A Tale of Two Conferences

There are two conferences on the family going on in Dublin this week, essentially across the street from one another. One, of course, is the official 2018 World Meeting of Families (WMOF), which includes thousands of participants from around the globe, several cardinals, and – on Saturday and Sunday – Pope Francis himself. Yesterday afternoon, the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, substituting for Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl (who withdrew because he’s dealing with the Pennsylvania DA’s Report), gave the keynote address: “The Welfare of the Family is Decisive for the Future of the World.”

No argument, with anyone, about that – including the more than 400 participants at the Lumen Fidei Institute’s alternative conference. The difference lies in what people think is the welfare of the family, and the future of the world.

The Lumen Fidei organizers – Anthony Murphy and John Lacken – say they realized some alternative was necessary over a year and a half ago. Spokesmen for the official event began emphasizing “diversity.” If we translate this clichéd term into the vernacular, it suggests gay “marriage,” Catholics in adulterous second marriages, transgenders, and much more.

Some Catholic publications have simply painted the official meeting as a “pro-LGBT” event. It isn’t – entirely.  Most of the conference is devoted to not very sexy subjects like homelessness, refugees, families of incarcerated people, keeping children safe on the Internet. There are many well-meaning people at these sessions, and it would be wrong to include them in some sort of general indictment.

Then again, Fr. James Martin S.J. is a featured speaker. And the official meeting had to withdraw early materials that clearly included gay couples. A recent appeal for volunteers was curious: “We value and embrace diversity and seek volunteers from a range of communities and backgrounds. . . .We only ask that our volunteers are sensitive and respectful of our Catholic ethos.”

It would be good if Catholic leaders made clear what that ethos is. Instead, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said earlier this week, “There are some who would look at the world meeting as some sort of ideological rally to celebrate a type of family which probably does not exist.”

It almost sounds as if the archbishop believes a typical family, with a husband and wife, married in the Church, with children, is so rare as to be negligible. Even at a conference that, he said, welcomes families “in the variety of their expressions,” surely there should be special concern for most families – typical families – which after all, probably, do “exist,” in rather large numbers, even in Ireland.

All of this is transpiring, of course, as the world has become painfully aware of the sexual, mostly homosexual, abuse in the Church in several countries – and the role that priests and bishops, archbishops and cardinals, have played both as perpetrators and in covering up for perpetrators.

There’s no getting around the homosexual dimension of the crisis. It’s true, but beside the point, to say that mature people with same-sex attraction don’t abuse. Gays are a small percentage of the population, and a large percentage (over 80 percent) of the abusers. Sympathy for those experiencing same-sex attraction should not hide this simple truth.

Strangely, Church teaching on homosexuality (and abortion), except for Fr. Martin’s dubious view, appear nowhere in the official program. In 2015, Ireland voted to permit homosexual “marriage,” and in May abortion. Does no one invited to speak at WMOF have anything to say about that?

The alternative conference has plenty to say, but is not so much set up to oppose these and other problems with the WMOF as to present the Church’s positive vision of sexuality, marriage, and family. (You can watch videos of the sessions, including live feeds, here– I’ll be speaking myself Thursday afternoon at 4:15 Irish time.)

Anthony Murphy opened today’s proceedings by situating the conversations about the family firmly within the Catholic tradition. He warned, however, that we should not allow the long teaching from Genesis to quite recently to be consigned to the dustbin under the rubric “traditional.” That gives the impression that marriage as largely understood the world over is just one of the many families “in the variety of their expressions.” It’s not. Rather, the ordinary family is God’s own blueprint for human life.

If you want to hear a barnburner of a lecture on that topic, you should click over to John Lacken’s lecture from yesterday. Along with a stirring call for action, he observed that no nation had same-sex marriage as recently as 2000. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to sense that powerful political, economic, and cultural elements have brought about this rapid revolution – even partly within the Church. A telling fact, he added, is that not one Irish bishop has objected to the presence of James Martin at the WMOF.

It’s regrettable, but inspiring, that Catholic laymen have to express such passion for the Good News of Jesus Christ, even in the Church itself, given the lack of clerical leadership. But that seems to be the world and Church in which we now find ourselves.

Fr. Thomas Weinandy OFM Cap., a longtime theological advisor to the USCCB and member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, gave a meaty presentation on why lay action is both necessary and theologically warranted. Since all people participate in Christ’s saving action – and in Jesus’ three roles are as priest, prophet, and king – all parents have a mandate and responsibility as Christians to pray, teach, and govern within the family, and for the sake of the world and the Church. In fact, he said, “The holiness of the Church depends on the holiness of the Christian family,” since the family is the “living icon of what the Church itself is.”

When a Capuchin friar like Fr. Weinandy says that “only the voice of the faithful will stem the tide of evil,” that’s a warning worth paying attention to. And a challenge to all of us.

Lay faithful in Dublin, with modest funding and no official infrastructure, have shown it’s possible to raise a faithful voice, and bring it to 400 people locally and, online, to the world. There’s much more in the Lumen Fidei videos from Wednesday. And more to come, tomorrow.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.