Catholic Scholars’ Statement
on Marriage and the Family

The following statement has been composed and edited by Prof Dr Joseph Selling of the Catholic University of Louvain after consultation with a wide range of Roman Catholic theologians.

In preparation for the Synods of 2014 and 2015

When Vatican II drew up its document “On Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family” (Gaudium et Spes, Part II, chapter 1, para. 47-52) the bishops invited and listened to the voices of married persons and were attentive to their personal experiences. The result was a renewed, more realistic teaching. However, when the 1980 Synod of Bishops “On the Role of the Family” was prepared and took place, only carefully hand-picked members of the laity were invited. They offered no critical voice and ignored abundant evidence that the teaching of the church on marriage and sexuality was not serving the needs of the faithful. It resulted in the Synod not producing anything pastorally helpful.

We therefore urge the Catholic faithful and any other interested parties to share their experience and knowledge with the leaders of the church and to make their thoughts and their concerns known.

Some of the following issues appear to merit special attention.

Leaders lack experience of married life

The fact is that the vast majority of official teaching of the church on marriage and the family has been prepared and promulgated by men who have no direct, personal experience of married life in the contemporary world. They have made promises of celibacy which exclude any form of sexual relationship. As a result, relatively little of the teaching in this area clearly speaks to persons who are attempting to come to terms with their sexuality, to find and enter into meaningful relationships, and to prepare for a life of committed, mutual love that may involve the challenges of parenthood.

Marriage exists in multiple forms

The document circulated to prepare for the synod, the Lineamenta, speaks about marriage as if there is only one form of this relationship, and implies that all families are the same. Yet the experience of the faithful is that this is neither historically nor geographically the case. For, even within the same culture and at the same historical time, there is a multiplicity of marital relationships and family structures. Furthermore, in many instances, marriage and family do not form the basis of the social structure, as many church documents suggest. In reality, they are frequently the victims of poverty, war, materialism, the abuse of power, and a church that does not appear to understand the challenges that married persons face.

Real married life is complex

While the document leaves the impression that the current teaching of the church has been the same since the time of Christ, it fails to acknowledge that it was only in the twelfth century that marriage was recognized as a sacrament and that the notion of an indissoluble bond, brought about by consent and sexual consummation, was the creation of canonical form around the same time. While the church has always taught that “what God has joined together no person may put asunder” (Mt 19:6; Mk 10:9), it has offered no criteria for determining what God has, in fact, joined together. Experience has taught that simply fulfilling the canonical form of marriage is no guarantee that a genuine, informed, and sincere commitment has been made.

When it becomes apparent that no truly marital covenant exists, which may take many years, or worse: when a sincere, marital commitment is rebuked by an unfaithful partner, more often than not the persons who suffer from this tragedy are presumed to be guilty and treated as permanent sinners rather than comforted with mercy and understanding. If civilly divorced persons attempt to build a subsequent relationship, not infrequently in order to provide a family environment for their children, the institutional church, rather than working toward reconciliation as most of our fellow Christians have done, responds by banning them from the Eucharist. Expecting these persons to live celibate lives betrays a severe and suspicious view of human sexuality.

Church guidance lacks sensitivity

Those who are attempting to approach marital relationships are often given little guidance for how to go about this most important task of becoming mature. Marriage preparation is often focused upon avoiding any sexual encounter before the public exchange of promises and avoiding the use of contraception in marriage no matter what the life-circumstances of the couple may turn out to be. Persons who do venture into relationships and who may even cohabit with a potential spouse are unilaterally judged to be immature, selfish, unwilling to make commitments, and disrespectful of authority. Rather than assisting them on what many see as a journey into a lasting relationship, the church condemns them as living immorally.

Pastoral support for the young falls short

We face an unprecedented commercialization and exploitation of human sexuality, especially through global communication. While the church has been quick to condemn what it considers immoral, it offers little positive help for millions of people, especially the young, on how to deal with these pressures and how to develop a healthy, loving, appreciative, and joyous understanding of sexuality. While there are many rules for telling people what (not) to do, there are hardly any tools being offered that might help them to navigate the complex and frequently stormy waters of coming to terms with one’s own sexuality.

Discrimination against homosexuals continues

Though the church has made some progress in accepting the fact that not all persons find themselves called to a life-long, heterosexual union, it has still done very little to foster the acceptance of persons with alternative sexual orientations as dignified members of the church and society. The task of educating the faithful to respect all human persons who do not conform to one’s own personal expectations, especially when those persons are living honorable lives, is yet to begin in the majority of Catholic parishes.

Responsible contraception should be allowed

For the past 45 years, the leadership of the church has clung to a teaching about responsible parenthood that excludes almost every practical means of regulating fertility. After Gaudium et spes attempted to overcome the canonical perspective of viewing marriage primarily as an institution for the procreation and education of children, the author of Humanae Vitae, ignoring the advice of his own advisory committee to move forward with the teaching on birth control, reinstated the notion that an “openness to procreation” must be attached to each and every marital, sexual act. Church leaders need to realise that the time has come to reform this teaching.

