‘Tablet’ Editorial on ‘peoples’ poll’ in the UK Catholic Church

Lessons in obedience for survey respondents

28 February 2014 by Elena Curti – The Tablet

The clue should have been in the word: Cardinal Vincent Nichols promised a “reflection” on the responses to the Vatican survey’s on marriage and family life from Catholics in Westminster Diocese.

A “reflection” is not a summary of what respondents actually said – and we certainly haven’t got that. Instead what has been published is an analysis of why they those who completed the questionnaire have given views and observations that are contrary to the Church’s magisterium. In short, according to the document produced by Edmund Adamus, Director for Marriage and Family Life at Westminster Diocese, the findings represent a failure of formation.

“Clearly there is a great deal of confusion over what is meant by conscience. There is an urgent need to help people revisit what it means according to the Catechism, especially in the light of simple rules such as “One may never do evil so that good may result from it”, writes Mr Adamus in the document approved by Cardinal Nichols which appears in Westminster Record this weekend.

For “evil” in this context one might read a married couple using artificial contraception, a person remarrying after leaving an abusive husband or wife, or parents giving their blessing to a gay son or daughter who has entered into a civil partnership. We have to guess because we aren’t being told what people said in the questionnaire.

It seems that it is matters of this sort that Mr Adamus has in mind because he goes on to write: “Matters of conscience centre upon issues of responsible parenthood and regulation of fertility. Formation of the moral conscience, therefore, demands fresh efforts on many levels.”

His message therefore is that the Catholics who completed the questionnaire or those they wrote about – Mr Adamus does not distinguish between the two – have been seduced by secularism and need a refresher to become obedient Catholics. He advocates a closer reading of the Catechism, longer and more thorough marriage preparation and the imparting of sound instruction to children by their parents and teachers. His pious reflection is liberally sprinkled with quotations from Benedict XVI, John Paul II and Pope Francis (though it is noticeable that those remarks of Francis that call for a spirit of openness to reform are avoided).

The questionnaire is part of the preparation for October’s extraordinary synod and is essentially a listening exercise. Listening implies being open to change. The German bishops reported that their respondents want to see sweeping reforms in church teaching on family issues and sexual morality. It is highly likely that most of the respondents in England and Wales have done the same. These views will have been arrived at through the lived experience of family life, the love of children, the need for mercy and forgiveness, through much soul-searching, pain and disappointment. They should not so lightly be dismissed. The 16,500 Catholics who took the time to complete the 18-page questionnaire deserve an accurate report of what they said. Reflections, unlike this one from Westminster Diocese, come after their views have thoroughly aired and discussed.

Elena Curti is deputy editor of The Tablet

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From this editorial in this week’s issue of ‘The Tablet’, it would seem that the response to the poll which answered questions about attitudes to the R. C. Church’s teaching on matters like contraception, divorce, and the reception of Communion for divorced persons, has been an official statement from the Westminster Cardinal’s Office that respondents have been lacking in proper ‘Formation’ – in their Faith principles!

This seems, rather, like a failure on the part of the R.C. Church to keep up with the real feelings and aspirations of the majority of its faith community. It has been obvious for some time, for instance, that the reduction in live births to Roman Catholic couples in the U.K. has been achieved through a direct refusal to accept that Church’s teaching which bans artificial contraception. This is surely the sort of response that Pope Francis was expecting, being aware as he is of the difficulties being faced by large Catholic families living in abject poverty. If this response is disappointing for Cardinal Nichols, then perhaps he should not have allowed the survey to be undertaken by U.K. Catholics.

In a statement made by Cardinal Nichols, since his elevation to the College of Cardinals, and in the light of divorcees being refused participation in the Eucharist; he said that the non-reception of Holy Communion was no barrier to being a full member of the Roman Catholic Church. This begs the question then: If reception of the Eucharist is not that important for salvation, why does the Church refuse it to divorcees, and on what grounds?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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