Catholic laypeople must have maturity to speak up about bad things happening at highest levels in the Church

By John Smeaton

On December 28th, I spoke in the parish church of St Theresa of the Child Jesus, in north west London, about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome last October.

Interestingly, my talk was very well received … Interesting, because I spoke very directly about the teaching of Jesus Christ on the indissolubility of marriage and on the church’s unchanging, unchangeable teaching on contraception and on homosexual acts. I have never had so many parishioners approach with me to express their appreciation after a talk. Even though I was speaking as a Catholic, I made it clear that these issues are profoundly related to the battle against the culture of death. I also emphasised that Catholics must be mature enough to speak up when there are clearly serious problems at the highest levels of the Church.

Here’s what I said – just after Cardinal Nichols’s pastoral letter on the Synod had been presented by Fr Richard Parsons, the parish priest …


Fr Richard has kindly invited me to say a few words about Voice of the Family, an international initiative of the Catholic laity involving 23 pro-life and pro-family organizations from five continents around the world. We formed Voice of the Family in order to offer to our bishops our expertise and resources before, during and after the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, throughout most of October in Rome – a process which will culminate in the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October 2015. A team of us spent much of October in Rome, meeting and briefing many of the Synod Fathers, and writing reports on what was happening, both the good and the bad, and a team of us will be going to Rome for virtually the whole of October next year, doing the same job.

The following unchanging truths lie at the heart of the work of Voice of the Family:

– Sacramental marriage, binding parents together in an indissoluble union, is the greatest protector of children both born and unborn.
– The artificial separation of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual act, in other words contraception and in vitro fertilisation, is a major cause of the culture of death.
– Parents are the primary educators of their children and it is through the education and formation of parents, and future parents, that the culture of life will be built.

Why do Catholic laymen and laywomen consider they have the right to go to Rome to advise their bishops on family issues, or advise them at all for that matter? Surely it’s the exclusive job of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church over the centuries?

Firstly, the Holy Spirit, Who guides the Church, guides the Church through people – through Fr Richard’s homilies, for example, and, according to Blessed John Henry Newman, through all sorts of people in the Church and in all sorts of ways: In July 1859, Blessed John Henry Newman, one of the patrons of St Theresa’s parish, wrote in an article in The Rambler: “I think I am right in saying that the tradition of the Apostles, committed to the whole Church in its various constituents and functions … manifests itself variously at various times: sometimes by the mouth of the [bishops], sometimes by the doctors, sometimes by the people, sometimes by liturgies, rites, ceremonies, and customs, by events, disputes, movements, and all those other phenomena which are comprised under the name of history. It follows”, Blessed John Henry Newman said, “that none of those channels of tradition may be treated with disrespect …”

Secondly, how many Catholic lay men and women are there, worldwide, who are not acutely aware, in their own family lives of the crisis in family life? We Catholic parents and Catholic grandparents really are experts in this field because of the many crises we ourselves experience in our own families. In this connection, it was good to see in the final report of last October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, a section which clearly links this crisis in family life to a “crisis of faith” throughout the Church.

I have referred to a good aspect of the final report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Unfortunately there are bad aspects too: Cardinal Raymond Burke said the interim report 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”, a view shared by many other leading cardinals and archbishops. I am very sorry to share with you that some of these elements remain in the final report.

Catholic laypeople, in the light of the worldwide crisis of faith, must be mature enough to recognize that bad things can happen even at the highest levels of the Church, and we must be confident in speaking out when that’s the situation.

In addition, it is striking that the final report of a synod purportedly on the theme, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”, fails to mention abortion, in-vitro fertilisation, embryo experimentation, gender theory, euthanasia, assisted suicide and threats to the freedom to live according to the moral law and the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Another grave omission is that there is no mention of the severity of the threat currently faced by parents. The most pressing threats, which vary from nation to nation, include:

– The denial of the right of parents to control what their children are taught in schools i.e. through the imposition by the state of compulsory anti-life, anti-family sex education.
– The provision of access to abortion and contraception in schools without parental knowledge or consent, including in Catholic schools
– The requirement for teachers to instruct children in the new definition of ‘marriage’ in countries where ‘same-sex marriage’ has been legalised – a policy being enacted in some Catholic primary schools in London

The failure of the final document to address these issues is a grave betrayal of families.

The threats to freedom outlined above are not the only threats faced by families. Cases are multiplying all over the world of individuals who have seen their livelihoods destroyed or threatened by a vigorous and intolerant homosexual lobby which demands complete approval and compliance. Cases include attempts to force Bed and Breakfast owners to accept homosexual couples sharing beds on their premises and to force bakers to bake cakes celebrating ‘same-sex marriages’. We have also seen employees punished for expressing their views on ‘same-sex marriage’ and homosexuality and religious ministers and street preachers arrested for sharing their traditional Christian views. Most seriously of all we see children being indoctrinated into the same-sex rights agenda in their schools. All of this has developed against a longer term background of threats to the right to conscientious objection to involvement in grave moral offences such as abortion.

Concern is growing across the Catholic world. Parents fear that their children will grow up in a world where they will have to face great hardships if they strive to live according to the natural moral law and the teaching of the Church. Yet the authors of the Family Synod final report, in Section 6, merely refer to the “general feeling of powerlessness” felt by families without any discussion of these realities.

Whilst in Rome, our Voice of the Family, which included Josephine, my wife, and myself, had the privilege of meeting outstanding, courageous bishops from Australasia and Oceania, Africa, north America and Europe – men who were prepared to insist on the unchanging and unchangeable teachings of Jesus Christ on marriage, and on the unchanging unchangeable doctrine of the church on intrinsic evil of homosexual acts, on contraceptive drugs and devices, and on parents as the primary educators of their children. These good pastors need our prayers since they are up against powerful forces within church structures.

For a fuller analysis of the problems in the final Synod report please see the Voice of the Family analysis.