A talk delivered by Matthew McCusker of Voice of the Family to the Marriage, Sex and Culture group of Anglican Mainstream on 11th December 2014
Voice of the Family is a coalition of 23 different pro-life and pro-family organisations drawn from across all five continents and founded and led by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
International cooperation between pro-life organisations is more important than ever in the light of escalating threats to life, marriage and the family, especially as the ‘culture of death’ is being vigorously promoted at the United Nations, the European Union and by many of the world’s most powerful NGOs.
The killing of unborn children by abortion continues on an ever increasing scale. Conservative estimates suggests well over one billion deaths since 1920, when the Soviet Union became the first country in the world to legalise abortion. This figure does not include the innumerable deaths causes by the abortifacient action of hormonal birth control or by IVF and embryo experimentation.
Then of course we have the other threats of which we all well aware; the spread of euthanasia and assisted suicide, the destruction of the traditional understanding of marriage, and an assault on our very identity as male and female by so-called ‘gender theory’ and homosexual ideology.
And of course the greatest victims of all these evils are children, born and unborn.
What we are witnessing is nothing less than an assault on the whole natural order of creation; a denial of reality, which is nothing less than collective insanity.
So clearly there is a need for pro-life and pro-family organisations to work ever more closely together.
Voice of the Family describes itself as “an initiative of Catholic laity from major pro-life/pro-family organisations.”
Most of the organisations that make up Voice of the Family are Catholic, though some, such as SPUC, are not affiliated to any particular religious group.
But what all members of the coalition share is the conviction that the Catholic Church has a unique and indispensable role to play in the global pro-life struggle because of the Church’s clear and authoritative and teaching on the truth and meaning of human sexuality, on marriage, on the dignity of human life and on the family.
This brings me on to the proximate reason for the founding of Voice of Family, which was the announcement last year by Pope of Francis of two synods to be held in October 2014 and October 2015 on the theme “The Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelisation.”
Voice of the Family was initially formed to take the opportunity provided by the synod to assist the bishops and cardinals of the Church to effectively address the crisis facing the family. We wanted to place at their disposal the collective experience and expertise of the organisations involved, as well as using the opportunity to reach the public in general with our pro-life, pro-family message.
Of course opportunities can be missed as well as embraced and we were well aware that there were those attending the synod and influencing opinion who were proposing a so-called “a pastoral approach” to the problems facing the family which we believe to be fundamentally misguided.
Our intention then was also to challenge such ideas and urge the synod fathers to adopt a courageous and determined approach to the problems facing families in the modern world.
There were indeed many bishops prepared to do just that; certain bishops from Africa and from Eastern Europe come particularly to mind.
I would like however to focus more today on the false approach. Not because it was more prominent, it wasn’t, but because I think it leads us to discussion of one of the central philosophical problems which affects almost everybody in the modern west and which make it very difficult for many who hold traditional moral values to effectively and courageously proclaim them and call people back to recognition of the divinely established order in creation.
I want to do this by focusing on one particular document produced half-way during the synod.
During the first week of the synod the cardinals and bishops each gave short speeches. At the beginning of the second week of the synod a document was drafted which was intended to be a summary of all the speeches of the synod fathers. This would then serve as the basis for a second document which would serve as an agenda for the synod in October 2015. The second synod will be a much larger groups of bishops and will meet for a longer time. It seems that the document was written largely by Bruno Forte, the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto in Italy.
This document was presented on the morning of Monday 13th October and while purporting to be a summary of the interventions of the synod fathers it seems reasonably clear that it consisted in large part of Forte’s own opinions, which often seemed to be pursuing a ‘progressive agenda’. I will draw attention to two points which are good examples of what I mean:
- Firstly, there was an emphasis on looking for the positive and constructive aspects of sinful relationships, such as cohabitation outside of marriage. The teaching of the Church was upheld but there was this shift of emphasis which suggested that it was more important to find things to praise than to talk about the reality of sin and its consequences.
- Secondly, there was an approach to homosexuality which did not correspond to Catholic teaching. The Church teaches authoritatively that the homosexual orientation is “intrinsically disordered” but Forte talks about valuing the orientation. There are also other problems with his approach towards homosexuality, as you will see when reading the text provided.
It’s important to note that this document was immediately disowned by many bishops and cardinals present who said that it was not a reflection of what had actually been said by the synod fathers but was in fact the drafters own opinions.
For example Cardinal Napier, the Archbishop of Durban in South Africa, said that the document was “virtually irredeemable” and “was not we are saying at all” while Raymond Cardinal Burke, head of the Church’s highest court, said that the draft was “a gravely flawed document and does not express adequately the teaching and discipline of the Church and, in some aspects, propagates doctrinal error and a false pastoral approach.”
After the presentation of this document to the synod, the fathers broke up into small groups to analyse the draft. On the Thursday 16th the small groups submitted their own suggestions for a revised document and demanded that these be published so that the world could see what they really thought.
So the final document which was released on the last day of the synod was significantly different to the Forte draft, containing strong reaffirmations of Catholic doctrine.
But of course a lot of damage had already been done with many in the media presenting the document as if it were a major change in the Church’s approach, even though it was a document with no authority whatsoever. Indeed in the Catholic Church synods meet in a purely advisory capacity. They have no teaching authority, nor can they make any decisions; their role is provide bishops with an opportunity to share ideas and give advice and make proposals to the Pope, which he is under no obligation to accept.
It does show however that there are bishops who have a confused approach to Catholic doctrine.
On the one hand they know what the Church teaches and that they are bound to accept it but on the other hand they see that the rest of the world is moving in a completely different direction and so they feel torn between the two.
