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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dr. Haas Reporting from Rome -- DAY 1 of the Colloquium

The President of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Dr. John Haas, is in Rome this week to attend an international colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Dr. Haas will also be attending the annual assembly of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care for Healthcare Workers, for which he serves as a Consultor. 

Dr. Haas is providing daily reports of the proceedings of both those meetings for the benefit of those who are visitors to our website and social media sites. We will provide regular updates to you here on the Blog this week!

Click here to read about Day 2 of the Colloquium
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Dr. John Haas on HUMANUM:
The Complementarity of Man and Woman
An International Interreligious Colloquium
Vatican City

November 17 – 19, 2014


What led to this Colloquium were obviously the tremendous set-backs the institution of marriage and family have suffered recently in many economically advanced countries, especially the United States.  Unions have been legally recognized as marriages when they do not at all conform to the reality of marriage.  No-fault divorce has led to almost 50% divorce rates in many of these countries.  So-called reproductive technologies have led to “rental wombs” and the engendering of children in Petri dishes using gametes, or sex cells, that have been donated or sold so that children have no knowledge of or personal bonding with their biological fathers and sometimes not even with their mothers.  The Church is rightly alarmed by these developments since they will not, in the final analysis, lead to healthy, sound societies or human happiness.  I was fortunate to be invited to attend this conference and to bring with me the insights and work of The National Catholic Bioethics Center. 

Before 8:00 in the morning on Monday, participants lined up outside the Palace of the Holy Office which houses the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the dicastery principally responsible for the colloquium.  The morning was overcast and cool but spirits were high.  Our credentials had to be checked by the Rome police and then again by the Swiss guards who had lists of the invited guests.  We made our way inside the Vatican to the Paul VI Aula which can accommodate thousands for audiences with the pope and special events.  We proceeded to the second floor of the building where there is a modern, well-equipped auditorium that can hold about 400 people.  There is theater-style seating and video screens across the front of the auditorium on which are projected the speakers and slides if they have them for their presentations.  The auditorium was packed.  Everyone had to be in their seats by 8:45 since the Holy Father was to address the participants promptly at 9:00.  Much to my surprise, the Holy Father actually arrived on time and made his way to the stage as everyone stood and applauded.


As might be expected, Pope Francis gave a strong defense of the value of marriage and insisted on it as an objective reality.  He said it was the principal place where we can aspire to greatness because of the formation in love that we receive there.  Pope Francis has often spoken of our contemporary “throw-away” culture that even influences our treatment of human life.  He spoke of our living in a culture of the “temporary”.  However, he pointed out that in marriage the basic roles of men and women are “fixed” and cannot simply be manipulated however some in society may want.  He said that the culture of the temporary has brought spiritual devastation and a host of social ills and that those who have suffered the most are women, children and the elderly.  He said children have a right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father.  He said the Church has been somewhat slow to realize the extent to which our basic social institutions have been put at risk.  He said the permanent commitment to fruitful love actually corresponds to the deepest longings of the human heart.  Almost to stress the objective nature of the reality of marriage and the family, he departed from his text and looked at the participants and said, “A family is a family!”  And then he repeated, “A family is a family!”  In other words, don’t mess with reality!


And then to the delight of the Americans there, especially the Archbishop of Philadelphia, he said, “I wish now at this time to confirm that I will come to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families”.



Our Holy Father at the Humanum Colloquium


Pope Francis addresses the audience at the Colloquium



As he left the auditorium he went to the front rows to greet the various representatives of other Christian bodies and other religions.  And of course, I witnessed a trick used to stop a Pope in his tracks which my wife and I had used about thirty years earlier with St. John Paul II.  Someone came up with their baby and held him for the Pope to kiss and bless!  It worked thirty years ago with our infant son and it worked today!


I wanted to write these daily reports to share the riches being provided at the colloquium.  However, there were twenty presenters today, and you would weary of reading just as I would surely grow weary of writing it all up!  So I will try to share some high points and some particularly interesting insights.