It should be left to the conscience of every couple to find a responsible manner of regulating fertility that is appropriate for their own particular situation. While some forms of avoiding conception may be considered less than ideal, these should not be labeled “intrinsically evil”. Such terminology confuses more than it enlightens. The use of responsible contraception should not be considered matter for the sacrament of reconciliation.

The laity’s advice on married life is crucial

Finally, official teachings on marriage and sexuality, based as they are on abstract notions of natural law and outdated, or at the very least scientifically uninformed, concepts of human sexuality are for the most part incomprehensible to the majority of the faithful. Teachers need not only to understand their subject matter, but also to understand those whom they are attempting to teach. We believe that there has been inadequate consultation with all of the faithful, representing a broad spectrum of experience and reflection, not to mention a considerable amount of expertise among those who are professionally trained. We believe that it is necessary to take the data of human experience seriously in the formation of pastoral guidance.

Academic Signatories – 87

Dr Rhoderick John S. Abellanosa, Religion and Politics,
Cebu Theological Forum, the Philippines.
Dr Sr Metti Amirtham SCC, Theology, writer, guest lecturer at various colleges, India.
Prof Dr Subhash Anand SJ, Indian Philosophy and Religion (Emeritus), Pontifical Athenaeum Jnanadeep Vidyapeeth, Pune, India.
Dr Jane Anderson, Research Fellow, Social and Cultural Studies,
the University of Western Australia.
Dr Michael D. Anderson,
Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians (Emeritus), Minneapolis, USA.
Prof Dr Mark Joseph T. Calano,
Philosophy & Marriage and Sexuality,
Ateneo de Manila University,
Quezon City, the Philippines.
Dr Paul Collins, church historian and writer, the Australian National University (Emeritus), Canberra, Australia.
Assist. Prof Dr Marita Concepcion Castro Guevara, Interdisciplinary Studies, & Director, Institute of Philippine Culture,
Ateneo de Manila University,
Quezon City, the Philippines.
Dr Luca Badini Confalonieri, PhD in Theology (University of Durham), UK.
Prof Dr Tina Beattie, Catholic Studies, the University of
Roehampton, London, UK.
Prof Dr Eugene C Bianchi, Religion (Emeritus), Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.
Prof Dr Juan Barreto Betancort, New Testament and Classical Languages at the University of La Laguna in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
Prof Dr Kari Borresen, Theology (Emerita), University of Oslo, Norway.
Prof Dr Roger Burggraeve, Theological Ethics (Emeritus), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.
Dr Aloysius Cartagenas, Moral Theology, former Rector of San Carlos Major Seminary, Cebu City, Philippines.
Prof Dr Ricardo Chica, Development Economics, Director Centre for Asian Studies, University of Bolivar, Colombia.
Prof Dr Michael L. Cook SJ, Religious Studies (Emeritus), Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA, USA.
Prof Dr James Dallen, Religious Studies (Emeritus),
Gonzaga University,
Spokane, Washington, USA.
Prof Dr Gabriel Daly, OSA, Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
Dr Edward P. Echlin,
Hon Research Fellow, Leeds Trinity University, UK.
Prof Dr David P. Efroymson,
NT and Early Christianity (Emeritus),
La Salle University,
Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Dr Annette Esser, Director of the Scivias Institute for Art and Spirituality, Bad Kreuznach, Germany.
Prof Dr Margaret A. Farley, Christian Ethics (Emerita), Yale University Divinity School, New Haven CT, USA.
Dr Anne Foley, Senior Lecturer Criminology, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK.
Assoc. Prof Dr Roberto Conrado O. Guevara, Theology,
Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.
Prof Dr Helen R. Graham MM, Scripture,
Institute of Formation and Religious Studies, Quezon City, the Philippines.
Sr Dr Jeannine Grammick, formerly Assoc Professor of Mathematics at Notre Dame of Maryland University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Co-founder of New Ways Ministry.
Prof Dr Christine Gudorf, Christian Ethics, Florida International University, Miami, USA.
Prof Dr Mary Grey, Theology (Emeritus), St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, UK.
Nicholas Peter Harvey, Moral Theology, Author, former President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics, Bungay, Suffolk, UK.
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Theology (Oxford & Rome), Author,
Santa Maria de Fe,
Prof Dr Karin Heller, Theology, Whitworth University, Spokane, WA, USA.
Prof Dr Toine van den Hoogen, Theology (Emeritus), Radbound University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Dr. Bernard Hoose, Moral Theology
(Retired), Heythrop College,
University of London, UK.
Prof Dr Michael Hornsby-Smith, Sociology (Emeritus), University of Surrey, UK.
Raymond Hervey Jolliffe Lord Hylton, Doctor h.c. Southampton University, member of the British House of Lords since 1971.
Prof Dr Jan Jans, Associate Professor of Ethics, Tilburg University, the Netherlands.
Dr Deborah Jones, Moral Theology, Fellow, The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, UK.
