Synod hears call to re-examine teachings on sexuality, birth control

Synod hears call to re-examine teachings on sexuality, birth control

The question of birth control, sometimes described as the "elephant in the room" at the Synod of Bishops on the Family, was the focus of a bluntly worded talk by a lay auditor at the Vatican assembly.

The auditor, Sharron Cole from New Zealand, told the synod that the teaching of the encyclical Humanae Vitae has been largely ignored by Catholic couples. This has led to a "paralyzed" pastoral situation that requires a fresh discussion -- not by clergy alone, who have shown inadequate understanding of sexuality and psychology in the way they have dealt with clerical sexual abuse, she said.

"The time is now for this synod to propose that the Church re-examine its teaching on marriage and sexuality, and its understanding of responsible parenthood, in a dialogue of laity and bishops together," Cole said.

Cole was one of few people to talk at the synod about Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical that declared it immoral for married couples to use artificial birth control. The encyclical allowed for natural methods of spacing births, and Cole said that as a former board member of a natural family planning organization, she found that this method worked for motivated couples.

But for many couples, she added, the natural method is not practicable. The teaching that artificial contraception is intrinsically wrong has provoked "massive dissent," she noted, with Catholics essentially making their own decision in conscience.

"The response of the Church to this unsatisfactory situation has been for better catechesis or to ignore the dissent. This 'paralyzed status quo' cannot continue," Cole said.

"The matter must be discussed afresh but lay people will not be content to leave it to clergy alone. Too many in authority responded to clergy sexual abuse in a way which demonstrated that they lacked the expertise in sexuality and psychology to make good decisions, with the result they became complicit in perpetuating enormous harm, harm done to lay people," she said.

"It will take not more catechesis but rather listening with deep empathy to restore the credibility of the Church in matters of sexual ethics," she said.

20 comments (Add your own)

1. Matt wrote:
Yes, by all means let us not dare to catechize. Instead, we should listen with deep empathy to sinners before ratifying their sins!

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 12:25 PM

2. Jane MacAfee wrote:
Sharon Cole, Thank you for "speaking TRUTH" to power. This so needed
to be said. I pray you have been heard .

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 1:14 PM

3. Susan Vogt wrote:
Sharon Cole says much of what I would have said if my husband and I had been accepted as speakers at the synod. We have been Diocesan Family Ministers for decades and have dealt with the issue of artificial contraception both professionally and personally.
The one caveat I would make to Sharon Cole's excellent statement is that Natural Family Planning, although it works for SOME motivated couples, it does not work for MANY motivated couples. My husband and I used NFP for a number of years. We were very motivated, knowledgeable, and self-disciplined. We love all of our children but NFP did not always work for us. Over the years, my husband and I got to know a number of faith-filled users of NFP who have found it to be a blessing for their marriage. We respect them and think it is important for the Church to offer this natural way of spacing children to married couples. We just don’t believe it is the only or best course for everyone.
Our experience (confirmed by thousands of couples we have talked with in marriage preparation and marriage enrichment programs) tells us that there are plenty of opportunities for self-denial and self-discipline in marriage. It does not follow that the use of artificial contraception makes a couple less loving, or more selfish, irresponsible, or less able to pass on healthy values to their children.

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 1:17 PM

4. James Mersch wrote:
The churches position on birth control is the only thing that allows our natural law position on marriage. Without this position, sex becomes nothing more than recreation and cannot logically be denied to anyone.

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 1:46 PM

5. Howard wrote:
So what? This synod is not to the Church what the Supreme Court is to the United States; it's what "Face the Nation" is to the United States -- lots of opinions, exactly zero authority. Even if the synod were to vote to throw out two millenia of Church teaching, it would mean less than if the crew of "Face the Nation" agreed the US should revert to Great Britain.

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 1:48 PM

6. Alex wrote:
So the gist:
Since NFP is hard and most people don't pay attention to the Church on this anyway, it *must* be changed.

Got it. If only I could remember another time people left Christ because he had a hard teaching...

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 1:59 PM

7. Louis Tully wrote:
I think a fundamental reason for all the HV dissent, besides the massive lack of catechesis, is the fact that we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. That's the problem. That's the reason why people call abstention from sex "impossible". That's the reason why the sin/sinner distinction has broken down re: same-sex attracted individuals.

