We are Church Denmark, Norway and Sweden
Responses to the Questionnaire in Preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family and Evangelisation in 2014
The three independent national groups of the International Movement We are Church in Scandinavia have agreed to respond to the Questionnaire in Preparation for the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family and Evangelisation together. This is partly a consequence of the limited action taken by our dioceses. In Sweden the questionnaire was not published on the website for people to respond to. The Swedish Justitia et Pax, however, collected a limited number of responses. In Denmark only priests, pastoral councils and Church employees were invited to reply. In Norway Priests,members of Pastoral Councils and others employed by the Church were invited to answer to the questionnaire while lay people were invited to answer to a shorter version of it (ten questions out of 38).
On this background we would like to present a summary of the responses we have got as a supplementto what is being sent in from the Nordic Bishop’s Conference.
1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s magisterium
Most people outside and within the Church are aware of the fact that the Church values the family highly. Most people in our countries do. However, Catholic Christians seem not to ground their belief in the family in Church Documents or magisterial teaching. They read and listen more to secondary sources than primary sources. Young people may get good information about the Church’s view on marriage through preparatory courses in their parish but an increasing number of couples do not marry in the Church. Some are happy with a civil marriage while others cohabit for quite a long time.
The understanding of marriage as a sacrament is far from clear. Marriage is primarily understood as a union between two who love each other and intend to share their life in mutual fidelity. However, marriage is also perceived as an ideal that is not easily achieved. Many couples experience a complete failure with loss of love, friendship, companionship and meaning. Most baptizes believe that what constitutes marriage as a sacrament is the love between the two. When there is no love there is no marriage. Some people experience pastoral care when they fail, others not. It depends on the culture in their parish or singular priests and another responsible counselling them.
Humanae Vitae is hardly known for anything but its rejection of the use of so-called artificial contraception. This idea is rejected in our countries (with some very few exceptions).
The Church’s attitude towards sexuality, contraception and divorce is more often than not regarded as irrelevant. And the Church is often perceived as lacking in mercy and ethics. That also goes for its attitude towards homosexual marriage which is becoming more accepted by the baptized.
2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
The notion of natural law is hardly known by people in our countries. Those ethicists who sometimes use it often stress that the interpretation of it has changed from time to time and that any way it would be so general that it could hardly be useful in the complex situations of daily life. Natural law probably plays no role in the thinking of the baptised on marriage and sexuality. It is also not valid or consistent with anthropology where we consider humans to have a certain degree of free self-determination.
The celebration of marriage is a beautiful and meaningful experience that many baptized still want even if they do not quite understand the Church’s teaching on marriage as a sacrament.
When non-practicing or non-believing couples ask to be married in Church we are inclined to think theyshould not be rejected. The celebration may be used by The Holy Spirit in ways unknown to us.
3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization
Most parishes offer some kind of marriage preparation for those who choose a wedding ceremony in Church.
The understanding of the family as a domestic Church can be challenging, promising and threatening. For people to perceive of themselves as a domestic Church they need to be included and participating in parish life. This again, depends on how they experience their parish, whether they understand the sermons, preaching and teaching, and whether they experience a real communio in the parish. It also depends on how much time they are able to or prepared to spend in the parish activities which again depend upon understanding what happens in the parish and on being accepted as they are.
Transmitting the faith has a lot to do with belonging. Many baptized are alienated from the Church because they perceive of the Church as a different reality than their own and also because they find the Church’s moral teaching on sexuality and family unsatisfactory or simply irrelevant in real life. After Humanae Vitae with its prohibition of the so called artificial contraception the baptized have understood that they must rely on their own judgement in moral questions.
When the institutional Church speaks of the family it mostly refers to a heterosexual couple with children. But there are so many kinds of families. There are single parent families, gay and lesbian families, families where the parents are divorced and remarried, extended families and so on. All the different kinds of families can be domestic Churches and need encouragement and help from the parish. For that to happen they must be accepted and respected and included when the Church speaks about the family.
The dilemma facing the Church is that on one hand it must uphold an ideal model of family and on the other hand respect, love and include those who have chosen or been forced to live with another model of family. The evangelising Church should convey that all families, regardless of family structure or model, are called to be domestic churches.
Prayer in the family is not so common any more. In many families common meals are rear. Perhaps families should be encouraged to come together once a week to pray The Lord’s Prayer. That could be a good beginning.
Many parishes are at their very best when meeting people in the middle of a life crisis. It is, however, extremely difficult to understand and accept that divorced and remarried people are being banned from the Holy Communion. It causes suffering and alienation. Children with parents who may not receive the sacrament are likely to feel completely alienated from the Church.
4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
Cohabitation ad experimentum is a reality in our countries and probably most Catholics have cohabited for longer or shorter time before marrying. They may bring their children to the wedding ceremony. Hardly anybody marries without having had sex before marriage. This is so also among second generation Catholic immigrants who come to our countries from cultures and countries with populations which are often considered conservative in their Catholic faith and life.
Several models of unions are recognized in Scandinavia. See chapter 5. Separated couples and divorced and remarried couples are a strong pastoral reality. Probably a third (or more) of all couples find themselves in such a situation. The number is growing. Many of them want to continue to nourish their spiritual life in the parish but many suffer from being excluded from the Communion and little by little disappear from mass and parish life. By losing the parents the Church also most probably loses their baptized children who eventually may lose their faith in God.
