Chapter 4 in Pope Francis's plan is the first of two chapters on love. This first chapter is entitled LOVE IN MARRIAGE as an essential ingredient in marriage. The Pope quotes St Paul's 1st Corinthians 13: 4-7:
“Love is patient,
love is kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way,
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things”
He then discusses each of the above sentences. This is certainly good stuff and worth studying. It might have helped if the headings always corresponded to St Paul's words. Thus “Love is kind” is discussed under a heading Love is at the service of others which is not quite the same thing. It is not immediately obvious that he has moved on to the second sentence. “Love does not insist on its own way” becomes Love is generous. This may be nitpicking on my part but I think it would have added clarity to what is otherwise a very useful passage.
The next part of this chapter is headed GROWING IN CONJUGAL LOVE. This tends to be more theological in content. It insists on the indissolubility of marriage and being open to procreation. Love, friendship and joy are all discussed. Guidance is given to young people contemplating marriage. As I have said all of this is excellent although there is the odd hiccup such as “Marital love is not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but by helping it to grow ever stronger under the impulse of grace.” This is more typical of the kind of remark which worries myself and others. Of course the word 'primarily' is vital but nonetheless is not indissolubility a duty and is not doctrine essential at times and should not the faithful be taught about the doctrine? One would assume that most couples prior to marriage would see indissolubility or faithfulness to death as a wonderful thing and if there is any hesitation as to that then serious questions should arise.
Pope Francis deals with passion and sexuality with many references to the teachings of St John Paul II. There is a section on celibacy and virginity and finally on growing old together.
Chapter Five is entitled LOVE MADE FRUITFUL starting with a quotation from St John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio. Pope Francis insists on the acceptance of all children whether wanted or not. Again quoting JPII this does not mean unlimited procreation but taking a responsible attitude. However there is no mention at this point of how that responsibility can be exercised.
Pope Francis emphasises the child's need of a maternal presence. “I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. “ And he insists on the importance of the father's role as well. He deplores the absence of fathers particularly in the Western world. He discusses those couples who are unable to have children and encourages adoption. However he quotes from the Relatio Synodi again:
In the light of those situations where a child is desired at any cost, as a right for one’s self-fulfilment, adoption and foster care, correctly understood, manifest an important aspect of parenting and the raising of children.
I wonder whether this passage from the Relatio Synodi is not a bit careless. The delegates at the Synod were working under great pressure to correct a text presented by the Synod's secretariat which contained many serious lapses. Should a child be desired at any cost? Should it be seen as a right for one's own self-fulfilment? Surely this is turning the child into an object or accessory. Unfortunately due to the terrible scourge of abortion there are few babies available for adoption and 'a baby at any cost' feeds the immoral IVF industry and the trafficking of children between countries and continents that Pope Francis goes on to deplore. Sadly such couples should perhaps accept the situation that there are no babies to adopt.
Pope Francis goes on to emphasise the importance of the family being outgoing and evangelising. Honouring fathers and mothers and thus looking after the elderly are mentioned. He criticizes cultural discontinuity which is a bit odd coming from someone who wants to abolish many traditions.
Chapter Six is entitled SOME PASTORAL PERSPECTIVES. This has a lot of generalities about improving training of the clergy as regards marriage, preparing engaged couples for marriage and it relies very heavily on what was said in the Relatio Synodi. The details of how this should be implemented is left to the local Churches but various suggestions are made.
Although Humanae Vitae is mentioned I am not sure there is not a certain sleight of hand in its presentation or rather a lack of emphasis on what it says. In respect of couples making a decision on family planning there is a long quote from Gaudium et Spes:
“[The couple] will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God”.
But the following vital caveat is not quoted:
But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment.
A sentence reinforced at some length in the following paragraph 51 of Gaudium et Spes. This reminds me of the selective quoting from Familiaris Consortio where the sentence about denying communion to the divorced and remarried was cut out.
Many people reading this will conclude after reading the selective quote from Gaudium et Spes that they should enter into a consequencialist computation of the supposed future benefits and disadvantages whilst giving a nod to the 'interests … of the Church herself' (many will be puzzled as to what those interests are rather than her teaching) and then make up their own minds. It is curious that the question of conscience seems to be uniquely brought up when it comes to considering Humanae Vitae and not at other times.
Consider this scenario: “Okay we are quite happy to have more children but we really cannot afford the extra cost. But then there is granny who is stinking rich and rather mean with it. Supposing we could quietly accelerate her demise and our inheritance without being detected. We could examine the points mentioned in the quoted paragraph and as a matter of conscience come to the conclusion that murder was justified. What do you think Father?”.
More recently – October 2016 – Pope Francis praised Father Bernard Haring. According to Professor Roberto Mattei, Haring was responsible for keeping any mention of the Church's teaching on contraception out of Gaudium et Spes. And reading the above quote am I wrong in seeing the fingerprints of Haring? Subsequently Haring was a major critic of Humanae Vitae. Is this an opening gambit by Pope Francis to undermine Humanae Vitae which will inevitably lead to approval of abortion – no doubt only after a great deal of discernment and as a matter of conscience? In November 2016 we have read of Monica Cirinna, an Italian Senator and extreme abortion advocate, saying she believes Pope Francis is going in the right direction after hearing that any priest can absolve abortion.
This Chapter Six is extremely long at nearly 100 pages covering all sorts of pastoral advice on marriage. One wonders how many people will actually read it. At one point it does deal with the harm done to children by divorce – a concern notably absent from the final document of the Synod.
If that was not enough there is then Chapter Seven 'TOWARDS A BETTER EDUCATION OF CHILDREN'. Pope Francis comes up again with his strange mantra: “Time is greater than space” and suggests that it is more important to know where your children are existentially rather than physically – some parents might cavil at that. Obviously the education of children is a subject on which there are differing views and whether others more expert than myself would accept his views I do not know. They seem pretty run of the mill and acceptable to me if not actually banal. It is noticeable that in the first fourteen pages there is nothing I could see about religious education but we do get onto sex education. Others have commented that there is no mention of the parents being the prime educators in such matters. Indeed there has been very heavy criticism of a recent booklet on sex education issued by the Vatican. I have only glanced at it and do not feel qualified to comment but I was struck by its somewhat coarse vulgarity. I did wonder quite what message was supposed to be conveyed by a picture of two toads mating! Is this the new and more appropriate language that the Synod fathers thought to be needed in introducing children and adolescents to the topic of sexuality?
But then Passing on the Faith does get treated 20 pages into this chapter. But it only gets four pages which may be a relief to those who have waded through these two Chapters but it is surprising. Or may be not – is there not a tendency to dwell on worldly rather than spiritual matters in this whole document? Is this life more important than the next?
And that leads us to the explosive Chapter Eight which I will deal with in a final part of my commentary.