As Pope Francis continues to hold an open debate over the Catholic Church’s approach to marriage, the family, and human sexuality, many faithful are becoming concerned that immutable dogmas may be subtly changed or undermined.
As the discussions continue ahead of the second upcoming Synod on the Family in October, prelates, clergy, lay individuals and groups are making their voices heard, issuing public statements and sending open letters and petitions to Pope Francis.
Disquiet among the faithful was raised a notch last month when Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the chief administrator of the synod, told a conference that “dogma has its own evolution.”
One of the latest interventions has come from Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw, Poland, who has said the church has “betrayed” Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching through pastoral practice proposals presented at last year’s synod.
He told the Polish news agency KAI it is a “false assumption” to consider such topics as the positive aspects of same-sex unions, cohabitation, or opening Communion for remarried divorcees because they assume “God’s mercy without justice.” Hoser urged a re-reading of John Paul II’s teachings on the family.
Meanwhile, large numbers of faithful have signed a “filial appeal” asking Pope Francis to address a current state of confusion regarding church doctrine on these matters. The appeal asks the pontiff to reaffirm “categorically the Catholic teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion and that homosexual unions are contrary to divine and natural law.”
The petition, organized by Filiale Supplica, a group of “concerned lay Catholic leaders and pro-family organisations,” had received over 71,000 signatures by Feb. 5 and been signed by prominent Catholic figures such as Cardinals Raymond Leo Burke, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and the head of the Center for Family and Human Rights, Austin Ruse.
The signatories note “with anguish” that, for millions of faithful Catholics, the beacon of church teaching on marriage, family and sexuality “seems to have dimmed” because of the “onslaught of lifestyles spread by anti-Christian lobbies.”
It adds that a resultant confusion has now led to the church discussing acceptance of adultery by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, and virtually accepting homosexual unions which are “categorically condemned as being contrary to divine and natural law.”
They are therefore imploring the Pope to “clarify the growing confusion amongst the faithful,” prevent Christ’s teaching from being “watered-down,” and “dispel the darkness looming over our children’s future should that beacon no longer light their way.”
Asked why he put his name to the petition, Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute, said the confusion “that is starting to grow” about church teaching on marriage and all things sexual “cannot be ignored.” He added these questions are just “too crucial” to everyday human life, let alone holiness. The letter “gently and sincerely” asks the Holy Father for a clarification, he said.
Royal also pointed out that as Pope Francis has admitted he is sometimes misunderstood, “it’s not a bad idea for him to issue some sort of clarification before the political campaigns to influence the October 2015 get into full swing.”
Another signatory, Benjamin Harnwell, founder of the pro-life think tank the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, said he was “very happy” to sign, principally because of its filial nature. As the petition publicly associated itself with the unchanging teaching of the church, he said it clearly has “no intention” of “wanting to oppose what some speculate to be the will of the Pope.”
He was also happy to see it supported by prominent mainstream Catholics in public life, led by American Cardinal Raymond Burke. “I happen to think that Cardinal Burke will be remembered by future generations as one of the great pastoral minds of the modern age,” Harnwell said. “He has the humility and principle of St. Thomas More, the incisiveness of thought and the clarity of expression of venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and the instinct to be on the right side of history like St. Athanasius [4th century saint who went against his fellow bishops to oppose the Arian heresy]. In any case, he asked for support of this petition. What could I do but gladly respond?”
In addition to the appeal, German Catholic author and convert Dr. Maike Hickson has issued a “Cri de Coeur” to the Pope.
A married mother of two who grew up in a broken home, Hickson writes in the open letter that allowing communion for remarried divorcees would “bypass or offset sin — or even condone it.” Such a path would “cause anarchy and destroy the moral foundation of the Catholic Church” and an “anything goes” mentality would soon become the dominant “ethos,” she says.
She ends the letter by imploring the Pope to speak “the truth to the world” and show the world “where it goes wrong,” even at the expense of losing his current popularity.” By doing so, she says he will gain “much trust, an enhanced formative authority, and true respect.”
Asked how the Vatican is responding to these concerns and whether they will be heeded, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said any requests should be addressed to the synod secretariat “which certainly reports to the Pope and acts on his behalf” and is obligated to “integrate” ongoing suggestions.
He referred to the Pope’s recent addresses on these issues, made in the Philippines and elsewhere. Lombardi further highlighted that Francis has often spoken about “correct spiritual attitudes and listening and trusting in the Holy Spirit,” especially during his speech at the conclusion of last year’s synod.
With this in mind, the Vatican spokesman invited all those with concerns to listen to the Pope “seriously and with willingness” as they will then “probably find several answers to the concerns of which they speak.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.