ROME – A Belgian bishop’s letter to the Vatican’s Synod on the Family “effectively denies the indissolubility of marriage,” and even denies the very principle of an “objective moral law” applicable to all, an international pro-family group has said.
Voice of the Family, a coalition of pro-family and pro-life groups holding meetings with bishops in Rome, has hit back firmly against suggestions by Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp that they say leaves the decision on the nature of marriage up to “the subjective decisions of couples.”
In his 22-page open letter, published on his diocesan website September 1, Bonny called on the Synod to establish the primacy of personal “conscience” above the natural law and a “proportional” approach to moral decision making.
“Reality is often far more complex than a pair of contrasting concepts can embrace: good or bad, true or untrue, correct or incorrect,” the bishop’s letter said.
Voice of the Family has issued a detailed analysis of Bonny’s letter. They accuse him of quoting Vatican II “selectively,” insisting the letter “contradicts those teachings of the Second Vatican Council which uphold objective morality and moral absolutes, including in the area of sexual ethics.”
Bonny, the group says, has denied “the reality of moral absolutes in the name of ‘proportionalism,’ an approach to morality always condemned by the Church.”
The group cites the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor by Pope John Paul II, which, they note, “explicitly condemned this moral theory of ‘proportionalism.’”
“Proportionalism was founded as a way of justifying contraception but ends by denying all moral absolutes,” they said. Bishop Bonny also “rejects natural moral law, which the Church has upheld throughout its history,” and “fails to define ‘conscience’, even though it is a key topic in the letter.”
Bonny wrote that he agreed with the findings of the Vatican’s questionnaire that said the great majority of Catholic faithful do not know the teaching of the Church, but went on to say that the Church’s traditional “appeal to ‘natural law’” is not the answer.
“A certain system of appeal to ‘natural law’ in the ethical context of marriage and family life remains a source of confusion, misunderstanding and resistance,” he said. “Contemporary men and women are in search of values that can offer their lives meaning and cohesion.”
The question most talked-about at the Synod, that of Holy Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, is being answered at the highest levels by prelates quoting the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” But Bishop Bonny says that no single authority taken alone, “no matter how authoritative,” can have the last word.
He writes, “What is the teaching of the Church on marriage and family life? Where should we look for it and with whom? Such questions cannot be answered by pointing to one period, one pope, one school of moral theology, one language group, one circle of friends, one ecclesial policy.”
“What a single person says or writes, no matter how authoritative, must always be understood anew in light of the entire Church tradition,” he writes.
Bishop Bonny complained that the discussions surrounding marriage, sexuality and the family “constitute a very discordant domain within the Church community.” He admits that after Vatican II, the laity increasingly “opted for the discrete approach,” becoming “less and less inclined to address their personal questions” to Catholic authorities and those authorities “preferred to help people on an individual basis rather than aggravate the already tense climate further with ideological debate.”
He went so far as to attack Paul VI’s 1968 defence of the Church’s teaching on contraception, hinting that if the pope had not strayed from the “consensus” of his bishops, the landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae would have been very different. Pope Paul, he said, “made his decision in good faith,” but “in terms of content,” it “ran counter to the advice of the commission of experts,” bishops, cardinals and theologians, “certainly here in Belgium.”
“The absence of a collegial foundation led immediately to tensions, conflicts and divisions that were never to be resolved,” he wrote. After the publication of Humanae Vitae, the bishops were faced with a “divisive choice” either to “maintain their bond with the pope” or “remain faithful to the Council.”
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Voice of the Family says, however, that while attacking Humanae Vitae, Bishop Bonny has failed to mention that “at least some members of the Papal Birth Control Commission” who recommended abandoning the Church’s teaching, “were in receipt of undeclared large grants from the elite billionaire Rockefeller Foundation and the Population Council through the Ford Foundation.”
Voice of the Family said it is “surprising” that Bonny himself uses the language of the “Neo-Malthusian” international population control lobby referring to the “problem of overpopulation.”
“It appears that nothing has been learnt from the research of the past few decades on the reality of human population trends, and on the ‘neo-Malthusianism’ about which Pope Francis has recently spoken in strong terms.”
Voice of the Family said that in 22 pages, Bishop Bonny has failed to provide “real support for couples in difficult situations” and “ignores the needs of children, including the need to be protected from damaging effects of parents’ irregular situations.”
“The Church must offer better to her sons and daughters: a message of real hope, appealing fearlessly to truth and goodness in reaching out to her children, and to the world at large,” the group said.
“Bishop Bonny’s Letter, in downgrading not just sacramental marriage, but also natural marriage robs the whole world, not just Catholics, of that most fundamental and good institution so badly needed by society.”
Read the full text of Bishop Bonny’s letter here.
Read Voice of the Family’s response here.