We simply cannot fathom the foregoing of sexual pleasure. If the Church wants to heal people and heal society, She should start by combating its hyper-sexualization. Anything else is capitulation to the spirit of the age.

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 2:56 PM

8. John wrote:
Susan, as many others in Church ministry such as Monsignor Krysztof Olaf Charamsa, find their personal experience trumps the Truth. How many such ministers have undermined the teachings of the Church over the centuries, and as Matt said, "ratify us in our sins."

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 5:22 PM

9. JR Gadoua wrote:
I trusted and still do, the moral theologians in the day of my moral education---Bernard Haring, Richard McCormick, Charles Curran and those grounded in a worldview that is humane, not idealistic. How many Cardinals were educated AFTER Vatican II? Hear this from the late great Rabbi Heschel:
When faith is completely replaced by creed,
worship by discipline, love by habit;
when the crisis of today is ignored
because of the splendor of the past;
when faith becomes an heirloom
rather than a living fountain;
when religion speaks only in the name of authority
rather than with the voice of compassion,
its message becomes meaningless.

Fri, October 16, 2015 @ 8:49 PM

10. David wrote:
I must apologize to Rabbi Heschel, but my religion is not "meaningless" to me because it "speaks in the name of authority": it is because it speaks in the name of authority - a better phrasing would be, speaks *with* authority - that it is meaningful. And compassionate.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 2:53 AM

11. Jayson Lussier wrote:
As long as the debate rages over modern trends versus classical ecclesiastics we'll get a healthy edification on moral standards. However, this has to be led by the parish leadership locally and less by Rome. Bishops have to be spiritual warriors just as much as laity to get a real cohesive message across. The idiom united we stand... Divided we fall seems to apply here. After we're supposed to be the 'universal' Church.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 3:53 AM

12. Lauren B. wrote:
I've got a great idea, why don't we just strike, "Take up your cross and follow me," from the Gospels? Then we could canonize people for being happy, healthy, and successfully accomplishing their life goals, rather than living miraculous lives of love in sacrifice. You know, if Louis and Zélie Martin had had access to birth control, perhaps Zélie would have beaten her cancer rather than giving birth nine times. That would have made them both much happier. And St. Thérèse would have been spared her own short, pitiful life. Happy saints, happy Church, right? St. Nancy Pelosi, pray for us!

In all seriousness, Georges Bernanos once remarked that the people who had the most compassion for suffering people--the saints--were at the same time those who had most lovingly accepted the suffering in their own lives. When we reject our own painful burdens, we have a tendency not to lift the burdens of others, but instead to reject other people as burdens. That is why the Church can never accept contraception, which is the first step in rejecting children as burdensome.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 5:03 AM

13. Todd Flowerday wrote:
"I think a fundamental reason for all the HV dissent, besides the massive lack of catechesis, is the fact that we live in a hyper-sexualized culture."

Count me a skeptic on the "uneducated" laity tack. Catechesis, as such, is widespread, and from the institution's point of view, consistent. It is simply rejected. That is a problem.

To be effective, human communication needs more than a message. It also needs a communicator and a listener. HV supporters seem to give the former a D-minus and the latter and F. The solution seems to be to emphasize the same message, only louder.

As for the hyper-sexualized culture (which I wouldn't argue strongly against) the flip side is a certain hysterical puritanism. Sex creates extremes all too often in the discussion. It's not just the culture's fault. The Church shares blame in this. They have a message, but it remains unconvincing. Maybe we need more than the celibate point of view on sex.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 6:39 AM

14. kag1982 wrote:
There is some misconceptions about St. Therese and her family in an above response. Zelie Martin died of breast cancer; I am not sure how that could have been prevented through fewer pregnancies. Therese died of Tuberculosis and while I am sure she wanted her mom around, Zelie's presence would not have prevented Therese's death.

