Love it or hate it, at least the Synod on the Family is getting us talking – which is always healthy. It's great to think about what the Church teaches, why they teach it, how it fits in with scripture and Church Tradition and how it fits in with our own upbringing, core beliefs and experiences.

Personally I'd be quite open to seeing some changes come out of the Synod. I've probably told this story before but I have a friend who was in a very abusive marriage and was unable to get an annulment. She stayed in her marriage (mostly out of fear) until her husband started harming the children. She then quietly saved up enough money until she was able to buy a car, which she hid at a friend's house and then one day while her husband was at work she snuck away with her children and moved away where he couldn't find them. She didnt even tell her family where she was going. 

After 10 years she finally felt safe enough to contact family again and eventually she met another man. A very kind and gentle man who seemed a God-given gift. It was at about this time that I met her and I asked her if she and her partner were going to get married. She cried when she told me that she couldn't get an annulment and so she felt that she couldn't get married because this would mean she would no longer be able to receive Eucharist. Apparently abuse is not grounds for annulment and her ex-husband was not willing to be part of the annulment process at all so she was told this made it impossible to proceed. I don't know enough about the process to know if this is all true, but certainly this was her experience. 

So, I can understand why this issue is something a lot of people feel hurt about and I think it is a good think that the Synod are discussing this. 

What are your thoughts on the Synod? Do you think it's a waste of time? One man's push for something no one else wants? Catering to populist thoughts and demands? Are you hoping changes will come from it? Is it timely considering the massive rate of change in society? 

“Pastoral Earthquake”


A document summing up the synod so far has been described as a “pastoral earthquake” by a leading Vatican commentator.

The document, called the relatio post disceptationem, was read aloud in the synod hall this morning. It has been drafted by synod fathers selected by Pope Francis and can be read in full here.

The document calls on the Church to build on the “positive aspects” of relationships that are deemed irregular – such as between remarried couples or same-sex partners – and keep the “doors always wide open” to people in those relationships.

The relatio says that the Church reaching out to divorced Catholics does not represent a “weakening of its faith” but an exercise of charity.

The document cites calls by many synod participants to speed up the annulment process.

Regarding people who are gay, the document says: “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

“Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

The document also emphasises the “principle of graduality”, the idea that Catholics move towards full acceptance of Church teaching in steps, and that the Church needs to accompany them with patience and understanding.

It speaks of “accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation”, noting that such unions can reach “a notable level of stability through a public bond” and be “characterised by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests”.

It says: “Realising the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognise those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man, the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.”

The document stresses the need for a positive approach, saying that “in such unions it is possible to grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them. Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects.”

On the question of Communion for the divorced and remaried, the document has left the question open for further theological study. It says that some participants at the synod were opposed to the admission of the remarried to Communion, while others saw it as a possibility, perhaps after a “penitential path” undertaken under Church guidance.

The document says that “the situation of the divorced who have remarried demands a careful discernment and an accompaniment full of respect, avoiding any language or behaviour that might make them feel discriminated against. For the Christian community looking after them is not a weakening of its faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but rather it expresses precisely its charity in its caring.”

The document also refers to the Second Vatican Council. which affirmed that “although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure … these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity”.

The text describes itself as a tool that is meant to be used in preparing for the bigger family synod in October 2015.

“The reflections put forward, the fruit of the synodal dialogue that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015,” it says.

“These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view.”

Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, said that the synod’s interim document has “a decidedly different tone” from many Church statements in recent years.

It calls for the Church “to listen more, to respect people in their various struggles, and to apply mercy much more widely”, he said, adding that “the document acknowledges bluntly that the strict application of Church doctrine is no longer enough to support people in their quest for God”.

He said that the document “also appears to reflect a move among the prelates from legal exactness in adherence to Church teaching to gradualism, a theological notion that people can grow in their holiness or in their adherence to Church teaching over time”.

Austen Ivereigh wrote that the interim report “masterfully holds in balance the various issues in contention while resolutely breaking new ground in the Church’s approach to those who do not live up to its teachings”.

He went on: “While containing no great surprises — most of its ideas had already emerged in the course of the synod — the most newsworthy element may be its synthesis of opposed views, which is designed to enable the Church to discern answers to difficult questions over the next year, and its call for a new missionary approach to marriage and family.”

But he says: “The real ‘news’ of the relatio, however, is not easy to capture in headlines, because it calls for a new mindset on the part of the Church. It is a mindset captured by the call in Evangelii Gaudium for a more ‘pastoral’ and ‘missionary’ approach.”