Prof Dr Erik Jurgens, Constitutional Law, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Prof Dr Othmar Keel, Old Testament Exegesis (Emeritus), Fribourg, Switserland.
Prof Dr David D Kelly, Theology (Emeritus), Duquesne University, Pittsburgh PA, USA.
Dr Kevin Kelly, former lecturer Moral Theology, Heythrop College, London, UK.
Prof Dr Ursula King, Theology and Religious Studies (Emerita), University of Bristol, UK; Fellow of Heythrop College, University of London, UK.
Dr Yuri Koszarycz, Senior Lecturer Theology (Emeritus), Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, Virginia Queensland.
Dr James Kottoor, former Editor of the New Leader (Chennai), later Assoc Editor Indian Currents (Delhi), now freelance Cochin, India.
Dr Ad Krijnen, Sociology (Emeritus), Central Planning Body for the Province of Brabant in the Netherlands.
Prof Paul Lakeland,Director, Center for Catholic Studies,
Fairfield University,
Connecticut, USA.
Assoc. Prof Dr Julia Lamm, Theology, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA.
Prof Dr Bernard Lang, Old Testament Studies, Universities of Paderborn, Germany, and Aarhus, Denmark.
Prof Dr Michael G Lawler, Theology (Emeritus), Creighton University,
Omaha, NE, USA.
Dr Martin J. Leahy, Assoc Professor Organizational Leadership, Chicago School of Professional Psychology, USA.
Dr B Linares, Doctorate of Theology, ex-Minister for Education, Gibraltar Government.
Dr William D. Lindsey, Theology (University of St. Michael’s College Toronto, Canada); independent scholar.
Prof Dr Gerard Loughlin,
Theology & Religion,
Durham University, UK.
Prof Dr John B Lounibos, Theology (Emeritus) Dominican College, Orangeburg, NY, USA.
Vincent Manning, Theology PhD student, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham; Chair of Catholics for Aids Prevention and Support, UK.
Prof Dr Joseph Mattam SJ, Theology (Emeritus), Vidjajyoti College, Delhi, India.
Dr Rosemary McHugh MedDr MBA MSpir, Family Physician, Assist Prof Family Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Prof Dr Patrick T. McCormick,
Christian Ethics, Gonzaga University,
Spokane WA, USA.
Dr David B McLoughlin, Senior Lecturer, Newman University, Birmingham, UK. Former President of the Catholic Theological Association of GB.
Prof Dr. Judith G. Martin SSJ, Religious Studies (Emerita),
University of Dayton, USA.
Assoc. Prof Dr Ruben Mendoza, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, the Philippines.
Prof Dr Norbert Mette,
Practical Theology (Emeritus), University of Dortmund Germany.
Prof Dr Joseph S. O’Leary, Faculty of Letters, Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan.
Prof Dr Thomas O’Loughlin, Historical Theology,
University of Nottingham, UK.
Dr Gillian Paterson,
Research Fellow,
Heythrop College, University of London, UK.
Prof Dr Peter C Phan, Catholic Social Thought, Theology, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA.
Prof Dr Theresa Pretlow, Theology & Radiation Biology (Emerita), School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, USA.
Prof Dr John Mansford Prior, SVD, Ledalero Institute of Philosophy, Maumere, Indonesia.
Prof Dr Samuel J. Thomas, History (Emeritus), Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA.
Prof Dr Mary Racelis, Sociology and Anthropology, Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippines.
Bishop (Emeritus) Geoffrey Robinson DD, DCL,
formerly President of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Australia.
Assoc. Prof. Dr Susan K. Roll, Liturgy and Sacramental Theology,
Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada.
Deborah Rose-Milavec MTh, Executive Director FutureChurch. Formerly Joint Vice-President Catherine of Siena Virtual College, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Prof Dr Todd Salzman, Theology, Creighton University,
Omaha NE, USA.
Sr Christine Schenk CSJ, MS Nursing, MA Theol, Cofounder and Director (emerita) of FutureChurch, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Prof Dr Sandra M. Schneiders, New Testament and Christian Spirituality, Santa Clara University,
Berkeley, CA, USA.
Prof Dr Joseph Selling, Moral Theology (Emeritus), University of Louvain, Belgium.
Prof Dr Thomas A Shannon, Religion and Social Ethics (Emeritus), Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA, USA.
Prof. Dr. William H. Slavick, Literature (Emeritus), University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine, USA.
Prof Dr David Smith, Healthcare Ethics, Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, Ireland.
Dr Bridie Stringer, Theology, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, UK.
Prof Dr John Sullivan, Christian Education (Emeritus), Hope University, Liverpool, UK.
Dr Agneta Sutton,
Visiting Lecturer, Heythrop College, University of London, UK.
Prof Dr J. Milburn Thompson,
Bellarmine University, Louisville, Kemtucky, USA.
Prof Dr José Maria Vigil, Theology, Pontifical University of Salamanca and Central American University, Managua, Nicaragua.
Dr Wilson Angelo Espiritu, Catholic Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippines.
Drs Aloys Wijngaards, Theology and Sociology (Retired), Diakonaal Opleidingscentrum Dijnselburg, Zeist, Netherlands.
Dr John Wijngaards, Sacred Scripture (Emeritus), Missionary Institute London, UK.