It is no novelty that the enemies of the Holy Church try to manipulate the words of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in favor of their own illegitimate interests.
After all, the influence of pastors over souls is considered excessive by those who would like a world without God. So, they try to deviate it from its true objective: in the last few decades, it has been increasingly common to see this attempted with the teachings of the Popes. With God’s help, however, the truth has always triumphed.
Clear statements have shed light on this era in which the distinction between good and evil seems ever more blurred. Brave pronouncements, such as those of Paul VI, John Paul II, or more recently, Benedict XVI, have disregarded the world’s scorn and gone against the tide of generalized relativism. Catholics have heartily welcomed these pronouncements, for we are really in need of convictions based on the immortal rock of the Church’s faith.
One of the topics that most requires this clarity is that of family morals, frequently attacked on all fronts. Consequently, it is highly beneficial to learn how to avoid imprecise expressions… Let us examine the teachings we have received in this regard; on one hand from Francis, and on the other from the former Pontiffs.
A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the topic of divorced people. It is an aspect that will, without a doubt, be debated. But, for me, the new customs of today’s young people are another important problem. Young people aren’t getting married. It is the culture of the age. Many young adults prefer to live together without getting married. What should the Church do? Cast them out? Or, on the contrary, draw near to them, hold on to them and try to bring God’s word to them? The World has changed and the Church cannot enclose itself in supposed interpretations of dogma. We have to engage with social conflicts, new and old, and try to offer a consoling hand, not to stigmatize and not only to challenge. (Interview with the Argentine daily La Nación, October 5, 2014 – English)
Enter the various parts of our study
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:2)
The underlying question concerns the relationship between the Church and the world. This question was fundamental to the Second Vatican Council and it remains fundamental to the life of the Church more than thirty years later. The answer we give to this question will determine the answer we give to a range of other important and practical questions. The advanced secularization of society brings with it a tendency to blur the boundaries between the Church and the world. Certain aspects of the prevailing culture are allowed to condition the Christian community in ways which the Gospel does not permit. There is sometimes an unwillingness to challenge cultural assumptions as the Gospel demands. This often goes hand in hand with an uncritical approach to the problem of moral evil, and a reluctance to recognize the reality of sin and the need for forgiveness. This attitude embodies a too optimistic view of modernity, together with an uneasiness about the Cross and its implications for Christian living. The past is too easily dismissed, and the horizontal is so stressed that the sense of the supernatural grows weak. A distorted respect for pluralism leads to a relativism which questions the truths taught by faith and accessible to human reason; and this in turn leads to confusion about what constitutes true freedom. All this causes uncertainty about the distinctive contribution which the Church is called to make in the world.
In speaking of the Church’s dialogue with the world, Pope Paul VI used the phrase colloquium salutis; not just dialogue for its own sake, but a dialogue which has its source in the Truth and seeks to communicate the Truth that frees and saves. The colloquium salutis requires that the Church be different precisely for the sake of dialogue. The unfailing source of this difference is the power of the Paschal Mystery which we proclaim and communicate. It is in the Paschal Mystery that we discover the absolute and universal truth – the truth about God and about the human person – which has been entrusted to the Church and which She offers to the men and women of every age. We Bishops must never lose confidence in the call we have received, the call to a humble and tenacious diakonia of that truth. The Apostolic faith and the Apostolic mission which we have received impose a solemn duty to speak that truth at every level of our ministry. (John Paul II. Address to the Bishops of Australia on their ad limina visit, no. 3, December 14, 1998)
