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Twice in the last week, the bishops at the Vatican’s Synod on the Family have heard from lay couples that the Church’s crisis of the family has not come from any shortcomings in doctrine, but in the failure to teach the doctrine effectively and forthrightly.

“We must develop more robust and creative methods to share the fundamental truth that marriage is a divine gift from God, rather than merely a man-made institution,” Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen from La Crosse, Wisconsin, told the Synod.

The couple was invited to address the assembled bishops on Wednesday, where they told them that the Church is not suffering “a crisis of truth,” but rather one of “methodology.”

“Pastoral programs that attempt to address the negative issues impacting marriage and family life,” have failed to meet “the magnitude of the cultural challenges facing us today,” they said.

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Current pastoral programs have failed to meet 'the magnitude of the cultural challenges facing us today,' said Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen.

“We have entered, as some social scientists have described, the age of the diminished family structure.”

Jeffrey Heinzen is the President of McDonnell Central Catholic School System, belongs to the Knights of Columbus and is Director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of La Crosse, while Alice Heinzen is the Natural Family Planning Coordinator for the diocese.

“How do we as a Church,” they said, “effectively share what we know to be true in practical, simple and convincing ways, so that all men and women are challenged and supported to live life-long marriages and build homes that reflect the domestic Church?”

The couple lamented that many youth “grow up in homes broken by divorce or with no experience of married parents due to out-of-wedlock pregnancies.” 

“Sociological research” the Heinzens said, supports the conclusion that “children raised without the blessing of married parents, who have created a home animated by love and faith, will likely struggle to trust in God and their neighbors.”

The Heinzens presentation was followed on Thursday, a couple from Brazil addressed the Synod assembly frankly asking the bishops and the pope to teach the neglected and often misunderstood doctrines on contraception.

“We must admit without fear,” said Arturo and Hermelinda As Zamberline, “that many Catholic married couples, including those who try to live their marriage seriously, do not feel obliged to use only natural methods [of spacing births].” Moreover, they added, they hear little or nothing about the subject from their priests in the confessionals.

Maria Madise, the coordinator for the pro-life and pro-family organization Voice of the Family, responded to the interventions, saying that the heart of the issue is the harmful effect of the “contraceptive mentality” in the Church.

“The contraceptive mentality,” Madise said, “separates love from life,” a concept that was at the heart of Pope Paul’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. As Humanae Vitae predicted, she said, “The separation of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual act has acted as the major catalyst for the culture of death.”

Contraception facilitates extra marital sex, promiscuity and the “inability to commit to marriage,” she said, adding that it has contributed to marital breakdown, family disintegration and, ultimately, to abortion.

“We were very glad to hear about the intervention from these Catholic couples, giving their beautiful testimony which is the fruit of committed married love open to life.”

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