The Opening Presentation was given by Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  In terms of the theme of complementarity the Cardinal pointed out that none of us can complete ourselves.  Alone we are incomplete.  The truth of this is seen in Genesis where creation culminates in the creation of man and woman, for the sake of one another.  They are called outside of themselves and in this way God actually manifests himself.  Sexual differentiation is not simply diversity; each understands oneself through the other.  Only in the union with the other does one become perfected.  The Cardinal pointed out that Greek myths thought that the differentiation between male and female actually was a punishment from the gods, and that men and women sought union with one another so that the differentiation could be overcome. 


In the Jewish and Christian tradition, however, the differentiation of male in female is the crown of creation.  It is necessary to pass on the image of God.  Male and female reveal the presence of our Creator, and we reflect Him in that we have a relational identity as He Himself does.  The overflow of the spouses’ love is the child.  And then the Cardinal said, “The state cannot love children!”  The family can never be replaced.
The big surprise of the colloquium was the showing of extraordinarily high quality videos that were produced on the theme of the conference, each lasting perhaps ten minutes.  The first one, “The Destiny of Humanity”, was shown following Cardinal Mueller’s presentation.


After the video there were four presenters from a wide variety of backgrounds who “witnessed” in their comments to a common awareness the beauty and the good of complementarity.  First was Wael Farouq, President of the Tawasul Cultural Center in Cairo.  He quoted passages from the Koran pointing to complementarity in God’s creation.  Aware of the terrible crisis in the Middle East, he insisted that the unspeakable brutality of the ISIS fighters resulted from their not following the Koran and from the fact that they most likely an inadequate Islamic formation in their families!


Pastor Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof Communities, who live in great simplicity with large families, gave a very personal witness to his 50 years of marriage and the blessings of children and grand children.  A handsome young Spaniard, Ignacio Ibarzabal, Executive Director of Grupo Sólido said the members of his group are “launching a rebellion against promiscuity and infidelity”!  The next speaker, Dr. Harshad N. Sanghrajika, a Jainist Hindu, showed that even their polytheistic religious beliefs acknowledged the complementary character of reality itself and of the family.
The coffee break provided great opportunity for mingling, sharing business cards, and speaking about future projects.  I was able to visit with two of the board members of the NCBC are present at the Colloquium: Archbishop Charles Chaput and Mr. Gene Zurlo.

Dr. John Haas with NCBC Board Member, Archbishop Charles Chaput


NCBC Board Member, Mr. Gene Zurlo at left.

The speaker after the break was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth.  He established great rapport with the audience by saying that we were actually gathered as a great extended family in defense of the family.  He attributed the survival of Judaism and its ability to survive the most horrific of persecutions to the fact that their religion is based in the family.  Every week at sundown they celebrate the Sabbath together in the home.  He had some interesting observations, such as that the meeting of opposites generates diversity which is good for society, and that pair bonding was necessitated by human offspring who, among all mammals, need care and nurture from both parents for a considerable period of time. When he finished he received a standing ovation from the participants.  After everyone was seated again, Cardinal Mueller leaned over to him and said with great humor, “I thought my presentation was the best one today until I heard yours!” 


Two more presentations of witness followed.  The first was quite scholarly and more than mere “witness”.  Sister Mary Prudence Allen, RSM, a scholar of the thought of St. John Paul II spoke of his development of the concept of an integral complementarity.  She used the occasion to denounce the distortions of the new gender politics which would deny, unbelievably, a biological basis for identity insisting that gender is simply culturally determined.  She said she preferred to speak of gender reality and its biological foundations.


The following speaker was a Bhuddist from Japan who claimed that society today is suffering from the loss of a knowledge of true marriage.  He insisted that maternal love is an absolute reality which flows from the mother.  Unfortunately he used technical Bhuddist terms for various schools of thought without clarifying them which made it quite difficult to follow the lecture.


Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, presided over the afternoon session.  He pointed out that there is no such thing as an isolated “human being”.  We only encounter human beings in relation, most fundamentally human beings as man and woman.  God Himself chose to enter the world in the context of a family where He was born and educated as a child.  Because the family is the primal institution of society, the future of the world itself revolves around the family.