As for NFP, could instructors and pre-Cana classes at least talk about it in realistic terms? One thing that annoys me is the fact that instructors, websites, etc. seem to pump it up as the best thing since sliced bread when it is in fact a hard discipline. The mechanics of it and trying to "read" certain signs are difficult as most women's bodies do not work like "clockwork." I am glad some proponents of the practice like Sharron Cole are finally admitting it is not easy or effective.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 7:47 AM

15. Michael J. Hardiman wrote:
Once St. John XXIII established the Commission and Pope Paul VI maintained and expanded it, Priests (in confession) began to tell penitents that the creation of the commission created a doubt with regard to the teaching on artificial contraception and a doubtful teaching does not bind. Either couples had been wrong to use the pill for 6 years or they had not, so in 1968 HV came as a shock because the priests had told the couples to go ahead.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 2:12 PM

16. John Murray wrote:
The essential issue is this: is "artificial" contraception a sin? I think that this question should lead to INTENT as the determining factor in any decision to prevent conception, whether "artificial" or "natural". Unfortunately for the Church, in my opinion, the entire discussion was led off into the blind alley of "artificial" vs. "natural" when there is really nothing "natural" about either one of them. INTENT is what determines the sinfulness of actions, including the taking of a human life (i.e., justifiable homicide vs. murder). If the bishops will consider this issue then they will come to the correct conclusion: that the catechism needs to be re-written to correctly state the nature of sin itself, and that the sinfulness of contraception depends on why the persons involved so acted.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 2:28 PM

17. MikefromEd wrote:
Let's rewrite the Catechism. Let's rewrite Church teaching. Why not just go the whole hog and rewrite the Bible. If accommodating people who find Church teaching is the name of the game then why not chuck out the whole Catechism. Why just this one bit that people find difficult. Some people find it difficult to be faithful to their spouses. Okay, we'll get rid of the rule about being faithful. Some people find it difficult avoiding telling lies. Okay, we'll get rid of that bit. Some people find it difficult going to Mass on Sunday. Really? Oh well, no bother, we'll just get rid of that rule. Since when was the test of valid teaching whether people find it easy to follow?

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 5:01 PM

18. deni mack wrote:
I know a woman who killed herself after having 6 children in less than 6 years while rigidly practicing natural family planning. All of their children were conceived when she and her husband made love on the first or last day of her menstrual cycle and at no other time in order to try to plan her pregnancies. In their 7th year of marriage her husband insisted they use contraception and she jumped out of a third floor window. Please recognize that not everyone is able to raise many children nor is physically able to succeed at natural family planning. Respect couple's faithful conscientious decision-making. And include women's voice in every synod discussion as EQUALS and in EVERY VOTE. To exclude women is to discount our BAPTISM.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 5:35 PM

19. H. J. Aylward Jr M.D. FACR wrote:
AS a recently retired rheumatologist, I want to make it clear that some my former patients with systemic rheumatic diseases(e.g. lupus, scleroderma, etc.) would not survive the metabolic demands of pregnancy and for which NFP is useless due to the effects of their diseases and their treatment on the physiology that NFP depends on. And yes, I did have a 3 week postpartum maternal death. The infant was healthy but bereft of his mother.
The effective standard drugs(methotrexate and lefudomide) for rheumatoid arthritis/psoriatic arthritis are quite teratogenic.
A previous colleague was authorized to prescribe thalidomide to a woman whose facial lupus was melting her face- on the condition she practice two forms of contraception and had a pregnancy test every month before refill.
"Hard cases make bad law"- yes but the natural law provides no judicial restraint. So how broad does "mercy" extend? I hope the German bishops' unanimous report on justice and mercy as coextensive, not sequential, holds great sway.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 7:55 PM

20. Jerry Rhino wrote:
@John Murray: You are absolutely correct. Morality is in the will. The reason behind the act is the determining factor. When Trade Center victims jumped out of their burning building they did so to escape the fire and would have been pleased to have made a soft landing. Other jumpers are intent on suicide. It is as you stated, John, all in the INTENT.

Gaudium et Spes, one of the sixteen documents of Vatican II, states: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

The Canadian bishops at the Winnipeg conference put it this way:
26. Counsellors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find that because of particular circumstances they are involved in what seems to them a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the health of the mother. In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assure that, whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.

Sun, October 18, 2015 @ 2:27 AM

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