Sunday, June 29, 2014


John Allen, my favorite religion reporter, who, thank God, got a legitimate job at the Boston Globe after leaving the National Chismatic Reporter (NCR) often called Fishwrap, has a very good article on a few topics concerning Pope Francis and the Church in the Boston Globe. You can read it in full HERE.

However, this is his take on the working document that was just released by the Vatican  for the upcoming synod on the family. John Allen sees Pope Benedict's hand in much of it which I do too! It must be something about the name Allen, although it should be Allan.

This is John Allen's take:

A revival of ‘affirmative orthodoxy’ on sex

Some years ago I coined the phrase “affirmative orthodoxy” to capture what Pope Benedict XVI was up to on the subject of sex. It was an attempt to explain the curious fact that whenever people expected the Vatican’s infamous “Doctor No” to wag his finger against sexual sin as pope, he typically served up elegiacs about love instead.

Both elements of the formula count.

Benedict’s line was “orthodox,” because he certainly wasn’t changing doctrine, but “affirmative” in that he wanted to emphasize what the church supports rather than what it opposes. The idea seemed to be that church teaching might find a new lease on life if it came off as something more than a litany of “thou shalt not’s.”

Judging by a key Vatican document released Thursday, affirmative orthodoxy is alive and well, even after the resignation of the pontiff who pioneered it.

Called an instrumentum laboris, or “working paper,” the document sets the table for a summit of Catholic bishops from around the world in Rome Oct. 5-19, summoned by Pope Francis to discuss the family. It should be great theater, since there’s almost no hot-button issue that isn’t germane — from women’s rights, gay marriage, and contraception, to whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to take communion.

The text is designed to synthesize the input the Vatican has received, including responses to a questionnaire requested by Francis to seek the views of the church’s grass roots.

In early reporting, much was made of the document’s acknowledgment that many Catholics do not follow church teaching on contraception. That’s hardly a thunderclap, however, since it’s been blindingly obvious for decades. As Cardinal Sean O’Malley put it in February, if that’s the only result the questionnaire produced, the Vatican could have saved the postage.

The document is also hardly notable for its literary appeal, with National Catholic (Chismatic) Reporter columnist Fr. Tom Reese calling it “boring and joyless.” (To be fair, saying a Vatican text isn’t gripping reading is like saying a dog bit a man — only the opposite would be news.)

Its real importance is as a preview of coming attractions for October, and at that level the document seems to hint at changes in tone if probably not in content.

It affirms Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical upholding the church’s ban on birth control, and rues the influence of a widespread “contraceptive mentality.” It asserts that every bishops’ conference in the world is opposed to “redefining” marriage to include same-sex couples, and voices opposition to allowing gay couples to adopt. It also describes abortion as a “very serious sin.”

Even on the issue of the divorced and remarried, where Francis himself has appeared to signal openness to change, the document plays down hopes for a breakthrough.

Paragraph 95 cites the fact that Orthodox Christianity sometimes permits a second or third marriage, but asserts that in Orthodox countries the practice has not reduced the number of divorces. The text also warns against any step that might be perceived as allowing “Catholic divorce.”

In a nutshell, that’s the “orthodox” part of the document. What’s equally striking, however, is its “affirmative” dimension.

Inspired by Pope Francis, probably the single most important word in the 85-page text is “mercy.” Its text repeatedly rejects “moralism,” insisting on “an open and positive pastoral approach.”
Judgmental attitudes are the document’s bĂȘte noire.

“The church must not assume an attitude of a judge who condemns,” it says, quoting Francis, “but that of a mother who always receives her children and nurses their wounds so they may heal.”

As an example, the text says in paragraph 120 that even though the church disapproves of gay adoption, the children of same-sex couples should be fully welcome. It also applauds the courage of teen mothers and calls for every effort to help them.

The document calls for a more “positive” presentation of church teaching and warns against “overly rigid” stances. On gay unions, it says “extreme reactions” have not helped and calls for “a respectful and nonjudgmental attitude.” It concedes that the church faces a credibility gap on moral matters, in part because of its sexual abuse scandals and the lavish lifestyle of some bishops.

Paragraph 109 offers a series of present participles to capture the right pastoral style: “Proposing, not imposing; guiding, not pushing; inviting, not driving away; thought-provoking, never disappointing.”
Translated into political terms, what this boils down to is a major boost for the church’s moderate camp.