Following the presentation by Cardinal Koch Dr. Janne Haaland Matláry, former Secretary of State of Norway, addressed the topic of “The Family – Still the Basic Unit of Society”.  She pointed out that she now deals with security and defense issues for the Norwegian government which, she said, were much easier to deal with than gender and family politics in Scandinavia!  Norway has only a 1% Catholic population and is very secularized, providing an example of how far secularizing trends can take a country.  Government policies are still heavily influenced by Kinsey and gender ideology, and the country suffers from a 44% divorce rate.  She said it was a shame there was even a need for conference such as this one where academic presentations had to be made to state the obvious!  This had all come about in the last twenty years.  Sperm donation has been legal in Norway since 1930 but recently a law was passed that children have a right to know who their biological father is.  She said this has led to its virtual disappearance but in Denmark it continues as a thriving business.  She pointed out that in Sweden there are kindergartens in which male and female names and pronouns may not be used with the children.  They want to deconstruct heterosexual hegemony and bring about a normless society.


Another gripping video followed her presentation: “The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the for the World’s Children”.  The next speaker was Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.  It is rather well known that the Christians in Africa tend to be quite conservative in their beliefs, practices and interpretation of Scripture.  He spoke of the disorder of homosexual practices and their deviation from Scripture.  He said the challenges facing Christian marriage in Africa were unique because they had to deal with traditional beliefs and practices, such as polygamy, on the one hand and secularizing trends from the West on the other.  Also, marriages contracted in Africa tend to involve the extended families as well and not just the couple who are marrying.  This has a stabilizing effect on the social order.


The next speaker was Dr. Rasoul Rasoulipour, Professor of Letters and Human Sciences at the Kharamzi University.  At these kinds of gatherings in Rome one cannot help but be impressed by the reach of the Catholic Church and its ability to bring together people of the most varied backgrounds.  He began his address with the formal Muslim invocation, “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful”.  He then brought greetings “on behalf of my Shia colleagues in Teheran” which in some respects made one all the more aware of their conflicts with the Sunni Muslims in the Middle East and with the United States.  But he was there to speak of the family and only indirectly alluded to the turmoil in his region of the world, saying that “In such crazy, mad times, it is good to have such religious leaders as Pope Francis”.  He quoted the Koran attesting to the family as ordained by God.  He said that the “family is the first sanctuary of love” but then spoke of the fact that women may not attend public prayers in Iran by pointing out that the “woman’s mosque is the home” and that the “home is the greatest place for practicing the presence of God”.


Bishop Jean Lafitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, presented a beautiful paper on “The Sacramentality of Human Love according to St. John Paul II”.   I first came to know Bishop Lafitte when he was a priest working for the Pontifical Academy for Life. His presentation was perhaps the most “spiritual” and “theological” of the day with his focus on Ephesians 5 which speaks of marriage reflecting the sacrificial love of Christ for His Church and the indissoluble bond between Christ and His Church.  At the end of his talk he obliquely and indirectly referred to the controversy which had been the center of much debate at the recent Extraordinary Synod of the family, i.e., whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion.


At the end of the day there was a “Scholars’ Panel” presided over with great verve by Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School and former Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See.  Professor Glendon used to serve on the board of the NCBC, and we were able to reminisce a bit about our former collaboration.  She did a masterful job of summarizing and synthesizing what had been presented throughout the day.  She touched on a point raised many times; our marriage culture is deteriorating and those who suffer the most are the weak and vulnerable.  She pointed out that “marriage can’t go it alone” and needs the support of the state.  What is currently happening is that the state no longer offers such support but is actually placing the family increasingly in jeopardy.


The scholars on the panel included a marriage law professor from Brigham Young University, a Sephardic Jewish rabbi, a theologian, a Mexican sociologist, and finally a physician/psychiatrist from the University of California at Irvine.  Of that final session what struck me the most was the psychiatrist insisting that the claims of the “Gender Movement” are simply repudiated by “Gender Reality”.  One simply cannot deny the biological bases of gender, from the affects of hormones to the structure of individual cells, from the way men and women process face recognition to their awareness of orientation.  There was some animated discussion which included reflection on how those who advocate “traditional marriage” can once again engage the culture, perhaps using phrases such as “Pro-family is pro-poor”, expressing succinctly that marriage and family are the most effective means of overcoming poverty.  The colloquium adjourned at 6:30. 


In the course of the day participants not infrequently expressed incredulity that there would even be the need to organize such an international conference in support of a reality, marriage and family, that was basically unquestioned twenty years ago.


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