Canada prepares for synod on the family

October 6, 2014
At their annual plenary assembly last month, Canada's Catholic bishops heard reports from across the country on how Catholics view the upcoming world synod and the state of the family today. Here, Deborah Gyapong of Canadian Catholic News presents synopses of the reports from 4 dioceses.

Hamilton: Church not getting through

Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Miehm

Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Miehm

While the number of Catholics in the Hamilton Diocese has nearly doubled in recent years due to immigration, the number of marriages has “dropped by half,” reported Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Miehm.

Miehm said the Church has failed to communicate its rich teachings on marriage and family. Even where the teachings are understood, however, there are “different levels of acceptance.”

Catholics seem to largely reject or hold a questioning or challenging stance towards the teachings on artificial birth control, divorce and remarriage, and homosexuality, he said.

Younger people have no knowledge of the expectation they should be married in church. “You can only prepare people for marriage once they show up at our rectory door,” he said. “More and more they are showing up less and less.”

The “social tsunami” of gay marriage reveals that “one gay or lesbian friend or family member trumps everything the Church has to say on this issue,” he said.

Although the bishops’ conference may see Church teaching on homosexuality as balanced, others “see it as a rigid, narrow-minded focus.”

Much work needs to be done in communicating the Church’s focus, but “for a lot of those young people the ship has sailed on this particular issue.”

The divorce and remarriage question remains a “challenge we continue to struggle with,” in the diocese – “how to balance our Lord’s teaching on marriage with the sad reality of those whose marriages have failed.”

Divorced and remarried Catholics either present themselves for Communion, drift away to another denomination where they feel more welcome or leave the Church community altogether, he said.

After 15 years working in the marriage tribunal, Miehm said much work needs to be done to dispel the myths of the annulment process.

Le Pas: Native Families under threat

Archbishop Murray Chatlain

Archbishop Murray Chatlain

Aboriginal people see the family as everything, said Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas, Man.

“It’s not just one piece of you; it’s everything about you, way beyond the nuclear family,” Chatlain said.

Yet Chatlain acknowledged aboriginal culture and family units have broken down. It is not uncommon to meet 27-year-old grandmothers. Fewer and fewer people come to ask for marriage, and most resist formal marriage preparation.

Most couples live together and if they do marry, there can be a negative perception that “Now I own you,” afterwards.

In some, not all, aboriginal communities, “addictions are calling the shots on just about everything, wreaking havoc with other social structures,” destroying families, causing violence, poverty, lack of attention to good parenting and other problems, Chatlain said.

Aboriginal men are struggling in their roles as men, he continued. Many lack literacy, or are unable to read well. “More and more young men are at home babysitting while their common law woman is making the money.”

Aboriginal communities are also affected by the “dramatically lopsided” ratio of 20 teenagers to every elder, Chatlain said. This strengthens the role of grandparents, who provide a sense of “stability and continuity.”

The elderly are not hurriedly sent off to old folks’ homes; instead, a grandchild might be sent to live with them. Adoption is common. A childless couple might be given a child to raise by their brother or sister.

Catholic teachings can offer a sense of the man’s role and “what it means to be a good father, and husband,” he said. The Church can also help young people better communicate with each other.

“Our Catholic understanding of the holiness of marriage is something our people really need to hear,” he said. “Another strength is that we continue to pray with and for the aboriginal families.” The Church receives many requests for prayer and this has a powerful effect.

Moncton: The Church should be open

Archbishop Valéry Vienneau

Archbishop Valéry Vienneau

People in the Moncton Archdiocese are looking for “an openness, a change of attitude and a genuine note of hope” from the world synod on the family, says Archbishop Valéry Vienneau.

“People expect changes in the way things are presented and will be disappointed if things don’t change,” Vienneau said, noting serious changes are expected, not the status quo.

The Vatican’s preparatory document for the synod “recognizes clearly the reality of the non-reception of a large number of faithful of Catholic teachings on marriage and the family,” he said.

“This is unheard of in an official document of the Church: a recognition of a genuine gap between teachings of the Church and the reception of the faithful.”

Though the faithful know biblical teachings, they do not know Vatican documents or about natural law, Vienneau said.

Among the questions for his people: the role of the “genders,” the possibility of same-sex marriage and the fact of people living together outside of marriage, he said. “People have many opinions, but they are not too concerned about our positions.”

“The faithful are more and more allergic to a Church that would intrude in their private lives or exclude those living in irregular situations,” Vienneau said.

The gap between the teachings of the Church and the experience in the lives of the faithful exists even among the more committed.

The preparatory document talks about “accompanying people who feel excluded, or marginalized in the Church,” he noted.

It also echoes the call of Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium that calls for the Church to be “the open home of the Father, where there is a place for everyone in his or her difficult life.”

“We don’t want to simply condemn the culture and present what we already have been presenting,” he said. “We have to find new ways to present our teaching.”

Quebec: Vatican approach ‘laborious’

Auxiliary Bishop Denis Grondin

Auxiliary Bishop Denis Grondin

The Vatican’s document preparing for the synod on the family is a “laborious instrument,” said Quebec Auxiliary Bishop Denis Grondin.

Grondin noted the words “resurrection,” “salvation” and “redemption” never appear in the document known as an instrumentum laboris. While “God” is mentioned 51 times, the “Holy Spirit” and “Jesus” each only rate eight mentions.

In Quebec’s past, whole generations “wanted to follow the Lord,” but French families no longer have this simple vision, he said.

Many are experiencing a sense of failure and are not sure they want to continue “risking to love,” he said. “How can the French family be reached by the hope that faith in Christ offers?”

Francophones have tried to save their culture through preserving the French language, Grondin noted. But the culture that forms them is instead postmodern and North American, characterized by consumerism and secularism.

Instead of the French language or Catholicism, social media and texting are more likely to bring people together. Aside from that, each person falls back on his or her own family.

“There’s a crisis of hope and confidence in the French world, and our high suicide rates remind us of this,” he said.

Grondin pointed to changes in vocabulary even among good Catholics who refer to their “partner” instead of their wife or husband. Though there seems to be a nostalgia for old-fashioned family life, it is no longer linked to a unanimous traditional model.

Natural law is seen as a religious doctrine. “In that respect it is discredited,” he said. “Tolerance is absolutized; freedom of the subject has been absolutized.”

“Polls overtake reason, what is philosophical is quickly branded as ideological and not scientific,” he said. There is not only a crisis of faith, but a “crisis of trust.”