Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
As a Catholic priest of nearly twenty-one years and president of an international pro-life organization, I am very concerned with the results of two recent surveys. By their nature, these types of surveys provide only a snapshot, and often hide an agenda, but I believe they both demand a closer look given the societal pressures on the Church and on the natural institution of the family.
The first survey is from the well-respected Pew Research Center, revealing that 77% of U.S. Catholics polled believe the Catholic Church should allow its members to use birth control, and that a majority believe the Church should allow its priests to marry (72%) and want to ordain women as priests (68%). The second was released by the German Bishops Conference, its data reflecting a response to a Vatican survey in preparation for the Synod on the Family in October. Though the survey revealed that German Catholics accepted and respected the Church’s teaching on stable marriages and family life, it also revealed an overwhelming rejection of the Church’s teaching on pre-marital relations, co-habitation, homosexuality and Communion for those who are remarried after divorce. According to the survey, Germans found the Church’s teaching on sexual morality “unrealistic and heartless.” The bishops called the results “a sober inventory of what German Catholics appreciate about Church teaching on marriage and the family and what they find off-putting or unacceptable, either mostly or completely.”
If the results of these surveys accurately reflect the faithful of the Church — and let’s face it, they are not very surprising—then it is clear that the Church has failed to communicate the Faith and influence the culture. With skyrocketing rates of divorce and children born out of wedlock, with co-habitation becoming the norm rather than the exception, and with the ever-increasing acceptance among Catholics of same-sex unions, the Church is most certainly suffering a crisis in the rejection by the faithful of her teaching, leaving the faithful in the same brokenness and confusion as the rest of society.
Indeed, the smoke emanating from these surveys points to a raging fire being stoked by the rejection of God, the failure of catechesis concerning human sexuality and the sacrament of marriage, and concerning our nature as human persons made in God’s image called to be with Him for all eternity.
But also troubling is that we are now hearing calls even from within the Church to conform the “pastoral practice” of the Church to this confusion and desolation. As if it is the Church’s role to make those who are truly lost feel more comfortable in their sin and error, rather than offering them a voice of love in Truth, calling them back to God and His plan for their true happiness.
I want to ask those who are calling for the Church to reform her pastoral approach in the direction of accepting the unacceptable the following two questions: Is it not also true that most people have ignored or rejected the Church’s teaching on solidarity with the poor and the universal destination of goods? And if this is true (clearly it is), then should we not also set aside the Church’s social doctrine in favor of a more “pastoral” approach that avoids challenging the unjust structures that tolerate or exacerbate extreme, dehumanizing poverty?
Faithful Catholics who recognize the absurdity of these questions might be forgiven for wondering why the “pastoral” approach being proposed by some with regard to sexuality and marriage is even up for consideration, when the obvious consequences would be so grave.
At the heart of these debates over such serious and deeply intertwined social and moral issues is the false understanding of freedom. The secular understanding, as we know, is that freedom means being absolved from the natural consequences of one’s own actions. Regardless of what the surveys reveal, the Church must uphold true freedom—a person’s will that is formed in love and truth, and free to choose what is truly good — and proclaim it in every generation, in season and out of season, whether it is popular or unpopular.
The challenge before the Catholic Church in this current crisis, as always, is to speak with clarity to the transcendent nature of the human person. It is imperative for the Church to recognize where the faithful truly are on these issues, but in no way is it her job to simply make people feel better about their illusions, or to support ever greater State-sponsored programs to mitigate the logical social and economic consequences of these destructive errors.
Human nature, marriage and the family are not mere human constructs. We have been made by God, for God. Jesus reveals man to himself by taking him back to the very beginning—the origins of his creation—and reintroduces humanity to its Creator. The human person, more than a mere biological creature, is only truly free when faithful to his created nature.
Pope Francis in his Lenten Message says it so well: “If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.”