Ten prelates from Africa have stood up against a pastoral approach to new challenges to marriage and the family that would effectively modify the Church’s doctrine, by writing essays for a book meant to be a “contribution to the Synod onf the Family by African pastors.”
This is the subtitle of Christ’s New Homeland – Africa, published this week by Ignatius Press, and which features a preface by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship.
In the book, cardinals and bishops from Africa tackles the main issues of the upcoming Synod on the Family; shed light on shortcomings in the synod’s instrumentum laboris (working document); stress the importance of formation of Christians; and face challenges such as polygamy and interreligious marriages.
Above all, the African prelates claim the importance of their continent in facing secularizing trends, and explain that a strong faith is the best response to them.
The book is divided in three parts: “The Synod on the Family: From one Assembly to Another”; “The Gospel of the Family”; and “Pastoral Care of Families that are Hurting”. There is also an epilogue, an “Appeal from the Church in Africa to the State”, which explains why governments should support families.
The books contributors are Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship; Bishop Barthélemy Adoukonou, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Archbishop Denis Amuzu-Dzakpah of Lomé; Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou; Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa; Cardinal Christian Tumi, Archbishop Emeritus of Douala; Archbishop Antoine Ganye of Cotonou; Cardinal Théodore-Adrien Sarr, Archbishop Emeritus of Dakar; Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala; and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan.
The first part of the book is constituted by two essays, by Cardinal Sarah and Bishop Adoukonou, critiquing the instrumentum laboris of the upcoming synod.
Both found numerous deficiencies – “slippery language” and “treacherous expressions” among them – in the synod’s working document, and underscored the role the media has played in discussions leading up to the synod.
According to Cardinal Sarah, “the media coverage of this debate gives the impression that, on the one hand, there are those who are in favor of ‘closed doctrine’ and, on the other hand, those who are for ‘pastoral openness’.”
But – the cardinal underscored – “in reality, there is no doctrinal party opposed to a pastoral party; instead, both parties claim to be attached to the Church’s perennial doctrine and want pastoral practice to express God’s mercy toward everyone … Might there be some, then, who would argue for the continuation of a pastoral practice that, if it changed, would ipso facto modify the doctrine?
Cardinal Sarah added that “new developments in pastoral practice would not mean changing doctrine, they maintain, but rather would allow the Church to make God’s loving heart more apparent and accessible.” He countered, however, that such “developments” would be “a sort of ‘mercy’ that accomplishes nothing but lets them seek deeper into evil.”
“But could they seriously think that the bishops and cardinals who were warning about a real danger of doctrinal deviation have a fixed concept of pastoral practice? If God’s pedagogy changes, that of the Church should not become rigid,” concluded the prefect.
He noted that the media who push for a change to pastoral practice “forget to say that now most practicing Christians are found no longer in the Northern Hemisphere but rather in the Young Churches.”
Cardinal Sarah also highlighted some “perplexities” raised by the synod’s working document, especially as it seems to propose civil marriage as a preparation for sacramental marriage.
“To what population does the document address this reality of civil marriages as a preparation for sacramental marriage? To the baptized members of the Church or to sympathetic pagans in areas where an initial evangelization is being conducted? Unless it applies to the neo-pagans in the countries of former Christendom!”
“Set God and doctrine aside, and you create a major pastoral confusion,” Cardinal Sarah wrote.
Cardinal Sarah also underscored that “the Church’s pastoral ministry, as her pastors strive to conduct it in the Young Churches, has never outlawed from the community those who are in difficult marital situations. On the contrary, in most cases, they are active members in ecclesial life.”
He then explained that “the fact that they do not go to sacramental Communion – which is not in their view a simple communal meal from which they would feel excluded – nevertheless does not diminish their profound desire to serve Jesus and his ecclesial community.”
According to Cardinal Sarah, “the lack of a clear position and all the confusion that we note in the relatio synodi are obvious signs, not only of a deep crisis of faith, but also of an equally deep crisis in pastoral practice: pastors hesitate to set out clearly in one direction.”
The instrumentum laboris, he said, reflects the malaise of the Church in the West, and that were the Church to allow the divorced-and-remarried to receive Communion, “why would we reject the lay faithful who had become polygamous? We would also have to remove ‘adultery’ from the list of sins.”
Bishop Adoukonou wrote that “the fundamental methodological limitation that we observe in the document lies in the fact that it utilizes the resources of almost all the human and social sciences to put into context the topic of the family today without bringing to light the most important background, namely, the historical choices that led to this disaster.”
A clear position is needed, says Bishop Adookonou. Citing the rise of the Islamic State caliphate, similar efforts in the Sahel and that “other extremist movements seek to set up radical Islamic regimes everywhere, which confuse decadent Western civilization with Christianity, we have the obligation to set ourselves apart from that postmodern civilization, not out of fear or by way of withdrawing into our own enclaves, but out of fidelity to our deep Christian and African identity,” he wrote.
And he added: “For the sake of attracting people, we do not want to put ourselves into situations that would compromise our values, under the illusion of being open to the world in that way.”
Bishop Adokonou also declared that “conscious more than ever of this interdependence, Africa would like to remind the Church in the West that she could not possibly engage in a hermetically sealed dialogue with the postmodern world, while ridiculing other countries as though they were trapped in various forms of obscurantism that no one understands, without seriously compromising her faith and Christian roots.”
The archbishop deems “unacceptable” the idea – contained in the Synod’s working document – that “the Gospel in itself is a burden from which the Church, out of mercy, ought to strive to relieve our poor contemporaries.”
He went so far as to suggest that a section of the document “contains elements that are highly debatable and even in contradiction with Catholic doctrine.”
Cardinal Souphraniel highlighted the Church’s importance in providing a correct education about marriage and family.
The Church – he wrote – “prepares young couples for marriage. She provides religious education for children grades 1–12. She makes available Catholic schools from kindergarten to the university level, where truths of the faith and moral truths are part of the learning experience. She provides classes in Natural Family Planning, family counseling, and pastoral care, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation and forgiveness. She counteracts such contemporary trends as hedonism, abortion, euthanasia, and value-free sex education.”
But the most important thing is that “she provides the sacraments, whereby every man, woman, and child can obtain the spiritual help he needs to resist temptation, to pursue virtuous living, and to grow in the worship and praise of God,” Cardinal Souphraniel underscored.
Archbishop Kleda also shed light on the lack of education, especially for couples. In his words, “one last form of suffering that can be observed involves couples who are not well prepared for marriage, who have not understood the meaning of family life and have not agreed to give themselves totally to each other.”
In the end, explains Cardinal Kutwa, “The family is and remains, in Africa as elsewhere in the world, society’s most precious resource. It is the place where one learns the importance of oneself, certainly, but also the importance of the other. No one is born alone and for himself alone.”
This is one of the many reasons Cardinal Kutwa provides to explain why the state should support family.
But the real, final rationale of the book is that of setting the core on Christian families who are fully living their vocation as Christian families.
“The beautiful Christian families that are heroically living out the demanding values of the Gospel are today the real peripheries of our world and of our societies, which are going through life as though God did not exist,” wrote Cardinal Sarah.
By Andrea Gagliarducci