October Revolutions

From September 26 until October 25, 1980, there was a synod in Rome concerning the family. We had another one in October of last year, and the bishops will have at it again this year, October 4-25.

The result of the 1980 synod was an apostolic exhortation by John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, published on November 22, 1981.

Given what we’ve been reading concerning comments of some European bishops before, during, and since the 2014 synod, there is reason to be concerned that some changes may be coming thirty-five years after St. John Paul II’s exhortation. Fr. Gerald Murray’s columns on the subject have been indispensable, the latest of which may be read here.

In his Introduction to Familiaris Consortio, John Paul writes: “The Church is deeply convinced that only by the acceptance of the Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and in the family capable of being fulfilled.” He adds:

Family prayer has its own characteristic qualities. It is prayer offered in common, husband and wife together, parents and children together. . . .

Family prayer has for its very own object family life itself, which in all its varying circumstances is seen as a call from God and lived as a filial response to His call. Joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, births and birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries of the parents, departures, separations and homecomings, important and far-reaching decisions, the death of those who are dear, etc. – all of these mark God’s loving intervention in the family’s history.

St. John Paul II emphasizes the depth – to the very sinews – that prayer ought to reach in our lives. The practice of family prayer would go a long way towards restoring strength to the family; rather farther, one suspects, than “reforms” being proposed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, et al. And let us acknowledge that most of those proposals would not be reforms at all but revolutionary actions.

In June of 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then under the direction of Cardinal Ratzinger, issued a document, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons”, that rewards re-reading now. The document states plainly that it contains no “new doctrinal elements.” How could it? It is a simple restatement of eternal truth, specifically:

No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons.

The document offered what has turned out to be an exercise in futility: “direction to Catholic politicians. . .indicating the approaches to proposed legislation in this area which would be consistent with Christian conscience.”

Whose image?

The point is that this is all settled truth, and the very last thing Catholics need now (and, frankly, this applies to the whole world) is for the Church to go soft on all these sexual issues. Heck, the Church’s position on marriage was settled in the courageous re-endorsement of its teaching on sexuality by Paul VI’s 1968 Humanae Vitae.

So, why are some European bishops so intent upon a revolution?

I’m no expert on the situation of the Church in France, Switzerland, and Germany – episcopal conferences at the center of the current controversies. Still, it is nervous-making to note that the Germans are struggling with the Kirchensteuer, the church tax.

Germans are expected to declare their religious affiliations (if any) to the nation’s tax authority, which then imposes, via employers, a withholding tax for the support of the given church, synagogue, or mosque. Apparently, this is a tradition older than Christianity. However, it is a tradition that appeals to fewer Germans every year.

According to the Telegraph, in 2014:

Up to 200,000 Germans are believed to have filed official declarations last year renouncing their membership in the Protestant church, the highest number in almost two decades. A similar number are thought to have left the Catholic Church.

These numbers have been consistent over several years: for instance, 180,000 left in 2010. The German bishops have gone so far as to bar from the Sacraments – a kind of de facto excommunication – any Catholic who fails to register for the Kirchensteuer.

Putting aside the matter of the appropriateness of such penalties and this sort of Church-State nexus, I suppose some may think it appropriate that the Church demand that all who come through the doors must tithe (well, the percentage of the tax – added atop all other German taxes – is between 8 percent and 10 percent). Tithing sounds nice and is ever so much pleasanter than simony.

Okay, I admit it’s not, strictly speaking, the selling of a Church office, but with the refusal of Sacraments – which, one might argue, must now be bought – it comes damnably close. (Maybe we need a new word.) But we’ll leave that to the Germans, whose glorious language is among the richest veins of portmanteau words ever mined.

But here’s the point: Earlier this year, a German critic of the Church (but a faithful critic), Martin Lohmann, told the Catholic News Agency “that the Church loses financially if it upholds less popular teachings on divorce and contraception. Preaching about that means losing ‘paying customers’ – he said – and ‘softening’ these teachings means more money for the Church.”

Although Herr Lohmann is against it, there is sentiment building in Germany to abolish the Kirchensteuer, and it’s unlikely to diminish over time. And, speaking of de facto realities, abolition may be achieved even before any de jure action by German voters, courts, or politicians.

Could this be on the mind of the “reform-minded” Kasperites?

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.