He points out: “There is (by Church standards) fiercely strong language, for example, in paragraph 40, calling for better care of what the document calls ‘wounded families’.”

“What rang out clearly in the synod was the necessity for courageous pastoral choices,” he said. “Reconfirming forcefully the fidelity to the Gospel of the family, the Synodal Fathers felt the urgent need for new pastoral paths, that begin with the effective reality of familial fragilities, recognising that they, more often than not, are more ‘endured’ than freely chosen.”


I am following this with great interest. I know of people who are in the most of the relational situations described above. I am looking to see how these "realities" are acknowledged by the Church without weakening the Church's teaching. We have seen in other denominations how "acceptance" has torn apart their doctrines and communities. Does this synod see us heading in a similar direction?

Sometimes it’s hard being Catholic

It was interesting, and a little scary, over the weekend to read about a couple who have used IVF to create and select a designer baby who's stem-cells will be able to be used to save his or her sister who has a life-threatening disease.

I've always been a bit on the fence about IVF and stem-cell related treatments. I know that morally, and certainly through the Church's eyes, both are considered wrong but the human side of things always gets me.

I have a friend overseas who is a carrier of the Cystic Fibrosis gene. When her and her husband decided to have children they used their considerable medical knowledge (both are nurses) to research their options. They had both known and treated children with CF and I'm sure watching a child struggling to breathe is a pretty horrific thing. In the end they used IVF and genetic testing to have two beautfiul boys, both free of CF. I can see why they went down this road. They wanted children who didn't have to suffer their whole lives with a debilitating disease. They knew, as nurses, they would be more than capable of caring for such a child, but they didn't want any child to have to live with fear, pain and illness when it wasn't necessary. Understandable right?

Two kickers to this story. Last time I saw my friends, they had just been told that they need to make a decision about what happens to the "leftover" embryos that are still in storage. They don't want any more children so the choices are to dispose of them, or to use them for medical research. Neither are nice options and I could tell the decision was weighing heavily on them. A straight-forward decision that would seemingly hurt no-one has become much more fraught.

The other kicker is that my friends used to be Catholic – until the day a priest told the mother that because her children were IVF conceived they were "an abomination". They've never been back to church since. 

I think this story illustrates really well the pushes and pulls of being Catholic in today's world. We understand why the Church says no to IVF – because it results in the death of many unborn babies. We also understand why desperate people in loving relationships will do anything and everything to conceive a healthy baby. 

I think the attitude of the priest in this story is unacceptable. What was he hoping to achieve? The children were already born, the deed done. Insulting someone's children and choices can have no positive effect. As these children grow up and learn about how they were conceived (as I'm sure they will with two nurses for parents) are they likely to "come home" to a Church that labels them "abominations" or are they more likely to attend a Church that says, "we don't agree with IVF but we love you and we welcome you with open arms"? And the same can be said for the parents. How much better would this story have turned out if this priest had said, "The Church teaches against IVF but we are all sinners and we're lucky because Jesus forgives our sins. You will always be welcome here and no one will pass judgement on you but God himself"?

The other thing that came to mind when reading the news articles over the weekend was how far we are moving away from accepting God's will. The Sciences have advanced so far now that "this time God says no" is just not acceptable to us any more. But the moral repercussions of our scientific discoveries are getting more and more significant and worrying.

Sometimes it's hard being Catholic.

Claiming back our Angels

Monday was the feast of Sts Michael, Raphael and Gabriel, the Arcangels.

In past years I've never really had much of a devotion to these saints and had never really given much thought to angels at all. However, over the past couple of years, the arcangels have become a more important part of my prayer life for a couple of reasons.

When I was going into hospital for major surgery a couple of years back someone told me I should find a saint to "accompany" me into the operating theatre and to watch over the operation. I looked up vaious saints – patron saints of surgeons and hospitals etc. but none of them seemed the right fit. I had no feeling of belonging to any of them. Then, out of the blue, and I still don't know why, I settled on Raphael. I guess he seemed powerful and close to God and angels are, afterall, protectors. Why Raphael rather than the other two I'm not sure. I imagined Raphael to be huge – standing in the corner of the operating room, head brushing the ceiling, towering over all of the hospital staff, sternly watching over the operation and protecting me from harm. 

A year later I moved into the school and parish of St Michael's and I've since developed a close devotion to Michael. I often remind him that I work under his name now so he needs to keep me safe and protect me and help me with that work. I believe that he is a very powerful intercessor on my behalf. Someone also gifted me with a St Michael icon that hangs above  my bed and if I feel unsafe at any time in my home I ask Michael help me feel safe.

