This was one of the phrases used by a bishop on day 1 of the Synod, describing how he believes the institutional Church ought to treat the domestic church. Cardinal Nichols himself described it as a very moving phrase which struck him personally. I’m glad to hear it! But it requires much reflection and examining of the ecclesial conscience. By this I mean that if many families feel that the “Church” as it’s perceived feels more like an enemy than a friend, then in my view there is a gap between the Church (institutionally) and the Church (domestically).
I am not referring here to the rather jaded mantra of the “it’s time the bishops changed teachings on sex and marriage”, rather I am referring to a much more subtle and infinitely more spiritually alienating gap between Rome and home, diocese and household, parish and hearth. And what causes the gap? It’s what I call the “Bureaucratic Church.” I don’t mean the Magisterium, the Deposit of Faith, the wisdom and vision of the Church’s teachings on faith and morals, but the manner in which those teachings are applied and very often misapplied, or worse, totally abused and knowingly and completely undermined and subverted by the very people who are charged by God to preach, proclaim and help others uphold those teachings in season and out.
I have one word for this antithesis of authentic ecclesiology – “policy.” The Church shouldn’t be political, but wholly and always spiritual. You see the trouble is we have drifted so far away from our appreciation and understanding of the Church as the Mystici Corporis (The Mystical Body of Christ) – with Christ at its head and the Holy Spirit whose grace alone can heal us – that like a person over dependent on anti-depressants, the Church now relies far too much on policies to medicate its existence in the world rather than actual holiness of living. Jesus did not preach policy nor proclaim policies on the Mount of Beatitudes. He imparted a vision, a compelling and non-negotiable way of life. Christ was no bureaucrat but a spiritual aristocrat. His was the greatest nobility ever known to human history which in turn is reflected most perfectly in his Blessed Mother. And who was she? A parent. A primary educator. And in my view the bureaucratic Church needs to STOP getting in the way of the parents’ divinely mandated mission to transmit life and love. Does it sound like I have a bit of a passion for this topic? Well I do, and here’s an example of just how much.
In 2011 after due reflection and prayer, I wrote in a personal capacity to the Holy Father to share an insight concerning this truth. In discerning, I acquired the moral support of 3 cardinals and several senior consultors to both the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Council for the Family. I humbly suggested to the Pope that as his predecessor called the Marian Year of 1988 as a precursor to the Great Jubilee Year 2000, itself of Christ’s birth, would it be possible in like manner to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the finding in the Temple during 2012-2013? The parent, as the primary educator and protector, is based on natural law and one which Christ himself bears witness to in this event in Jerusalem and the hidden years of Nazareth. Many parents are under relentless strain in carrying out “their rights and duties as educators, conferred on them by God,” (Pius XI; Mit Brennender Sorge n39) that they are barely aware of what Blessed Pope Paul VI called the ‘sacred power’ of marital sexuality which in turn enables parents to appreciate what St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio called the ‘great and splendid [..] role of Christian parents that Saint Thomas Aquinas has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests’. St. Luke tells us that Jesus “returned to Nazareth and lived under their authority” (emphasis mine). So perhaps a renewed appreciation of this event, I opined, would sharpen our awareness that parents have an intuitive ability to take full and vigilant care of the moral formation of the hearts and minds of their children but often lack the confidence to do it. This in part is because the inalienable rights and unrenounceable duties of parents as the primary educators of their offspring have been subject to many decades of ideological subversion, not least through aggressive and dehumanizing sex education, often with the (at best, naïve) collusion of dioceses (despite the wisdom of the Church’s guidance on the matter.)
Might it be possible, I proposed, to draw fresh attention to the doctrine of the primary educator in commemorating a 2000th anniversary of the finding in the temple? I had a personal reply from Mgr. Peter Wells, Assessor in the Secretariat of State, assuring me that the Holy Father told him to reply to me. ‘In thanking you for your thoughtful letter,’ he said, ‘I would like to assure you that your suggestion has been noted.’ I re-wrote the letter and made a similar appeal to Pope Francis in 2013 asking that he urge all parents worldwide to honour the finding in the temple and all it means by taking their children to any Marian shrine closest to their home to pledge themselves anew to the task, and to invoke through children’s prayers the special protection of Our Lady upon the dogma of the primary educator. I got a similar bureaucratic reply. Nice but frankly devoid of any real understanding of the urgency of what’s at stake.
The church of the home, the family, is the heart of the civilisation of love, and a stronger sense of parental rights must, in my view, be a key focus of the new evangelisation. Perhaps 2000 years on, parents and grandparents can emulate Mary and Joseph with the adolescent Jesus and bring their own children and grandchildren to any shrine on a pilgrimage in the Jubilee Year of Mercy as a prophetic and thanksgiving act for parenthood.
What’s at stake at this synod is massive for parents now and in the future. Natural law is the patrimony of parents. If we don’t rise up and defend that patrimony I fear no one else really will and as St. John Paul II warned; “families themselves will be the first victims of the very things towards which they have shown indifference.” And if you don’t believe me then you’ve only to look at the frighteningly menacing Named Person Scheme (“policy”) north of the border in Scotland. Parents (many of whom are not Catholics, nor necessarily coming from a religious perspective) are fighting tooth and nail against this law. WE IGNORE IT AT OUR PERIL, for Scotland today is but a laboratory on social engineering policy for what will go macro in Britain tomorrow.
And news just in from Ireland; for the first time in the history of Ireland, the Oireachtas has allowed for a thing called a “next friend of a child” to make an application to a court on behalf of a child. A “next friend of a child” is by definition, NOT a parent of the child!
I highly recommend reading the excellent Professor David Paton whose article on parents and sex educators makes the front page headline this week in the Catholic Herald.