Seychelles’ Catholic Bishop: Vatican survey will help us to be more open concerning family life and the role of the church
Catholic believers attending Mass. Only around 50 questionnaires issued by the Vatican for the worldwide survey were filled by individuals as well as some groups and movements within the church working for the promotion of family life (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The head of the Seychelles Roman Catholic diocese of Port Victoria, Bishop Denis Wiehe has told SNA that the Catholic Church in Seychelles is studying the results of a worldwide survey on family values, with a view of being ‘open’ and advocating compassion for those that may feel rejected by moral teachings of the Church.
In November last year, the head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, Pope Francis issued a questionnaire to get the views of believers on family life, marriage, education and sexuality, including contraception, divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, premarital sex and in vitro fertilisation. Wiehe commented on some of these issues in the interview with SNA.
The results of the Vatican survey on family values indicate that the Catholic Church today is experiencing a “widespread cultural, social and spiritual crisis” of the family.
|The head of the Seychelles Roman Catholic diocese of Port Victoria, Bishop Denis Wiehe (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
The 75-page “instrumentum laboris,” published by the Vatican on June 26 is a reference point for the October 2014 extraordinary Synod of Bishops under the theme “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation.”
Few Roman Catholic believers from the Indian Ocean archipelago have taken part in the survey, according to Bishop Wiehe.
Only around 50 questionnaires were filled by individuals as well as some groups and movements within the church working for the promotion of family life like ‘Couples for Christ.’
Bishop Wiehe affirmed that there hasn't been any such request since the 1960's when the Vatican Council II did a survey on family life and all aspects of the church’s life, has nevertheless welcomed the way Pope Francis sent out the latest questionnaire which he says has been very open about certain controversial questions.
While he did not give details of what the Seychellois Catholics said in the questionnaire Wiehe told SNA that the different groups working with families have met to discuss what has come out of the survey.
"What I see with this questionnaire and the answers that have come up and the two meetings that are to follow, one this year and one next year, is that this will greatly benefit the overall view that the church has on marriage, family life, sexuality etc. and it will help us a lot. So I am glad of this, and I am very glad that we have a more open mind towards these issues," says Wiehe.
Children of single parents and those in ‘irregular situations’
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 76.2 percent of the Seychelles population of around 90, 000 is Roman Catholic, 6.1 percent Anglican, 2.4 percent Hindu, 1.6 percent Muslim, and 13.7 percent other faiths.
In an average of 1584 children born in Seychelles every year in the last 4 years, 71 percent are born to unmarried parents.
With regards to these family issues, Bishop Wiehe told SNA that he sensed from the start that there are important issues which must be addressed, from having people in the church living in cohabitation, having children out of wedlock, divorce, etc, adding that this is why he has done his best to promote movements that are helping families across the country.
|71 percent of children born in the last 4 years in Seychelles are born to unmarried parents (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
Bishop Wiehe has been heading of the Roman Catholic Church in Seychelles for over 10 years and says he established five priorities at the very beginning, first pastoral option which is the promotion and training of lay people in the church, secondly the family, third the youth, fourth the call to vocation and fifth liturgy-the way we worship.
"The fundamental issue is that we are all welcome in the Church, we should not feel rejected. Pastorally we have really tried to be as open as possible while at the same time promoting the ideal which the church has, which we believe is God-given and which states that marriage is between one man and one woman and for life. We believe that this model of family life is for the betterment of everybody in the family, in the Church and in society."
In the Vatican’s working document the Church makes a connection between of single-parent families and a “crisis of faith,” as many children are said to miss experiencing the “love of a father, thereby making it particularly difficult to experience God’s love and him as Father.”
The document states that children of parents in “irregular” situations should also feel welcome in Catholic schools, where “words and expressions need to be used which create a sense of belonging and not exclusion … fully aware that ‘irregular’ is a word applied to situations, not persons.”
“Children or young people are not to blame for the choices and living situations of their parents,” the document states. It adds that excessive rigidity in such matters runs the risk of “making an unjust distinction between different morally unacceptable situations,” for instance, by punishing children of an invalid marriage but not those whose parents “live a life of crime and exploitation.
Divorce and remarriage
The responses from the Vatican survey show that people around the world who are separated, divorced or single parents “sometimes feel unwelcome in some parish communities” and that “some clergy are uncompromising and insensitive in their behavior.”
The document says that the bishops recognise the challenges of people in such “irregular” situations, including divorced Catholics who have remarried in civil ceremonies and are not able to receive communion as their first marriage was not annulled.
|Ten couples exchanged wedding vows in a single ceremony in August 2011, at the Cathedral of immaculate Conception in Victoria, the first time such an event took place in the country. Marriage, divorce and re-marriage were amongst issued addressed by the Vatican survey (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY-NC|
Many feel “frustrated and marginalised,” the document says, adding proposals for making the annulment process simpler and faster while at the same time warning that this may make marriage and divorce seems less worthy and make the church doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage become weak.