At Mass on Monday our priest reminded us that angels were ours first before they were claimed by the New Agers. That they are not meak and mild little cherubs or fairy-like creatures but that they are strong and powerful beings who exist to praise God. As the priest said, each time an angel appears in the New Testament, his first words are, "Do not be afraid," which would indicate that angels were terrifying to behold. 

So let's claim back our angels – our powerful intercessors, protectors, companions and guides. 

Pastoral Challenges – Bishop’s Response

Hi all,

havent seen much coverage of the latest Bishop's Conference letter, so here it is for your information and discussion…

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ

E te iwi whakapono, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

Next month an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place in Rome.

The Preparatory Document for the Assembly, Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization, was received in October 2013, and included a list of questions. We decided to make the Document and the questions available in two ways: the usual way through national, diocesan and parish channels, and for the first time, online with the opportunity to provide an online response.

The questions were not the easiest to understand, and frustrated many respondents. However people persevered and gave us information which was often personal and painful to recount, and always heartfelt. We feel humble and blessed by the openness and honesty with which people responded to the questions. The responses provided us with some profound insights into how we Catholics think about and practise the faith, and we are grateful that so many of you chose to share your thoughts and experiences with us.

Themes emerged which were common to all the questions:

Respondents recognized that the Church’s teaching on marriage, divorce and adultery is the teaching of Jesus as found in scripture.

A strong sense of exclusion and hurt is felt by many people who are living in situations not in accord with Church teaching in areas such as divorce and re-marriage, cohabitation, contraception and same sex unions. This sense of exclusion and hurt is also felt by their family and friends, and by those in the wider community who see what they consider to be the exclusion of others.

The sense of exclusion can come from one or all of the following:

  • The existence of the teaching itself, which on its own is seen to exclude those who can’t match the ideal.
  • Hard-line un-pastoral presentation of the teaching, in a few cases by priests, but mostly by organizations or individuals who “police” the “rules”.
  • The attitudes of some parishioners which are perceived to be, or actually are, judgmental in relation to the life situation of others.
  • A strong personal sense of failure, of “not meeting the ideal” set by the Church, and therefore a feeling of not being accepted in the Church community.

There are a number of Catholics struggling to stay in their faith community who have been deeply wounded by the judgmental and sometimes righteous attitudes of individuals and groups who see themselves as upholding or policing the Church’s teaching.

At the same time those who feel excluded and hurt, or unable to “live up to the teaching” as they described it, also have a deep sense of connection to the Church. They spoke of “hanging on” to their faith in Jesus Christ while trying to deal with painful feelings of being excluded from the Church. Supportive Individuals (priests, parishioners and relatives) emerged as the best catalysts for strengthening their sense of belonging to the Church.

Many respondents considered that the Church’s definition of family implicit in the questions lacks understanding of the diverse nature of modern families. The emphasis on the family as mother, father and children has led many other family groupings to feel that in the Church’s eyes (or in the view of their faith community) their families are inferior; for example, grandparents bringing up grand children, parents bringing up children alone, families resulting from second marriages, and culturally-sanctioned adoptions within extended families.

Respondents to the questions indicated strongly that sexual abuse by clergy has undermined their faith in priests and bishops as teachers in matters of sexual morality. Many questioned the right of celibate men to “prescribe” what is right or wrong for married couples.

In both online and other submissions, gratitude and appreciation were expressed for the opportunity to contribute. A number of people were courageous in sharing personal stories which were difficult and painful, or the difficulties they have with various aspects of the Church’s teaching. Others expressed their support for the teaching and wrote about how they tried to be faithful to it in their families. We were deeply impressed by the way in which people are striving to live according to the gospel, whatever the circumstances of their lives.

In the responses there was a strong undercurrent of hope that those whose lives are in conflict with Church teaching would again feel at home in the Church, and that those who feel burdened by Church teaching might have their load lessened in some way.

We have taken very seriously the task of conveying your thoughts to the Holy See, and have been anxious to know if what people across the world are saying is truly being heard by those who will organise the Synod Assembly. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri is the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, and it is his office which is responsible for analysing the submissions on the Preparatory Document. He said in an interview that the responses show “much suffering, especially by those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond to the Church’s doctrine and discipline”.

The results compiled by the bishops’ conferences, he said, show “the urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church for various reasons”.

There is a huge responsibility resting on Pope Francis and those who take part in both the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod this year and the Ordinary Assembly next year. The Synod needs the support of sustained prayer, something we can all participate in, individually and in our parishes. Please pray also for Archbishop John Dew who will represent us at the Synod Assembly.

