‘Preferential Option for the Family’ Booklet: A Review

by Dr. Jay Boyd  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 12, 2015   

A review of the new booklet on the family authored by Abp. Aldo de Cillo Pagotto, Bp. Robert Vasa and Bp. Athanasius Schneider

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Recently, three prelates authored a 60-page booklet entitled Preferential Option for the Family, designed to catechize the faithful regarding Church teaching on marriage and the family. Archbishop Aldo de Cillo Pagotto of Paraíba, Brazil, Bp. Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, California, and Bp. Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, present 100 questions and answers about the Synod on the Family, providing a welcome defense of Church teaching on marriage and family.

The authors refreshing, no-nonsense approach identifies the deceptive language and deficient theology embraced by those supporting, for instance, the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried. The booklet goes hand-in-hand with Remaining in the Truth of Christ, a book released prior to the extraordinary synod in 2014 by a group of faithful bishops who decried some of the controversial ideas touted by Cdl. Walter Kasper.

A few questions at the beginning of the booklet summarize the purpose, scope and magisterial value of a synod with regard to Church doctrine and practice. The authors make clear that "neither the Synod of Bishops nor any other Church authority has the competence to change the doctrine of the Church" (p. 11), and that doctrine, which is of divine institution, "cannot be changed by any ecclesiastical authority, not even by the Supreme Pontiff" (p. 12). Question 6 asks why a synod would be convened simply to reiterate existing doctrine; the authors reply:

If it is true that you do not convene a synod only to reaffirm doctrine, neither can you call one to weaken it. Indeed, one should prevent certain forces to venture into making proposals that contradict it or endorse a slippery and ambiguous language that hides the real problems and upright solutions. (p. 13)

The pre-Synod questionnaire is critiqued in a section on "The Preparation for the 2014 Synod on the Family." In particular, the prelates express concern about bias in the questionnaire that led to an emphasis on the divorced and remarried. They point out that there are many other types of families facing problems today:

Take, for example, families that are facing challenges which threaten their integrity or the Christian education of their children; large families that do not receive sufficient support from the community or the state (and, sometimes, even from their pastors). Or families in economic or psychological difficulty such as single-parent families in which the father or mother is alone and unable to make a living … [or] those marked by conflicts or scandals, uprooted from their environment, persecuted because of their faith, unfairly discriminated against or exiled for political reasons. (p. 15)

Interestingly — and fittingly — the booklet discusses the use and misuse of language in the questionnaire and in the post-Synod Relatio document. In the questionnaire, by word count, "divorced/remarried" receives the lion's share of verbiage with regard to relationships. As for other words:

[A]fter the word family, the most used ones are live, love, pastoral, mercy, affection, woman. The word doctrine occurs only three times and in marginal contexts; the words morality, virtue, fidelity and chastity appear only once. Important family-related words such as commitment, adultery, contraception, abortion, are entirely absent. (p. 16)

In the section "Some Keywords in the Synod's Debate," the authors discuss the "talismanic" words currently in use, which come from the Relatio's call for a "conversion in language" in order to meet perceived pastoral needs. A talismanic word,

while legitimate in itself, carries strong emotional content, and as such is perceived as being entirely flexible and changeable, assuming different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. This ... makes it susceptible to being used for propaganda purposes and abused for ideological ends. ...

Manipulated by propaganda, the talismanic word gradually assumes meanings ever closer to the ideological positions to which the target persons are being led.

The authors discuss the impact of words like "hurt persons," "mercy," "welcome," "tenderness" and "deepening." "Deepening," for example, should mean a more profound understanding of a concept; but it is often used to promote a change of judgment instead, usually toward a more permissive interpretation. The authors note the hypocrisy of the term, since it is being used "to propagate a reform of the Church that ends up by abolishing the dogmatic foundations of her faith and discipline" (p. 51).

With regard to "hurt persons," the authors pull no punches:

[T]his formula refers to people living in the state of grave and public sin: cohabiting, divorced and remarried, homosexual couples, and so on. By calling them "hurt persons" one avoids expressing a moral judgment and highlights only one aspect, true but secondary, of their concrete situation with a term designed to arouse compassion: They are merely "hurt persons," as if they were innocent victims not culpable of a serious fault.

This leads to terms like "mercy" and "tenderness," which are set forth "as the only feeling recommended and deemed permissible" to address the pastoral needs of the sinner. However ... this feeling of compassion risks going so far as to justify the sinful condition, thus changing the doctrinal judgment of the Magisterium in order not to make the "hurt person" suffer even more. (p. 52)

Nuggets of truth abound. For example, in response to the notion that we must "meet people where they are," the authors note: "Gradual awareness of the moral law does not relieve the faithful from the obligation of coming to know and to practice it entirely" (p. 51).

And concerning the misconception of mercy:

The Church cannot behave like a charlatan who deceives the suffering by giving him potions that numb the pain but aggravate the disease … [T]he Church [must] not hide from patients the seriousness of their situation nor diminish their responsibility but rather open their eyes and hearts even before healing their wounds. (p. 54)

The authors conclude by reminding us that "God will succor families in difficulty with His almighty Grace, Our Lady will assist them with her motherly protection, and the Church will help them with Her word, prayer, sacraments and active charity" (p. 60).

May God bless these prelates for the gift of this catechetical booklet!

Copies of the booklet can be obtained through ChurchMilitant.com here.


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