When it comes to sex, liberals in the Catholic fold seek changes in teaching, while conservatives want more emphatic defenses of tradition. Moderates are generally those who accept current doctrine, perhaps seeking small accommodations in specific cases (such as permitting condom use for married couples where one partner is HIV-positive and the other isn’t).[My comment: Pope Benedict hinted at this too, if you will recall, actually more than a hint and he was clobbered by many rigid Catholics, although it is only common sense!] Yet they don’t think the church has to talk about sex all the time, and they favor compassion and flexibility in how the teachings are applied.
It remains to be seen if October’s Synod of Bishops will follow the script laid out in the instrumentum laboris. If so, however, it looks like a prescription for an “affirmative orthodoxy” mandate.

If that proves true, and if Francis runs with it, at the very least we’ll have a fascinating chance to see if a different pope can move Benedict’s message.

My Final Comment:  I don't see any major changes in Church teaching or any at all as it concerns contraception, divorce and remarriage and homosexual legal unions. I do see a more pastoral approach though and a broadening of the annulment process to assist those who are married again outside the Church--I especially hope there will be a streamlined approach for inquirers into the Catholic faith. Marriage issues are the number one stumbling block!

As it regards homosexual legal unions, I would appreciate some clarification on how to minister to them and embracing any children they might have no matter how that occurs. The problem I see is that there are ideological homosexuals who despise the Church's teaching on sexuality and natural law and will use their children to push forward their ideological agenda. And with homosexual legal unions, which some call marriage, there is an ideological agenda to force this on the Church and our institutions, such as our schools and this has happened in Macon, Georgia! We need to push back when that happens. 

Overall, I am excited about the upcoming synod and pray it will help bishops and priest minister more effectively and help the laity to appreciate the Church's wisdom as it concerns sex! God knows our current culture needs the Church's corrective teachings!


JBS said...

Did he really use the term "Chismatic" for his former employer, as the text indicates?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

No, no, that's my added description and bracketed to indicate that.

Anonymous said...

The only downside of Mr. Allen's moving to the Globe is that his articles are now hidden behind the PayWall.

I like his writings for sure, but not enough to spend $$$ on them.

Anyway, thanks for the excerpt, Father.

John Drake said...

Is "chismatic" a real word? Thought it was "schismatic"!?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

No not a real word but allows for maintaining NCR! :)

Reilly said...

What about Catholic groups like The Defenders, Dignity, and New Ways Ministry? They promote a very liberal and progressive view on sexuality.
We believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons, and persons-gay or straight- who enjoy erotica and masturbation, can express their sexuality in a manner that is consonant with Christ's teaching. We believe that we can express our sexuality physically, in a unitive manner that is loving, life-giving, and life-affirming. We believe that all sexuality should be exercised in an ethically responsible and unselfish way. -The Defenders.

Will Pope Francis excommunicate groups like these?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The pope doesn't need to do this but local bishops may and should. Groups like this are an oxymoron when calling themselves Catholic similar to KKK making a similar claim about racism.

Gene said...

Sex in a unitive manner…hmmmm…how about a ewe-nitive manner?
What is it with people who define themselves solely by their sexuality? They have a hang-up on their hangy-downs.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you check out for the approved Catholic ministry to persons dealing with same sex attraction.

There are also a growing number of Catholic psychologists who understand and accept Catholic anthropology and metaphysics and thus use their psychological skills to help re-affirm Christians in their faith in therapy rather than use therapy as a way to 'pastorally' undermine faith and morality in practice.

In general if one's 'pastoral' (praxis) contradicts one's doctrinal (doxis) message, then there's a problem. The best pastor helps people live the ideal rather than helps them avoid the ideal.

That's why allowing condom use for HIV is a false hope - as much as theologians think their pastoral approach is laser-etched into a nice little box, the people will IMMEDIATELY look at the principle and assume on their own that condom use is OK for all use and motives. We've seen this movie before! In 1930 the original contraceptive pill was promoted among Anglicans to strengthen marriage only to lead to the sexual revolution that sundered sex from procreation and thus sex from relationship and responsibility.

Condoms make of the woman essentially a masturbatory aid as there is no genuine 'uniting' of the two in one flesh. Thus while the pastoral INTENT is pure, the actual facts on the ground nullify the noble goals.

Aaaand this is why theologians need Philosophy (chiefly logic, epistemology, metaphysics and anthropology...and a bit of common sense and history). It always looks good on paper.

Anonymous said...,_Homilies,_and_Talks/Sower_07_10_Newton.pdf

JBS said...


Are you sure those groups are canonically recognized as "Catholic" groups?