The document includes proposals that the Catholic Church consider adopting Orthodox Church practice, which allows for second and even third marriages under certain circumstances
Same-sex unions opposed but attitudes are changing
While the Catholic Church official stance towards homosexuality and opposition marriage of same-sex couples remains unchanged as, the Vatican document says that the churches “are trying to find a balance between the Church teachings on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude toward people living in such unions.”
“Every bishops’ conference voiced opposition to “redefining” marriage between a man and a woman through the introduction of legislation permitting a union between two people of the same sex. The episcopal conferences amply demonstrate that they are trying to find a balance between the Church's teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions,” reads the document.
The Bishops expressed their opposition of the adoption of children by same-sex couples, but they said they proposed to baptise children living with such couples “with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”
They were divided in their reactions to the issue of the treatment of same-sex unions as some were concerned “that the Church’s acceptance of people in such unions could be construed as recognition of their union.”
Describing the issue of same sex unions as ‘very difficult’ and ‘delicate,’ Bishop Wiehe told SNA that he has always tried to be as open as possible with a few homosexuals that he has been able to talk to in the course of his priestly ministry, adding that he has found that very often they are people who suffer a lot from other people's attitude in the society.
"It's a very difficult issue and the church is faced with Bible teaching which is very clear on this issue, but at the same time the church had to dig deep and look at the attitude of Jesus himself who was compassionate, who was attentive especially to people who were marginalized and I think we have to adopt a new attitude than the one we had in former times not only the church but society in general," said Wiehe.
With regards to how the church is going to face possible propositions to legalize homosexuality and gay marriage in Seychelles Wiehe said "that is another issue."
"I think the synod will address the issue and that there will be guidelines given for the church on what we can follow but it is a delicate and difficult issue."
Birth control, family and gender
The Vatican document recognizes that most Catholic couples around the world use artificial birth control such as oral contraceptives and condoms, which is against the Church’s teaching and that “for many Catholics the concept of ‘responsible parenthood’ encompasses the shared responsibility in conscience to choose the most appropriate method of birth control.”
It suggests that priests need to put a greater emphasis on the way they present the natural methods of regulating fertility with experts in the field of medicine and from the parishes.
The church proposes collaborations with “academic institutions engaged in study and research on these methods and in the promotion of a more ecologically-minded approach to human living,” as well as better training for priests who are “sometimes unprepared to deal with these issues.”
The Church expressed its concern of the rise of an “ideology called gender theory, according to which the gender of each individual turns out to be simply the product of social conditioning and needs” without “any correspondence to a person’s biological sexuality.”
According to the church, the Catholics’ disregard of moral teaching on family life which results in couples living together without getting married is also driven by economic factors such as unemployment, lack of housing and demands of long working hours.
The document proposed for Church members to lobby for legislation which would promote family life, such as “childcare, flexible working hours, parental leave and an easiness at integrating raising a family into a work situation.”
Behaviour of priests in the Church
The working document the Church acknowledges that child abuse scandals involving priests in Europe and North America had “significantly weaken the Church’s moral credibility” as well as “lavish lifestyle by some of the clergy” had led the faithful to see an contradiction between the teaching of the priests and their conduct.
The next Synod of Bishops of the Indian Ocean
Seychelles' Catholic diocese view will be presented at the October 2014 extraordinary Synod of Bishops under the theme "pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization through the Indian Ocean bishops' conference (CEDOI) which comprises the islands of Mauritius, Reunion, Comoros and Rodrigues.
Bishop Wiehe has confirmed that Bishop Maurice Piat of Mauritius has been invited in his capacity as current President of the CEDOI.
"CEDOI Bishops and Vicar Generals will meet in September to discuss the document, so Bishop Piat will take our point of view to the Synod meeting in October."
The October Synod in Rome will look at all the answers from all over the world and propose another work in the church worldwide for pastoral orientation concerning different issues on family life and the decisions will eventually be taken in another meeting in October 2015.
"We must work towards family life and be open to each other (..) hopefully from this initiative from Pope Francis it will help us to be more open concerning family life and the role that the church has to play."
Believers heading home after attending mass at the Cathedral of immaculate Conception in Victoria. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 76.2 percent of the Seychelles population of around 90, 000 is Roman Catholic. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
Speaking to SNA, Christopher Adelaide who oversees the Diocesan Commission on the Family within the Roman Catholic Diocese in Seychelles says while a lot has been done the survey has shown that a lot of families have different needs and that they need to be met halfway.
Adelaide says the different groups working with families nationwide have identified three priorities.
"We have to identify and remain attentive of needs of families, there needs to be training for people working with families to ensure that they know full well the principles of the church and there also needs to be living testimonies within the church displaying the true model that God has established for families."