With marriage being a hot news topic, large news organizations were quick to pick up on the Vatican's June 26th release of Instrumentum Laboris. It is a preparatory document for an upcoming international meeting of bishops, exploring "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization." We can undoubtedly expect to be seeing that document and the bishops' meeting discussed on the pages of the Courier Times.
Where Instrumentum Laboris has already received coverage, much focus has been on how the Church might supposedly change her teaching to accommodate adults who disagree:
- "The Vatican conceded Thursday that most Catholics reject its teachings on sex and contraception as intrusive and irrelevant and officials pledged not to 'close our eyes to anything' when it opens a two-year debate on some of the thorniest issues facing the church" (Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, 6/26/14).
- "The bishops will discuss the paper in October and could make recommendations on changes to Church teachings, on which the Pope would decide." (Philip Pullella, Reuters, 6/26/14)
- "Called an instrumentum laboris, or 'working paper,' the document sets the table for a summit of Catholic bishops from around the world in Rome Oct. 5-19, summoned by Pope Francis to discuss the family. It should be great theater, since there’s almost no hot-button issue that isn’t germane....The text is designed to synthesize the input the Vatican has received, including responses to a questionnaire requested by Francis to seek the views of the church’s grass roots. In early reporting, much was made of the document’s acknowledgment that many Catholics do not follow church teaching on contraception. That’s hardly a thunderclap, however, since it’s been blindingly obvious for decades" (John Allen, Boston Globe, 6/29/14).
Keeping with the tone of Pope Francis, Instrumentum Laboris emphasizes the compassionate mercy of God. At the same time, Instrumentum Laboris specifically states that it stands unwaveringly with the the Church's constant teaching, citing the Bible, the Catechism, Humanae Vitae, and the Theology of the Body, among its sources. Instrumentum Laboris maintains that, "When an overall view of marriage and the family is sufficiently set forth according to tenets of the Christian faith, its truth, goodness and beauty is clearly visible" (# 13).
Those reading Instrumentum Laboris may be surprised to find that great attention is paid to the well being of the entire family - particularly the well being of children - rather than narrowly focusing on adults, as the aforementioned reports might seem to suggest. Much is said about the well being of children in challenging situations, such as the absence of a parent, when a teen becomes a parent, and atypical home situations.
In cases of divorce, Instrumentum Laboris notes that well meaning suggestions have come from Europe and North America to "streamline" determinations of marital nullity (Note: Marital "annulments" are already FAR more prevalent in the United States, than they are in the rest of the world.). That "suggestion" has been reorted in some quarters as though it was a fait accompli. However, Instrumentum Laboris notes that inherent dangers in "streamlining" would include fostering "in young people’s minds the idea that marriage is not a life-long commitment" and "the mistaken idea that an annulment is simply 'Catholic divorce'" (# 99).
Instrumentum Laboris concludes that "the following three main areas ARE under discussion in the Church:
how the Gospel of the Family can be preached in the present-day;
how the Church’s pastoral care programme for the family might better respond to the new challenges today;
how to assist parents in developing a mentality of openness to life and in upbringing their children."