Father Daniel: On the synod of the family

Discover here some positive aspects of the Synod on the family which took place last month, written by Father Daniel. He exposes the leading culture of death and aims for a culture of life and of love in Jesus Christ! Glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in which image we are created!

Synode 2015:  Renewal of the Christian Doctrine and the Life of the Family


The 94 paragraphs of the final report of the 14th General Ordinary Synod on the Family (Rome, October 4th - 24th, 2015) give ample inspiration for nothing less than a fundamental renewal of the Church’s pastoral care for families, to the benefit of married couples, their families and the whole society. Yes, there are confusions and ambiguities, which could be dangerous. For example, the 265 fathers of the synod did not enumerate a clear vision of the very difficult issue of the specific pastoral policy for divorced-remarried people. The numbers 84-85-86, which deal with this issue, received the most negative votes (respectively 72, 80, 64 out of 265), expressing general dissatisfaction even after several new redactions. The lack of clarity in these numbers could be problematic, leading to an unacceptable subjectivism. In any case, only the apostolic exhortation, which will be written by the pope himself, has the final doctrinal authority. It is to be hoped that he might find a solution on a higher level, far above the two contradictory positions. We will now examine some very positive aspects of this final report such as its clear affirmation of the essence of the Christian marriage between man and woman open towards the gift of life, as expressed in the Second Vatican Council.


In this synod great importance was given to the recognition of “reality”, that is, the real state of affairs in marriages today. “Listening” was in a certain way the new style. Great attention was given to these questions: What are in fact the opinion and the attitude of the people? What are they seeking from the Church? Nevertheless the synod made it clear that after listening to the world, it is more important to listen to the plan of God. If we like to talk so much, we should expect also that God has something to say to us. People look to a bishop as someone who ought to hear their concerns, and be very near to his flock, that he can bring them together in dialogue. These are excellent qualities. Nevertheless a bishop must also be an “episcopos”, an overseer, a superintendent, who watches over them to help them understand the right doctrine and discover the fullness of Christian life, for the benefit of his flock. Therefore he must simply reject that which is against the Gospel. The first Christians who testified as martyrs are an example for all of us. Finally we have to consider the present reality in the light of the Gospel. It is true, the Gospel invites us to be merciful, but may this not be a seduction that compromises the truth lest we make the causes of the difficulties even greater. Certain acts cause a situation of exclusion, which has nothing to do with exclusion by the Church. Jesus was very merciful and yet he called all humanity to a radical conversion. Let us conclude in this way: our attitude of listening and mercifulness has to be followed by clear discernment, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), and finally by the right moral evaluation.


During the last decades in the West a certain general opinion about marriage was formed on the basis of the attitudes of the people without full understanding of the consequences to the real situation – and many marriages did not survive. This is largely because these opinions were not evaluated in the light of the authentic doctrine of the Church.  Jesus Christ gave the apostles and their successors a specific command to teach: “Make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat 28:19-20). But in the last 50 years instead of trusting in Church doctrine, the opposite happened. The doctrine of the Church was subordinated to public opinion, a doctrine could be judged right or acceptable only insofar it corresponded with the general opinion. Finally all praise and attention was given to “new” technology of artificial contraception, which had to be considered as wonderful and morally acceptable at any price. Yet, what was not understood was that the practice of contraception contradicts in a radical way the essence of the unity of marriage, that is, the total, mutual gift between man and woman, as defined by the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et spes nr. 48). With this conception of “mutual gift” Vatican II resumed with beautifully elegant simplicity the traditional teaching of the Church about the Christian marriage and the family. The Holy Trinity is mutual, total gift of love from one divine Person to the Other. The Christian marriage is a participation in this mutual gift just as it is a participation in the unity of Christ and the Church. The final report of the synod recaptured the conception of “gift” several times (nos. 30, 31, 34, 35, 36, 39, 42, 50) and declared that in this light the encyclical Humanae vitae of Paul VI and the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio of John Paul II must be rediscovered. Contraception seen in this light is a simple rejection of God’s gift of life, a rejection of God’s invitation to participate in the divine work of creating a new life. Unfortunately the whole West has lived through a kind of intoxication over contraception. And the pharmaceutical industry also has kept the medical world tightly in its grip.