Some years ago a faithful bishop succinctly described the situation that such bishops find themselves in. Such a man he said “is in a state of continual contradiction. He would like to remain a Catholic but he is possessed by a desire to please the world”.
Of course the temptation to be torn between Christ and the world is as old as Judas and will be present until the end of the world.
But modern society poses particular challenges because the changes that have taken place in society over the last couple of centuries have been radical indeed, affecting every area of life.
I want to focus on just one area, that is, the evolutionary view of history which sees society as continually progressing to an ever more progressive and advanced state. This view is so fundamental to the modern world view that it affects us all to some extent, shaping the way we view the world in profound ways.
While such views have emerged throughout history they became particularly dominant during the early nineteenth century. Historians such as Thomas Babington Macaulay saw mankind moving towards ever greater liberty and prosperity. This is often described as the ‘Whig view of history.’ Such theories were given extra authority by Darwin’s theory of evolution which spawned new ideologies and approaches to history.
Eugenics took Darwin’s theories to their logical conclusion and sought to direct the process of human evolution by both voluntary and coercive means. Eugenics is one of the root causes of the movement for birth control and abortion. Eugenics is still being practiced today as the killing in the womb of an estimated 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome in the UK demonstrates.
Indeed, it has been said that all the ideologies which have been opposed to Christian truth in the twentieth century have an evolutionary foundation. Communism, for example, saw mankind evolving towards an ideal form of society while Nazism combined a eugenic approach with a neo-pagan religiosity which included the conception of an overarching evolutionary direction to history.
In many of these ideologies human nature is considered subject to perpetual evolution and change; individual men and women are made the subjects, not the masters, of historical development and the sovereignty of God is no longer acknowledged.
The denial of the immutability of human nature is seen most strikingly today in ‘gender theory’ and the redefinition of marriage.
In the draft document mentioned earlier we read that “the task at hand” was to “read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves.”
This is an acceptable statement if it simply means that the Church must seek to respond to the needs of the times she finds herself in yet I think we can see in it the influence of this evolutionary view of history that I have been discussing.
It is in fact impossible to view human history as an object of fidelity; man cannot be faithful to a sequence of events. Fidelity to history in the sense of something which has to be obeyed is only conceivable if one believes that humanity is in a state of gradual development towards ever greater perfection.
If one has to be faithful both to God and “human history” it follows that whenever there is a clash between their mutual demands a compromise must be found. Man must be faithful to God and yet faithful to the ever changing stream of history and human development. This approach substitutes for the immutable natural moral law a law subject to flux and change over the course of time.
The assertion of a twofold fidelity to God and human history is I think a major cause of the progressives approach to the immutable doctrine of the church.
They try to remain faithful to God by asserting that homosexual acts are wrong, but faithful to human history by ‘valuing’ and ‘welcoming’ the orientation in accordance with modern ideology.
They try to remain faithful to God by continuing to assert the traditional understanding of marriage, but faithful to human history by finding so-called positive aspects of sinful unions and choosing to downplay sin and its consequences, because modern society no longer regards certain practices as morally objectionable.
Of course such solutions are ultimately not faithful to God who requires his gospel to be preached “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2).
Another example of this you may have come across in the media recently is discussion of the Church’s position on civil marriages of divorced persons contracted outside of the Church.
The Catholic Church teaches that a ratified and consummated sacramental marriage is indissoluble; “what God hath joined together let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9).
Therefore she is not able to recognise second marriages contracted outside the Church by a divorced person and not able to permit people living in these unions to receive Holy Communion without amendment of life.
Some theologians have sought ways to modify this practice while at same time protesting that they do not want to change the doctrine of the Church.
Such attempts will ultimately fail, not only because the teaching of the Church is crystal clear but also because of the deeper problem with this approach.
Cardinal Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expressed it well in the last couple of days:
Theology, he said, is not “a pure speculation or theory detached from the life of believers.”
There can never be “a gap or a conflict between the understanding of the faith and the pastoral approach or practice of the lived faith.”
Indeed he said: “Each division between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ of the faith would be a reflection of a subtle Christological ‘heresy,’”
Such a division could only be the result of “a division in the mystery of the eternal Word of the Father, who became flesh.”
Another way of expressing the problem would be to say that the relationship between doctrine and practice is like the relationship between the body and the soul; the only time body and soul are separated is in death.
In the living Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, doctrine and practice can never be separated.
I would like to conclude with a few final thoughts about the connection between the evolutionary approach and the ‘culture of death’.
The traditional Christian doctrine of creation, that God spoke everything into existence from nothing, guarantees two crucial facts about creation.
Firstly, that the natural created order is, in its fundamentals, immutable. Thomas Aquinas expressed the traditional doctrine well when he says that the universe was created in that “perfection which is the completeness of the universe at its first founding” (ST I q.73 a. 1). The universe was complete at its first founding; it is as God made it; it is not evolving or developing into anything else. Therefore human nature and the moral law are not subject to change.
Secondly, it guarantees that everything in creation has an end and a purpose. For example, marriage was ordained by God for particular ends; it has a reason and a meaning.
The evolutionary approach of course denies both the fundamental immutability of creation and that it has a divinely established order and purpose. In a world dominated by this approach it is very difficult to argue that concepts such as male and female, masculine and feminine are fixed and unchangeable. Gender theory and the redefinition of marriage are perfectly suited to an ever changing universe without order or purpose.
Only a rediscovery of the truth that a loving God created the world for a purpose, for His glory and our good, will ultimately lead to the conquest of the culture of death.