The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family in October 2014 was always going to be a watershed moment for Catholic teaching on sexuality, impacting on all Catholics and specifically including those of us in the LGBT community. The significance and potential value has just been further emphasised by the news that as preparation for the synod, Pope Francis and the bishops are to engage in an unprecedented process of consultation with the laity.
The Vatican has asked national bishops’ conferences around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll of Catholics asking for their opinions on church teachings on contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce.
Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, asked the conferences to distribute the poll “immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.”
The poll, which comes in a questionnaire sent to national bishops’ conferences globally in preparation for a Vatican synod on the family next October, is the first time the church’s central hierarchy has asked for such input from grass-roots Catholics since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council.
In the UK , that process of consultation has already begun – the bishops of England and Wales have posted on their website some notes on the synod, together with an invitation to participate directly, by completing their questionnaire, which is up on Survey Monkey.
You can actively participate in the preparation for the Synod by visiting our questionnaire on Survey Monkey:
On this page you can read the synod’s preparatory document – orLineamenta.
This is hugely significant. Initial reports of discussions about the synod focussed on its likely concerns surrounding divorce, such as procedures for annulment, and more sensitive pastoral responses to people who have been affected by marital breakdown in their own lives. For a major two week conference though, it was obvious from the start that much more than divorce would be at stake. The consultation announcement makes this explicit, with specific reference also to contraception, and same – sex marriage. In effect, this is the start of a process which could (and should) lead to a comprehensive reassessment of Catholic teaching on sexuality and family life.
The notion of the “sensus fideii” is central to a proper understanding of Catholic teaching, but not widely known. In essence, it states that unless a particular matter of doctrine has been accepted and received by the Church as a whole, it cannot be valid. That’s a great simplification. There are questions about just what is meant by each part of the statement, and limited guidance on just how the sensus fideii is to be assessed: there is general agreement that this is more complex than simply accepting at face value the findings of public opinion polls. Nevertheless, the central point remains of crucial significance for matters of sexual teaching, and in particular the judgement of Humanae Vitae that artificial contraception is absolutely forbidden.
In the real world, most theologians, bishops, priests and lay Catholics know that there is absolutely no evidence that this has in fact been accepted, as required by the SF. On the contrary, such evidence as does exist, from formal public opinion polls, and from the experience of actual Catholic couples, is that is has been widely rejected. It is difficult to imagine any way in which a global consultation on lay responses to contraception will demonstrate to the synod that Humanae Vitae has indeed been accepted by the Church “as a whole”. If, as is more likely, the synod recognized instead that the required SF is lacking on Humanae Vitae, then surely it will be necessary to accept that its absolute prohibition on artificial contraception is simply invalid, together with its central precept that every sexual act must be open to procreation.
Cede that point, and it becomes necessary to reconsider all the other sexual prohibitions that rest on the same premise – include the prohibition on same – sex erotic relationships.
Stand by for an interesting synod.