Two visions about human sexuality were put one against the other, a personal and a biological one. The general opinion was supposed to have the good personal vision. Pope Paul VI was considered as an anxious man who was the victim of a pure biological opinion of sexuality. In fact it was exactly the opposite. By accepting contraception one is defending the conjugal act in purely biological terms, separated from its personal and full human meaning. Using contraception was dubbed in the public opinion “responsible parenthood”. Yet, a “complete personalism”, that is, to respect the fullness of what it means to be human in the marriage, means a total mutual gift between man and woman, without any exclusion, thus with openness to the possibility of precious fertility. Without this understanding the public opinion developed a deformed and irresponsible parenthood, removed from the essential reality.


According to the official teaching of the Church contraception is an “intrinsic evil”, which was not understood neither accepted. A knife is a morally neutral object because you can use it either to wound someone or to liberate him from rope. The moral value depends from your intention and from what you do with it. Still, contraception is not neutral. As the word itself says, it is used precisely to destroy the precious gift of fertility. Of course, “intrinsic evil” does not mean that there is always the same moral responsibility. When contraception is used unconsciously and unintentionally, there is of course no moral responsibility. Nevertheless contraception is an intrinsic evil.


The new style of listening in the public opinion was correct, even amid the widespread misunderstanding and the conviction that the contraception is generally wanted and accepted. But the Church must not abandon her role as teacher. If theologians simply bow to public opinion, they have lost discernment and moral evaluation.  Whatever is built on quicksand will sink down. In the beginning, contraception was accepted with a great hesitation and only in special cases, e.g. for a large family. But quickly this evolved to the point where it has become generally accepted that contraception must to be given to girls above 10 years! The whole field of bioethics has slid down the same slippery slope: from acceptance of contraception to sterilization to abortion, to euthanasia, to in vitro fertilization, to the drastic manipulation of the beginning human life – i.e. the new eugenic practices referred to as triple test and NIPT test, which in reality are much graver violations of human dignity than the eugenics programs of the Nazis. For each of those manipulations there was always a so-called “ethical justification”. Fortunately the authority of these western conceptions is waning. Vatican II could still be seen as a European-dominated council. In this synod however the African episcopate played a prominent role. Western Church authorities as represents of a dying Christianity are stepping aside.


The synod gave us at least three new perspectives full of hope. Its starts with the recognition that it was a great mistake to reject the authentic doctrine of the Church about marriage and the family, based on the fullness of the aspects of the human person. Contraception remains a painful issue. As in all physical illnesses, the sore spot indicates where healing is needed, in this case, spiritual healing. The time has come to proclaim from the rooftops the riches and beauty of natural family planning. Married life according to natural family planning is based on respect for the creation and the Creator, mutual respect, and dialogue as John Paul II explained clearly (Familiaris Consortio 32). There are now many different methods that are all good. For Belgium and Holland there is, among others, the scientific based Sensiplan® that is generally recognized. A second source of inspiration is “the Theology of the Body” according to the teachings of John Paul II who gave us an inspiring new vision on the beauty of human sexuality, marriage and family. The American political and social activist Georges Weigel states that this theology is able to change profoundly not only Catholic theology but even modern thinking. In so many countries there is already a special institute for “the Theology of the Body”.  Why not make one in Belgium as well? A third perspective is a new dynamic pastoral ministry for the families, based on the two sources mentioned above, natural family planning and “the Theology of the Body” for the benefit of the Christian families and the whole society.


A new doctrine and a new practice are not only possible but also urgently necessary. There is worldwide fight happening on many fronts. First of all the “image of God” in man is attacked, by initiatives which try to cut off any relation between man and God. Secondly there is a battle against the identity and the sovereignty of the different countries all over the world, to destroy the religious and cultural heritage and to submit them to the so called new world order, a kind of human messianism. Thirdly the dignity and identity of each person is threatened by the project which tries to introduce a neutral gender. So the most creative invention of the Creator, i.e. the diversity of sexes as an unlimited source of life and joy is being cut down. “God created man (adam) in his image; in the divine image He created him; male (zachar) and female (neqevah) He created them” (Gen 1, 27). Ultimately, the final battle is organized against the marriage and the family.  Dark forces try to reduce the marriage to furtive, meaningless relation and the family to isolated individuals so that the vital artery, the source of vitality and stability for the parents and the children is cut off. The family will become more and more the headquarter of our resistance.

What I have mentioned are some conclusions of study by a group of experts in theology and medicine, who prove scientifically that the contraceptive culture of the last half century has had a most devastating power to harm the spiritual and the physical health of people. May the public opinion soon recognize this reality and accept the new ways that are still full of hope.


Fr. Daniel Maes o. praem.                                                             Deir Mar Yakub, Qâra, Syria


6th of November 2015