The responses received to the Synod questions challenge us all to do some things now, here in Aotearoa New Zealand, without waiting for the Extraordinary Assembly and the Assembly to follow in 2015. The responses to the questions revealed that in our parishes we are hurting one another, and beyond our parishes there are people who have left because they felt like second-class Catholics due to their particular situation. Pope Francis has spoken often about judging others. He continually encourages us to focus on God’s mercy and love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and acceptance of one another with all our faults.

“What kind of love do we bring to others? Is it the love of Jesus that shares, that forgives, that accompanies… What are the relationships like in our parishes, in our communities? Do we treat each other like brothers and sisters? Or do we judge one another, do we speak evil of one another, do we just tend our own vegetable patch? Or do we care for one another? These are the questions of charity!”

Pope Francis, General Audience, 23 October 2013

This is where we must start now, in all of our interactions with one another, here in our own communities. We do not have to wait for the Synod Assembly in order to start bringing about change.

Yours sincerely in Christ

Archbishop John Dew, President NZCBC
Bishop Patrick Dunn
Bishop Denis Browne
Bishop Colin Campbell
Bishop Charles Drennan
Bishop Barry Jones
Bishop Peter Cullinane

Note: a summary of the responses is available from, or from the NZCBC Communications Adviser, P O Box 1937, Wellington 6140.


It’s not all about the novus ordo

It seems lately that whatever I post about turns into a debate about the novus ordo vs the traditional rite. 

To be frank (and this would seem to be the right website for that) I find it patronising and very short-sighted that people would think that my faith is somehow lessened because I grew up after Vatican II and because I attend and even enjoy my local novus ordo Mass each weekend.

I've been to a few Masses celebrated in Latin in the traditional rite and yes, they have their merits. They are quiet, reflective and filled with deep symbolism and beautiful ritual. But I also find the novus ordo to be beautiful in its own way. I like being able to hear the words of the Eucharistic prayer in my own language and have them wash over me as I kneel and comtemplate their mysteries. I like seeing clearly what the priest is doing on the altar. I enjoy praying the prayers with the rest of the congregation in a language we hold in common and understand. To me, both rites are equally valid, beautiful and remain the source and summit of our faith.

I don't believe my faith has been damaged in any way at all by growing up after Vatican II. My faith is strong, I receive the Sacraments regularly, I spend time in prayer and my work is also based around bringing the Good News to people. My parents grew up before Vatican II and I see very little difference between their faith and mine. 

So, here's your chance… those who continue to rubbish our novus ordo and wish for a return to the past, have it out below… 

To evangelise or not to evangelise

A couple of interesting comments came up from my post last week. Some commenters felt pretty strongly that rather than admiring my friend's steadfast commitment to her faith, I should be trying to evangelise her and make her see the "error of her ways".

Religion has always fascinated me. There is nothing I love more than meeting someone of a different faith and delving into what they believe and how they celebrate. So when I get together with my friend the conversation almost always ends up (through my leading) being about faith and what we hold similiar and different. My friend visits the Morman Temple in Hamilton each school holidays and I'm often curious about what she does there and what it's like inside. She also often visits Salt Lake City and I'll ask her about that. Sometimes I ask her about pictures she has hanging in her house. For me it has the same kind of feeling as a history lesson, history also being an area I'm fascinated with. It's just interesting.

I think the reason that this has been an enduring  friendship (of 13 years now) is that we both have equal respect and admiration for each other's faith. She doesn't try and evangelise me and I don't try and evangelise her. When I first met her I did worry that she might try and give me the hard-sell – Mormons are known for wanting to spread their faith and taking active steps to do so. But that has never been the case. She is equally interested in Catholicism as I am in LDS – she recently attended a Catholic wedding and had lots of questions for me about the church and the ceremony, all asked in a curious and respectful way. I have never said anything disrespectful or even doubting about her beliefs and she has never disrespected my beliefs or called them into question. It's a mutual thing.

The other thing is that having this friend in my life has, in many ways, deepened my faith. As much as we hold different, there are many things we hold in common – the strongest of which being our belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Bible as the Word of Life. My friend will often quote New Testament stories to me to help me with problems or issues I'm struggling with and I am able to do the same for her. She also encourages me to pray about things. It is nice to have a friend who I can speak with openly about what I believe.

So, I won't be trying to bring my friend to Catholicism. I will continue to live my life as a Catholic so that she (and everyone else I meet) can see the gift my faith is to me while respecting and yes, even admiring, her commitment and the way she lives her life.