Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 65(1) February 2015


Pravin Thevathasan

Family photoFamily stability is so important to the health of the nation that we are requesting articles in defence of the family. According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 1640:

"The marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. The Church does not have the power to contravene the disposition of divine wisdom."

Nothing can be clearer than this. The infallible teaching of the Church is that a valid marriage cannot be dissolved.

Pastoral considerations, by their very nature, do not fall within the realm of infallible teaching. Some have been excellent. Others have been confusing. For example, the Pope taught clearly against artificial contraception in Humanae Vitae. The doctrine was and remains clear but subsequent pastoral considerations have muddied the waters to the extent that the doctrine is not understood by many, and is therefore treated as irrelevant.

With regard to those in second marriages following a civil divorce, some theologians have proposed the pastoral solution offered by Eastern Orthodoxy. In that tradition, only one marriage can contain the perfect meaning and significance which Christ has given to it. Marriage is not only for life but it is for eternal l i fe. Widows and widower s are not encouraged to marry. It was the Catholic Church which offered the merciful solution of fully recognizing the subsequent marriages of widows and widowers. Unfortunately, under pressure from the state, Eastern Orthodoxy has moved away from Tradition by recognizing second and even third "marriages" following divorce, albeit after due penance.

There can be no contradiction between doctrine and pastoral solutions. Pastoral solutions flow from the doctrinal teachings. The Church recognizes that the family is in serious crisis. We need proper formation before marriage. The full doctrine of the Church needs to be taught. Lifelong marriage must not be seen as an ideal to be aimed at but must be seen as a means by which holiness is attained for many. After all, it is a sacrament which confers grace. With prophetic insight, St John Paul wrote in Familiaris Consortio that married people " cannot look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future : they must consider as a command of Christ to overcome difficulties with constancy. And so what is known as the " law of gradualness or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with "gradualness of the law" as if there were different degrees or forms of precepts in God's law for different individuals and situations."

In other words, adultery and polygamy are intrinsically wrong whether they happen in Germany or in Africa. So-called pastoral solutions designed to ease the distress of those in irregular situations, but which undermine the very truth of Christian marriage risk having very adverse pastoral effects: not least with regards to children denied the stability that is their due.

Many of us working in healthcare know of marriages breaking down because of mental health problems, substance misuse and other chronic health problems. We need to offer good quality care to spouses in crisis. Having disabled children can bring couples together. Unfortunately, it can also tear them apart. Health professionals and others are called to help families who are struggling.

In the words of Pope Francis, the family is a "remedy against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity."

May the Holy Father defend and spread the traditional teaching, indeed the only teaching, of the Catholic Church on marriage.