WCR Logo


October 6, 2014

One need only compare the stories on the reports given by four Canadian bishops with the efforts of several cardinals to uphold Church teaching on the family and marriage (Pages 18 and 19) to see the huge disconnect between doctrine and pastoral reality in today's Catholic Church.

If the chasm between teaching and the lives of today's Catholics widened following Pope Paul VI's reaffirmation in 1968 of the immoral nature of artificial contraception, it has expanded even more during the intervening decades.

On one hand, curial cardinals are doing their best to uphold Church teaching; on the other hand, bishops say that ship has sailed. If there is a way to bring the ship back to shore, it is far from evident. Talk about the Church doing a better job of communicating its teaching is a pious generality which has received minimal practical application. In any event, the Church has been doing less communicating, not more, as the decades pass.

Nor is the solution to cave in to a disfigured culture and abandon the truths taught through both Jesus and the practical wisdom of the ages. More and more research emphasizes that it is precisely faith and strong families that enable people to live happy, healthy and long lives. The Church would not only abandon its mission, but also betray humanity, by failing to proclaim that marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman open to the possibility of bearing and raising children.

However, a Church that clings defiantly to the truth about marriage and ignores the realities of broken marriages, homosexual attractions, and widespread acceptance of contraception and abortion would not be true to its mission either.

Where would Jesus be? He would not compromise the truth. But above all he would stand with both the broken and the brokenhearted.

Pope Francis showed us the way Sept. 14 when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, some of whom were cohabiting or who had children from an earlier marriage. What a beautiful witness the pope gave!

When Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke to the College of Cardinals in February, he emphasized that "after the shipwreck of sin, the shipwrecked person should not have a second boat at his or her disposal, but rather a life raft" in the form of the sacrament of Communion. If we believe in the power of that sacrament, we believe in it first as medicine that heals sin and other forms of brokenness. If we do not strive to heal a broken world, why are we here?

If we are seen as wagging our fingers at those who have found healing in a second marriage or at making couples wade through a sea of red tape in order to receive that healing, we are giving a counter-witness to the joy that comes with faith.

Perhaps there is no easy solution for the Church. But there is a way forward. It is the way of truth and mercy, with the clearest witness being the path of mercy.