Church ‘disconnected’ on family life

Vatican questionnaire reveals ‘theory-practice gap’ among Catholics

Church teaching on the family and marriage are “disconnected from the real life experience of families”, Dublin’s Archbishop Martin has said.

Speaking at a deanery meeting in the archdiocese on Thursday night, Dr Martin referred to findings contained in the Vatican questionnaire on marriage and the family, which has been completed in preparation for the forthcoming Synod of Bishops.  

“The general response was that the teaching on marriage and the family is poorly understood and that it was poorly accepted and disconnected from real life experience of families – and not by just younger people,” the archbishop said. “Many said that the teaching appears as not practical in relation to people’s day-to-day struggles, being at best an unrealistic ideal.  There appears to be a ‘theory-practice’ gap.”

Archbishop Martin went on to offer some of the questionnaire responses: “One reply noted:  ‘A lot of preaching and teaching does not relate to everyday life; it is above the head of struggling and hurt people.’ Another replied: ‘Church teaching often appears theoretical and remote from an understanding of the real lived experience of couples.’”

Referring to those living “in what the Church regards as irregular situations, whether because they were living together before marriage or because they were divorced and remarried”, Dr Martin said responses communicated a sense of “suffering, feeling guilty, feeling marginalised, feeling excluded, feeling hurt, even despised” while urging “an attitude of openness and compassion, outreach and welcome to these people, with less judgment and more listening to their experience”.

In terms of the current same-sex marriage debate, the archbishop revealed that some respondents “saw the Church’s position as being purely negative and judgemental.  Many felt that there should be some way of civilly recognising stable same-sex unions, but there was a clear hesitancy, uneasiness and opposition with regard to marriage for same sex unions”.

Much of the blame for the sense of disconnect, he went on, was laid at the door of the Church itself, and the perception that there has been “little attempt at explaining the teaching”, and what teaching there has been tends to be rule-focused, rather than Scriptural or pastoral”.

“People spoke of giving more prominence to marriage and the family at Sunday liturgy, especially at family Masses. The tone should be that of affirmation and encouragement for families.

“The answers do not come as a surprise. What should surprise us is the fact that we have not been developing a strong pastoral response to these questions over the years.  We should not have had to wait for a questionnaire from Pope Francis to address these questions,” Archbishop Martin said.