The Church’s teaching, and in particular her firmness in defending the universal and permanent validity of the precepts prohibiting intrinsically evil acts, is not infrequently seen as the sign of an intolerable intransigence, particularly with regard to the enormously complex and conflict-filled situations present in the moral life of individuals and of society today; this intransigence is said to be in contrast with the Church’s motherhood. The Church, one hears, is lacking in understanding and compassion. But the Church’s motherhood can never in fact be separated from her teaching mission, which she must always carry out as the faithful Bride of Christ, who is the Truth in person. ‘As Teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm… The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection’ (Familiaris Consortio, Nov. 22, 1981 – AAS 74 (1982):120). In fact, genuine understanding and compassion must mean love for the person, for his true good, for his authentic freedom. And this does not result, certainly, from concealing or weakening moral truth, but rather from proposing it in its most profound meaning as an outpouring of God’s eternal Wisdom, which we have received in Christ, and as a service to man, to the growth of his freedom and to the attainment of his happiness. (Cf. Ibid., 34: loc. cit., 123-1 Z5.) (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, no. 95, August 6, 1993)
The powerful forces of the media and the entertainment industry are aimed largely at young people, who find themselves the target of competing ideologies which seek to condition and influence their attitudes and actions. Confusion is created as youth are beset by moral relativism and religious indifferentism. How can they come to grips with the question of truth and the requirements of consistency in moral behaviour when modern culture teaches them to live as though absolute values did not exist, or tells them to be content with a vague religiosity? The widespread loss of the transcendent sense of human existence leads to failure in moral and social life. Your task, dear Brothers, is to show the tremendous relevance for contemporary men and women — and for the younger generation — of Jesus Christ and his Gospel: for it is here that the deepest human aspirations and needs find fulfillment. The saving message of Jesus Christ needs to be heard anew in all its freshness and power, so that it can be fully experienced and savoured! (John Paul II. Address to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Scotland on their ad limina visit, March 4, 2003)
A pastoral proposal for the family in crisis presupposes, as a preliminary requirement, doctrinal clarity, effectively taught in moral theology about sexuality and the respect for life. The opposing opinions of theologians, priests and religious that the media promote on pre-marital relations, birth control, the admission of divorced persons to the sacraments, homosexuality and artificial insemination, the use of abortion practices or euthanasia, show the degree of uncertainty and confusion that disturb and end by deadening the consciences of so many of the faithful. At the root of the crisis one can perceive the rupture between anthropology and ethics, marked by a moral relativism according to which the human act is not evaluated with reference to the permanent, objective principles proper to nature created by God, but in conformity with a merely subjective reflection on what is the greatest benefit for the individual’s life project. Thus a semantic evolution is produced in which homicide is called ‘induced death’, infanticide, ‘therapeutic abortion’, and adultery becomes a mere ‘extra-marital adventure’. No longer possessing absolute certainty in moral matters, the divine law becomes an option among the latest variety of opinions in vogue. (John Paul II. Address to the Brazilian Bishops from the ‘East Region II’ on their ad limina visit, no. 6, November 16, 2002)
De facto free unions: this means unions without any publicly recognized institutional bond, either civil or religious. This phenomenon, which is becoming ever more frequent, cannot fail to concern pastors of souls, also because it may be based on widely varying factors, the consequences of which may perhaps be containable by suitable action. Some people consider themselves almost forced into a free union by difficult economic, cultural or religious situations, on the grounds that, if they contracted a regular marriage, they would be exposed to some form of harm, would lose economic advantages, would be discriminated against, etc. In other cases, however, one encounters people who scorn, rebel against or reject society, the institution of the family and the social and political order, or who are solely seeking pleasure. Then there are those who are driven to such situations by extreme ignorance or poverty, sometimes by a conditioning due to situations of real injustice, or by a certain psychological immaturity that makes them uncertain or afraid to enter into a stable and definitive union. In some countries, traditional customs presume that the true and proper marriage will take place only after a period of cohabitation and the birth of the first child. Each of these elements presents the Church with arduous pastoral problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them, both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; grave scandal), and also social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family; the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of selfishness).
