A recurring theme in the Vatican summit on marriage and the family has been the need to adapt Church language, rather than doctrine, to a modern audience.
“Now you don’t deny the doctrine in any way,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., in a recent interview, but you have to make it apply to people.”
On Friday, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia, spoke to the synod participants on moving the tone of Vatican pronouncements away from ecclesiastical jargon toward a language people understand. “I suggested that we need to use in our teaching and in a way faithful to our teaching, words that engage with the experience of families,” he said.
Some church language, though theologically correct, may sound harsh on modern ears, he suggested.
Some expressions not resonating with people are “living in sin,” in reference to couples who live together before marriage, “intrinsically disordered,” when speaking of homosexuality, and “contraceptive mentality,” used to describe a society that does not respect life, according to several bishops participating in the summit.
Earlier this week, Cardinal Dolan spoke about a shift in language to a group of journalists at the North American College. “Natural law is a great concept,” he said, “but people today have a hard time understanding what it means. We have to find a better way to connect with people.”
In his address Friday morning, Archbishop Hart brought the conversation specifically to the topic of homosexuals. The Catechism is right when it says that certain acts are “disordered” or things are “intrinsically evil,” he said, yet it may not be the best language to use when speaking with people.
“You say that to a parent who has a gay son or daughter and they just cannot understand that this child whom they love … is to be totally rejected because of that.”
So on the one hand, he asserted, we have to be faithful to our doctrine, “but we can do so with mercy and love and help people to realize that whatever may be the challenges in their life, they are respected and loved by the Church.”
A similar idea came from Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, in an interview published on Friday, who said he has had the chance to speak to families in these situations. “I try to explain to them that the Church cannot recognize marriage between people of the same sex but it embraces everyone like a mother, not like a judge,” he said.
Catholic homosexuals expressed an appreciation for the efforts being made.
“I think what we’re seeing is a crack in the ice that we have been waiting for, for a very long time,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group, told the Associated Press. “It’s a sign of a first step.”
DeBernardo said he was “euphoric” that some bishops said expressions such as “intrinsically disordered” were unproductive for bringing people closer to the Church.