The Bishop of Middlesbrough has sent a letter to the Editor of the Tablet following the publication of an article entitled “England and Wales bishops give voice to radical hopes for Vatican’s synod on the family”
The text of the letter is as follows:
I am very grateful that you were able to publish the full comments I made on your website. It gives the context in which I was replying to the questions put to me by Christopher Lamb. The responses that we received in the Diocese of Middlesbrough were, on the whole, very genuine attempts to make sense of the purpose of the Questionnaire to be fed into the Synod on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the context of the New Evangelisation. Many offered examples and suggestions from their own personal experience and reflections. They expressed both the joys and the struggles of Marriage and Family life. I was therefore saddened that your article appeared to demean the honest offerings of these good people by framing them in a sensationalistic style. All of these statements were published in the Middlesbrough Catholic Voice, our diocesan newspaper, in January, and while I would not expect the London-based Tablet to look so far north, to add insult to injury, we send you a complimentary copy every month. So much for the Tablet’s hot pursuit of the truth! I suppose the question I am left with is simply does the Tablet try to report and respect the truth or does it just massage facts to support its own agenda?
With every good wish,
Rt Rev Terence P Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough
The text of the article to which the Bishop refers in his letter:
“England and Wales bishops give voice to radical hopes for Vatican’s synod on the family
13 March 2014 12:30 by Christopher Lamb and James Macintyre
Two bishops of England and Wales have broken ranks with their confreres with one calling for developments in church teaching on human sexuality and the other criticising the collective decision not to publish the findings of a Vatican survey.
The Bishop of Middlesbrough, Terence Drainey, called for a “radical re-examination of human sexuality” that could lead to a development in church teaching in areas such as contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage and cohabitation and the role of women in the Church.
Bishop Tom Burns of Menevia says that in the interests of transparency the bishops should publish the findings of a Vatican survey which asked questions on cohabitation, contraception and same-sex marriage. In an article for The Tablet, Bishop Burns notes “the height and depth and width of the intense pleas made by God’s people for urgent attention to their pastoral needs”.
“Publish and be delighted!” writes Bishop Burns in defiance of the bishops’ conference’s insistence that it would not be publishing the results of the survey at the request of the Vatican. He says they should follow the lead of the bishops in Germany and Switzerland who have published the survey’s findings.
In an indication that he is in favour of communion for remarried divorcees – a key issue to be considered by the synod – Bishop Burns speaks out in favour of “good remarriages”.
The two bishops were among those who made their views known in response to questions The Tablet posed to all members of the English and Welsh hierarchy about Pope Francis’ first year in office and their hopes for this year’s Vatican synod on Marriage and Family Life.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols told The Tablet that it was important to understand the continuity between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. To understand the former “you had to look carefully at what he wrote”, while to understand Pope Francis “you have to watch attentively what he does”. Cardinal Nichols said that a new confidence among Catholics generated by the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK in 2010 is growing “as we seek to answer the call [of Francis] to be missionary disciples of Christ”.
Bishop Drainey said that a radical re-examination of human sexuality should take place in light of modern psychological and anthropological insights and the lived experience of lay people, a point that was made by respondents in his diocese to the questionnaire.
He told The Tablet that the Church has to hold in tension its imperative to proclaim “high Christian ideals” while at the same time to “welcome with love and compassion those whose lives are complicated and messy”.
Bishop Drainey explained: “a careful discussion of this dichotomy could yield pastoral solutions in the areas of family life where many are struggling, enabling the Church more readily to welcome and include these people.”
At the same time, however, he said that the Church’s teaching on marriage contains an “enormous fund of wisdom to its people and the world” and these positive aspects should be promoted to everyone.
Bishop Burns writes that he has arrived at his conclusions after reading a 29-page report prepared by the bishops’ conference on responses to the synod survey which has been sent to Rome.
All the bishops who responded to The Tablet’s questions expressed a high level of satisfaction with Francis’ time in office.
The Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley said that many are investing hopes in the forthcoming synod explaining: “I have been particularly struck and personally challenged by the Holy Father’s call to go out to the peripheries and serve. He has reminded us that we can all make a difference in our own families and neighbourhoods, in our communities and the wider world – if we use our God-given courage to step out of our comfort zones and reach out to others in need.”
And the Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole, said he found Francis personally “very challenging”.
“I do not think that Pope Francis is interested in changing the Lord’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, but I do think that we need to learn from his openness to those who are in difficulty,” he said.”
The text of the answers which the Bishop of Middlesbrough had originally given to questions asked by the Tablet:
“I think that Pope Francis has completed his first year with flying colours. He has proved himself to be a great communicator of the central message of the Gospel. He spoke recently about the qualities necessary in bishops. They are to be kerygmatic, able to preach the basic gospel message; they are to be witnesses to the risen Christ, men of prayer and good pastors. I would say this is exactly how Pope Francis carries out his role as successor to St Peter. He not only lives out these qualities but he communicates them in direct and accessible terms. If you have been present in or around St Peter’s Square in the last year on Wednesdays for the Audience, you cannot help but be impressed by the number of people pouring into listen to Pope Francis and to catch a glimpse of him.
When have you read a papal document that strikes you immediately with its strong and challenging message, but at the same time encourages you and even makes you smile – this is the way Evangelii Gaudium struck me.
As for my hopes for the synod, I place before you the main points, which have been made by parishioners in the Diocese of Middlesbrough who responded to the questionnaire. As you will see we are dealing with multifaceted and complex issues and there will be no simple “sound bite” answers to them.
Promotion of positive teaching
The Church’s teaching on marriage and family life contains an enormous fund of wisdom to offer to its people and to the world. These positive aspects should be promoted in ways which are accessible to all, so that people are encouraged to aspire to live in ways which foster human flourishing.
Re-examination of the theology of human sexuality
A radical re-examination of the theology of human sexuality in the light of modern psychological and anthropological insights, together with the lived experience of lay people in many forms of family relationships, could lead to development in Church teaching on all aspects of marriage and family life: contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, cohabitation; even the position of women in the Church.
Relationship between Church and people
The Church can be a collaborative community of fellow pilgrims where all humbly walk alongside each other. When Church leaders are in touch with their people as they live their lives, understanding the stresses, strains and temptations they encounter, they can truly minister Christ to their flock.
Development of pastoral solutions
The Church has to hold in tension it’s imperative to proclaim the high Christian ideals to which all should aspire with its desire at the same time to welcome with love and compassion those whose lives are complicated and messy. A careful discussion of this dichotomy could yield pastoral solutions in the areas of family life where many are struggling, enabling the Church more readily to welcome and include these people.
Should the results of the Questionnaire be made public? I think not. It was neither systematic nor scientifically based and it would be almost impossible to extrapolate any meaningful and reliable statistics from it. However it certainly raised issues which should be considered and discussed.”