time when many lay people ignore or reject some doctrinal or moral decisions coming from Rome, he added.

“The Church has nothing to lose in this regard,” the bishop noted.

“The Church must step away from its defensive, antithetical stance and seek anew the path of dialogue” on moral issues, he wrote.

Vatican II had also stressed the importance of personal conscience, but since the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae banning artificial birth control, it had been sidelined, his letter said.

The synod should “restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church”.

The 5-19 October meeting should not be a “platonic synod” focused on safe doctrinal debate and “bipolar thinking” in terms of regular and irregular situations.

Instead, it should try to accompany people like unwed mothers, same-sex unions, cohabiting couples or couples who resort to IVF after failure to conceive.

Bishop Bonny also said the Church must ask itself if the ban on Communion for the divorced and remarried properly reflects what Jesus intended with the Eucharist.

“We have to bear in mind that a large company of publicans and sinners were at table with Jesus,” he wrote.

Vatican commentator Sandro Magister noted that Bishop Bonny had a close collaboration with Cardinal Walter Kasper when the latter was head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

At a meeting of cardinals earlier this year, Cardinal Kasper asked that ways be found in which divorced and remarried Catholics could receive communion.

Weighing the evidence, Magister concluded that Pope Francis leans towards the views of theologians like Cardinal Kasper on this question.


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