A surprise feature of the family synod last October, was the prominent place given to language about LGBT people in the Church. That was welcome – and is likely to feature even more prominently in the main synod, this year.
Equally surprising, but less welcome, was the absence of any discussion about contraception. This is important. The insistence that every sexual act must be open to procreation underpins so much of the rest of Vatican sexual doctrine, and most specifically, the steadfast opposition to same – sex loving relationships. Remove the cornerstone of opposition to contraception, it becomes far more difficult for the institutional Church to justify its opposition to our relationships.
I was expecting the question of contraception to be central to the discussions in Rome last October, but that was not to be. Instead, this central issue was met by – deafening silence. Yet we know, that the vast majority of Catholics the world over, simply reject Vatican teaching on this core issue. A cross – cultural survey before the last synod, found that only two of the fifteen countries surveyed, agreed with the Vatican position, and that by only narrow majorities, In contrast, in many countries surveyed, opposition was overwhelming.
The acceptance by the synod of the institutional view can be attributed to two main causes: in the first instance, because the limited number of lay married couples invited to the synod, were there because of their active support for this view. Contrary thoughts were simply excluded.
The second cause can be summed up in a word, encapsulated in this assessment from Commonweal: Hypocrisy!
Perhaps the most important moment of last October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family occured at its very beginning—when Pope Francis insisted that “speaking honestly” was the bishops’ basic responsibility: No topics or viewpoints should be out of bounds. “It is necessary to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation.”
I doubt that everyone present was able to live up to that plea. For not a few bishops, self-censorship has become second nature, especially when speaking publicly with other bishops, and infinitely so when in the earshot of the pope.
Fortunately, that was not true in many cases, or the synod would not have made headlines with the several highly controversial topics served up and batted back and forth: reception of Communion by the divorced-and-remarried, cohabitation, even same-sex relationships. But could engrained inhibition have accounted for the glaring gap in the synod’s work? I refer to the apparent lack of attention to the question of contraception. Why did the synod appear to treat so perfunctorily the issue that was, and is, the starting point for the unraveling of Catholic confidence in the church’s sexual ethics and even its credibility about marriage? To which, of course, one could add further questions about this baffling silence: Does it even matter? And if it does matter, are there grounds for hoping that the bishops who will be gathering in Rome next fall to complete the synod’s work can do better?
A lot rests on the answers to these questions. A synod that grabs headlines about remarried or cohabiting or same-sex Catholic couples but says nothing fresh about the spectacularly obvious rift between official teaching and actual behavior in Catholic married life is an invitation to cynicism. It could prove to be a crucial test of Pope Francis’s papacy.
full anaysis at Commonweal Magazine.