another modern day papal saint….really???

I’ve already shared my thoughts about papal canonizations, especially the increasing desire to crown all recent popes with saintly honours. At the moment of their election, popes automatically become the most prominent and visible Catholic in the world. They are each greatly loved by some, and not so loved by others. When they die, they are memorialized in grand monuments and remembered in history books. Is it really necessary to beatify and canonize them also?

Politics have played too great a role behind these papal canonizations, as ideological groups in the church vie to have their heroes named as official saints. Now, Pope Paul VI is to be beatified by Pope Francis. The timing and location of the beatification has undeniable political overtones. Paul VI, the author of Humane Vitae, is to be beatified at the close of the Synod for the Family in October. Here is an excerpt from my latest Prairie Messenger column,

Pope Paul VI courageously oversaw the completion of the Second Vatican Council, which was no easy task. But, he is perhaps best known for the damning condemnation of all artificial means of birth control in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. The greater truth of the dignity and beauty of human sexuality that was meant to be the core of his teaching was overshadowed by the loud “thou shalt not” that was heard around the world. Women and men of faith were forced to choose between unbending moral teachings and the practical realities of life. Understanding priests tried to lessen fears of eternal damnation by counselling the right use of conscience. Eventually, most Catholics simply ignored the teaching.

Scheduling the beatification of Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, whether intended or not, can be interpreted as once again closing the door on much-needed dialogue around the question of ethical and responsible reproduction. It also shifts the intended focus from families back to the hierarchical leadership. Paul VI was the pope who founded and promoted the modern Synod of Bishops, but the bishops are meant to meet not for their own sake and promotion, but for the service of the greater church. It seems rather disingenuous to speak of the importance of the family, only to cap off the synod with another papal beatification….read more

family lessons from “call the midwife”

Image

 

In my latest Prairie Messenger column I explore the many family lessons one can learn from watching “Call the Midwife”. The series follows the work of midwives in the East end of London in the late 1950’s and the families that they serve. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the stories are heart-warming and often uncomfortably realistic. This is, after all, what real family life is like. It can raise you to moments of great joy, or mire you in its messiness and challenges. Children are welcomed as a much desired gift, or as an unwanted addition to an already over-burdened family.

Bishops from around the world are preparing for the upcoming Synod on the Family in October. Questionnaires were distributed (though not with equal success) in order to measure the pulse of family experiences and church teachings. One of the big questions, of course, revolves around the issue of birth control.

“Call the Midwife” takes place in the years before the dawn of the birth control pill. Humanae Vitae and it’s prohibition against any unnatural forms of family planning caused guilt-ridden grief to many women and men of my parent’s generation. Here was an answer to all their worries about unwanted pregnancies, only to be followed by threats of eternal damnation if couples chose to regulate births by artificial means. Today, even while most Catholics ignore the teachings of Humane Vitae, some bishops continue to make headlines fighting against easy or free access to birth control.

This week, the Supreme Court in the Philippines approved a controversial birth control law which will give women free access to birth control. The law faced fierce opposition from the Catholic bishops in a country where 80% of the population is Catholic. In the USA, Catholic bishops denounced Obama’s healthcare plan because of its access to birth control. Do bishops really understand the reality of family life? Do they really understand the deep fear of an unwanted pregnancy? Are they truly being pro-life if they expect women to have baby after baby with no regard for the health or welfare of the mother or family?

(A wee bit of trivia…I was birthed by a mid-wife in England during the same era as “Call the Midwife”!)