Pope Francis’ Marriage Agenda and the Changing Catholic Church

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Pope Francis’ Marriage Agenda and the Changing Catholic Church

Last month, the Roman Catholic extraordinary synod on family vetoed gay-friendly statements proposed by the pope. Prior to this veto, sharp differences surfaced among the highest members of the church, prompting Cardinal Raymond L. Burke to publicly disagree with the synod’s midterm report in The Catholic World Report:

The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium. In a matter on which the Church has a very rich and clear teaching, it gives the impression of inventing a totally new, what one Synod Father called “revolutionary,” teaching on marriage and the family. It invokes repeatedly and in a confused manner principles which are not defined, for example, the law of graduality.

Clearly such remarks did not sit well with the pope. He demoted Cardinal Burke from the Vatican’s Supreme Court to the ceremonial position of chaplain of the Knights of Malta. Since Cardinal Burke was the Americans’ highest-ranking cardinal at the Vatican and an outspoken conservative critic of any attempt to change the church’s longtime teachings on moral issues, the removal has been greeted as a stern warning to anyone who will stand in the way of Pope Francis’ agenda.

Pope Francis’ decision reflects a profound conundrum facing the Roman Catholic Church. The struggle to maintain a unified moral vision between the conservative third world regions like Latin America and the progressive Western societies is at the heart of the crisis.

Recently, a detailed publication by the Pew Research Forum indicates a massive exodus by many Latin American Catholics and analyzes why they are joining evangelical Protestant churches. The report says:

Latin America is home to more than 425 million Catholics – nearly 40% of the world’s total Catholic population – and the Roman Catholic Church now has a Latin American pope for the first time in its history. Yet identification with Catholicism has declined throughout the region, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey that examines religious affiliations, beliefs and practices in 18 countries and one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico) across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some of the suggested reasons as to why many Latin American Catholics are joining evangelical Protestant churches:

chart showing Latin Americans' reasons for leaving Catholic Church

The report attempts to narrow down the reasons for this massive exodus:

Even though the Catholic Church opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, Catholics in Latin America tend to be less conservative than Protestants on these kinds of social issues. On average, Catholics are less morally opposed to abortion, homosexuality, artificial means of birth control, sex outside of marriage, divorce and drinking alcohol than are Protestants.

The differences between Catholics and Protestants on most of these issues hold true even when accounting for levels of religious observance. For example, Protestants who participate in religious services at least once a week are somewhat more likely to oppose abortion and divorce – and considerably more likely to oppose homosexuality, sex outside of marriage and drinking alcohol – than are Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly. These differing views on social issues may help explain why many former Catholics who have become Protestants say they were looking for a church that “places greater importance on living a moral life” (a median of 60%).

Clearly, shifting moral stands within the Roman Catholic Church are causing many to leave the church.

Given all the socio-religio-political changes taking place, the American bishops are struggling to adopt to the pope’s agenda. The pope’s determination is seen by his reaching out to various religious leaders on these moral issues. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, penned these words after accepting an invitation by Pope Francis:

The colloquium isn’t one of these “Let’s hide all our differences and pretend we’re all together on everything” exercises we’ve all seen happen multiple times over. We have real and ongoing differences on soteriology and ecclesiology, starting with the papacy itself, and that will be the case at the end of this meeting as well as at its start.

That said, I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled. . . .

Moreover, as one who has been charitably (I hope) critical of Pope Francis on more than one occasion–the last occasion being the Synod deliberations of a few weeks ago on the subject of marriage and family–I can hardly criticize from across the Tiber and then refuse to talk, when invited, about these matters. That’s especially the case when the American bishops have been resolute in standing with us, despite our real differences, on questions of religious liberty and the future of the family.

Pope Francis has called for another synod next year, October 2015. It remains to be seen whether the decision on family and marriage will be based on culture and contemporary philosophies or the Bible as the ultimate guide in matters of soteriology and morality.

Photo by Alfredo Borba (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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About the author


Valmy Karemera is associate editor of The Compass Magazine and posts daily news updates on the Compass Twitter page. Originally from Rwanda, he now lives and works in Texas with his family.