31 March 2015

Nearly 500 priests in England and Wales write letter in support of Church's teaching on matrimony

The Marriage at Cana, Marten de Vos, 1596-97
Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp [Web Gallery of Art]

Last week the Catholic Herald published this letter, signed by nearly 500 priests in England and Wales. There are around 5,000 priests in those two countries. I know that the organisers of the letter, 'a small number of concerned lay people', were unable to contact every priest.

It is surely a sign of the strange times we are living in that such a group of priests feel the need to publish such a letter. It recognises the need for the Church to reach out to those in difficult marital situations. But it also reminds us of the need to listen to the experience of those who are and have been faithful to the teaching of Jesus himself, given through his Church down through the ages, despite many difficulties and to encourage them to live out the commitment they made to each other on their wedding day when they gave the gift of Jesus himself to each other in the sacrament of matrimony, 'till death do us part'.

SIR – Following the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2014 much confusion has arisen concerning Catholic moral teaching. In this situation we wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.
We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society. Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.
We urge all those who will participate in the second Synod in October 2015 to make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.
Yours faithfully,
You will find the letter and the names of the signatories on the Catholic Herald website here. Fr Tim Finigan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark in the south of England, gives a background to the letter on his blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity here and here.

Some Scripture texts on marriage

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Jesus quotes this in Matthew 19:4-6: He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

We find the same in Mark 10:6-9: [Jesus said to them] But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

St Paul quotes the same text from Genesis in teaching on marriage: In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband (Ephesians 5:28-33).

'The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament' (No 1601).

A note of irony

After choosing the painting at the top I discovered that it is in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium. In late December Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said in an interview with a Belgian newspaper, We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church.

I wonder which is closer to the teaching of Jesus Christ, the statement of Bishop Bonny above or the sentiments in the song below?

I thank the priests of England and Wales who signed the letter.

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