“Argh,” I said to my husband. “Just thinking about the Synod on the family is making my stomach hurt again.”
“Well, stop thinking about it,” said Mark.
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m writing a column about it.”
“What are you going to say?”
“I’m going to say that everyone should forget the whole thing and just read Familiaris Consortio.”
The apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio of Pope John Paul II to “the episcopate, the clergy and the faithful of the whole Catholic Church” is also known as “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World.” It was promulgated in 1981, and although I have met many Catholics whose family lives have been strengthened and enriched by it, I do not recall ever having heard a Sunday homily about it.
I hope it is my memory that is at fault, for Familiaris Consortio is the richest contemporary source of Catholic teaching on the family, short of the catechism.
Unlike documents from the synod on the family, Familiaris Consortio is authoritative. It was the bishops’ pledge to Catholic families that the Church supported them in a time when the very family itself was under siege by changing social mores.
It discusses contemporary problems facing the family; it defines the family; it describes the mission of the Christian family — to serve the cause of life, to educate children, and to serve and evangelize society — and it discusses the pastoral care of the family, which is the responsibility of the family itself (and associations of families) as well as the clergy and, especially, the bishops. The situation of the “divorced and remarried,” whose problems are dwarfed by those of migrant workers, military families, families of the imprisoned, homeless families, families of children with disabilities, families of drug addicts, refugee families and politically persecuted families, is discussed at the very end.
One of the sources of Catholic anguish over this year’s Synod’s so-called “mid-term report” was the media’s overemphasis on the sections about divorced-and-remarried Catholics and the perceived inclusion of sexually charged same-sex friendships under the definition of “family,” a situation described in Catholic Poland as “the hermeneutic of betrayal.” Stanisław Gądecki, the Archbishop of Pożnan, said this relatio departed from the teachings of St. John Paul II and even included traces of anti-marriage ideology.