The pastors and the ecclesial community should take care to become acquainted with such situations and their actual causes, case by case. They should make tactful and respectful contact with the couples concerned, and enlighten them patiently, correct them charitably and show them the witness of Christian family life, in such a way as to smooth the path for them to regularize their situation. But above all there must be a campaign of prevention, by fostering the sense of fidelity in the whole moral and religious training of the young, instructing them concerning the conditions and structures that favor such fidelity, without which there is no true freedom; they must be helped to reach spiritual maturity and enabled to understand the rich human and supernatural reality of marriage as a sacrament. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familio consortio, no. 81, November 22, 1981)
To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be noted that Jesus’ mercy was not expressed by putting moral law in parentheses. For Jesus, good is good and evil is evil. Mercy does not change the connotations of sin but consumes it in a fire of love. This purifying and healing effect is achieved if within the person there is a corresponding love which implies recognition of God’s law, sincere repentance and the resolution to start a new life. The sinful woman in the Gospel was pardoned greatly because she loved greatly. In Jesus, God comes to give love to us and to ask love of us. (Benedict XVI. Eucharist Concelebration at the Lower Square of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, June 17, 2007)
It is for you, therefore, venerable brethren, whom Divine Providence has constituted to be the pastors and leaders of the Christian people, to resist with all your strength this most fatal tendency of modern society to lull itself in a shameful indolence while war is being waged against religion, seeking a cowardly neutrality made up of weak schemes and compromises to the injury of divine and human rights, to the oblivion of Christ’s clear sentence: ‘He that is not with me is against me’ (Mt 12:30). (Pius X. Encyclical Communium rerum, April 21, 1909)
Especially in the heart of their own families, young people should be aptly and seasonably instructed in the dignity, duty and work of married love. Trained thus in the cultivation of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to enter a marriage of their own after an honorable courtship. (Vatican Council II, Pastoral constitution, Gaudium et spes, no. 49, December 7, 1965)
Christ, therefore, having renewed marriage to such and so great excellence, commended and entrusted all the discipline bearing upon these matters to His Church. The Church, always and everywhere, has so used her power with reference to the marriages of Christians that men have seen clearly how it belongs to her as of native right; not being made hers by any human grant, but given divinely to her by the will of her Founder. Her constant and watchful care in guarding marriage, by the preservation of its sanctity, is so well understood as to not need proof. That the judgment of the Council of Jerusalem reprobated licentious and free love (cf. Acts 15:29). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Arcanum divinae sapeintia, no. 13, February 10, 1880)
Let special care be taken that the people be well instructed in the precepts of Christian wisdom, so that they may always remember that marriage was not instituted by the will of man, but, from the very beginning, by the authority and command of God; that it does not admit of plurality of wives or husbands; that Christ, the Author of the New Covenant, raised it from a rite of nature to be a sacrament, and gave to His Church legislative and judicial power with regard to the bond of union. On this point the very greatest care must be taken to instruct them, lest their minds should be led into error by the unsound conclusions of adversaries who desire that the Church should be deprived of that power. In like manner, all ought to understand clearly that, if there be any union of a man and a woman among the faithful of Christ which is not a sacrament, such union has not the force and nature of a proper marriage. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Arcanum divinae sapeintia, nos. 39-40, February 10, 1880)
Because no Catholic is ignorant or cannot know that matrimony is truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelical law, instituted by Christ the Lord, and that for that reason, there can be no marriage between the faithful without there being at one and the same time a sacrament, and that, therefore, any other union of man and woman among Christians, except the sacramental union, even if contracted under the power of any civil law, is nothing else than a disgraceful and death-bringing concubinage very frequently condemned by the Church, and, hence, that the sacrament can never be separated from the conjugal agreement. (Denzinger 1640 – Pius IX, Allocution Acerbissimum vobiscum, September 27, 1857)
Through marriage, in fact, the love of married people is taken up into that love which Christ irrevocably has for the Church (cf. Eph 5:25-32), while dissolute sexual union defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit which the Christian has become (sexual intercourse outside marriage is formally condemned 1Cor 5:1; 6:9; 7:2; 10:8 Eph. 5:5; 1Tim 1:10; Heb 13:4; and with explicit reasons 1Cor 6:12-20). Sexual union therefore is only legitimate if a definitive community of life has been established between the man and the woman. This is what the Church has always understood and taught (cf. Innocent IV, ‘Sub catholica professione; Pius II, Propos damn in Ep Cum sicut accepimus; decrees of the Holy Office, Sept 24th, 1665, DS 2045; March 2nd, 1679, DS 2148 Pius XI, Casti Connubii, Dec 31st, 1930) and she finds a profound agreement with her doctrine in men’s reflection and in the lessons of history. (Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith, Declaration Persona humana, no. VII, December 29, 1975)