Some priests are aware of this situation and are offering good pastoral care. Some remarried couples and some homosexual couples take the communion but still feel marginalized and unhappy. We are not aware of any pastoral initiatives on a diocesan level to repair this situation.
The annulment process has a bad reputation partly because it is perceived as a “cheat divorce” and partly because it presupposes that a couple agrees to that their former marriage was not valid. For most couples that is not true. They know that their marriage was valid but that they have failed in it. What they want is to be able to put the failure behind them, get forgiveness for their sins and consolation in their sorrow in order to be able to start a new life. For the baptized this seems to be the Christian way of living. The sacramental view on marriage is scarcely understood by people. Forgiveness and new beginnings is at the center of their faith.
The Church might consider whether the only 1000 years old understanding of the sacrament of marriage is ready for some rethinking.
5. The union of Persons of the Same Sex
Civil law in Scandinavia recognizes marriage between gays and lesbians. The majority of Lutheran bishops in Scandinavia accept this, and there are a number of married gay and lesbian priests and even bishops.
Our bishops have argued against the legislation without creating what one might call “an American Catholic battle”. The public finds it difficult to understand how the Church can be against homosexual marriages and at the same time be against discrimination of homosexuals.
It has become easier to openly live as gay or lesbian couples and there are quite a few of them in our parishes. Mostly they are not marginalized until they marry. A few have had to leave the Pastoral Council or other work in their parish after getting legally married. The Catholic lay people are still divided on this issue but the number of baptized who accept homosexual unions seem to be rapidly growing. Children of lesbian or gay parents are accepted at Catholic schools.
The modern family has many structures. Family life is vulnerable in any structure. Even if the Church upholds one ideal model of family it is extremely important that all kinds of families are accepted and included in a trustworthy way in the pastoral care of their parish.
7. The openness of the Married Couple to Life
Humanae Vitae is associated with the prohibition of so-called artificial contraception. This is not accepted by the large majority of Catholic Christians. The use of contraceptives has not been considered a subject to be mentioned in the confessional (with a possible exception for some priests coming from the Philippines, Poland and some other traditionally Catholic countries.) The diocese spends money on trying to help a very small minority of women to use so-called natural contraception methods.
The rest of the Encyclical is hardly known to most people. There is sexual education at all levels of the compulsory School system and in the media. It may be said that this education fails to anchor sexuality within a setting of long-lasting love, respect and responsibility. It therefore fosters a hedonistic attitude to sexuality.
The Church on the other hand tries to promote a view on sexuality that belongs to a long past century. It is necessary and urgent that the Magistrate of the Church starts working on this problem. Modern anthropology and psychology together with other sciences can contribute with important insights and impulses in such a process. It also is of the outmost importance that baptized with real life experiences with sexuality and different kinds of family life take part in a process of developing a new attitude towards body and sexuality in the Church. The numerous sexual scandals in the Church have minimized the credibility of the institutional Church on these issues.
Some countries are suffering a decline in population due to few births. Among them are countries usually referred to as Catholic countries like Mexico, Italy and Spain. In other parts of the world over-population is a problem. In Scandinavia we have a reasonably high birth-rate which, together with immigration, keeps the population fairly constant.
We believe that the best thing the Church can do to contribute to raise the birth-rate in those countries were it seems necessary is to work for a social welfare in the society which favors more births. It is a question of parents (mothers’ and fathers’ as well as single parents’) leave with some economical compensation when a child is borne and good quality child care which makes it possible for both parents to work. The Church might get involved in building up such institutions but mainly this is a political question. Both hierarchy and lay Christians may try to influence the politicians through sound social teaching.
8. The Relationship between the Family and the Person
Life in the family with any structure is a privileged situation when personally perceived and shaped as such. Critical situations may rise when there is dishonesty and double moral standards in the home. An authoritarian style of up-bringing may also be a serious threat to the children’s encounter with Christ.
A crisis of faith may be destructive as well as constructive. Love, honesty, humility and mutual respect are prerequisites for working one’s way through difficulties and for the development and growth in faith both in the person and in the family.
9. Other Challenges and Proposals
We believe that the Church needs to make a bridge between an idealised view on sexuality, marriage and family and the experiences of Christian families to-day. It is urgent to take into account human experiences.
We also believe that there is a need for a rethinking of Christian anthropology in light of the knowledge that has appeared in modern biology, psychology, studies of gender, biology and other sciences and that there is a need for a revised view on sexuality.
We believe that the Holy Communion should never be used as something that is perceived as a punishment but always as a gift of God to those who seek him, in success or in failure.
We ask and pray that men and women with experience from family life in all its variety may be given a voice at the Synod of bishops on the family.
The notion of family has changed over thousands of years. In biblical times it encompassed the entire household. In the last century it referred to the core family. Today other forms and structure appear. As Church we must deal with the variety of family structures found in different cultures. Any family can be a domestic church and be part of the evangelizing body of Christ.
Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm February 5, 2014
Kaare Ruebner Jørgensen Pål Kolstø Hans Reiland
We are also Church Also We are Church We are Church
Denmark Norway Sweden
(Signed) (Signed) (Signed)
Anne Helene Utgaard
Mail address and phone:
Anne Helene Utgaard
Hallagerbakken 92 b