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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dr. Haas Reporting from Rome -- Day 2 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 1 of the Colloquium.

Click here to read about day 3 of the Colloquium.


The second day of the conference began with intermittent heavy rain.  I would not have made it to the conference dry had it not been for the generosity of a couple from Benin who allowed me to share their umbrella.  Yvette and Cyrille Seke head a movement known as “Love Power” in English and “L’Ethique de l’Amour” in French.  They gave a presentation later in the afternoon.

The NCBC President with Yvette and Cyrille Seke (whose kindness kept Dr. Haas dry!)

The second day began very solemnly as the announcement was made that there had been an attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem during which three Americans and one Briton were killed.  Cardinal Jean-Luis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who was presiding over the morning session, called for a moment of prayer.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who had spoken the day before, offered a moving prayer for peace and Hebrew prayers for the departed.

Cardinal Tauran then proceeded to open the conference observing that we could not avoid engaging in an interreligious analysis of contemporary challenges to marriage since marriage is a natural institution which is found in all societies and the assault against it is taking place in many different countries and cultures.  We must be in a common struggle to uphold the family, and in those societies in which marriage is under the most profound assault, we, as believers, must be guaranteed the right to live in accord with our beliefs about marriage. 

Bishop Michael Nazir’ Ali was the first speaker.  He is the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester in England, and comes from a Pakistani Muslim family.  He began by addressing the decline of family life and of legal support for marriage which has become common in contemporary western societies.  He said there are particular complications in England since the Church of England is still the established church and so its canon law still has the force of public law.  So there are virtually two parallel legal systems in England dealing with these issues.  He said that in secularized society, and he counted England, there has been a rejection of the understanding of a “natural” or “normative” family even though historical studies have shown that a union between a man and a woman open to children has indeed constituted “normative” marriage.  Sociological studies show the same.  There are important values and practical goods that can be provided by the Church, even in a secularized society.  One benefit would be marriage preparation which is not provided by the state, as well as preparation in “fathering” and “mothering”.  There was some irony in the presence of a bishop from the Church of England which is experiencing severe tensions with its daughter Anglican churches in Africa that continue to adhere to scriptural norms of sexual morality. 

The Bishop’s presentation was followed by two “witnesses”; Mr. Manmohan Singh, speaking to the Sikh tradition, and Dr. Munehiro Niwano, a Catholic in Japan, who offered the example of the strength a Buddhist couple drew from one another after the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster that hit Japan a couple years ago. 

Mr. Manmohan with Msgr. Steve Lopes,who works for the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was a
principle organizer of the Humanum Colloquium

One of the most gripping speakers of the conference was an African American woman, Dr. Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers from Harvard, who introduced herself as a daughter of the African “diaspora” and as a follower of Jesus Christ.  She movingly spoke of one of the most precious things stolen from black slaves by their owners during the period of slavery; marriage.  Black slaves longed for it, and upon freedom many immediately married.  But she then went on to speak of how governmental policies eventually came to undermine the black family.  In 1965 a report of the Labor Department was issued by Daniel Patrick Moynihan entitled: The Negro Family: the Case for National Action. The Moynihan Report showed a 25% rate of out-of-wedlock births and attributed it largely to the absence of fathers in the home.  It stated: "The steady expansion of welfare programs can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States".  There were proposals that governments should enact policies that would protect the family.  The opposite occurred.  The report was criticized as being demeaning to the black family, particularly to women, by stating that a significant source of the problem was the absence of the father in the home.  That, indeed, was and continues to be a major problem.  Many welfare programs actually resulted in a decline in the presence of a father in the home and this has been devastating for the black community.  Now the out-of-wedlock birthrate in the black community is 70%.  However, even in this disarray, and even as African American women bear children out of wedlock, they still long for stable marriage.  Dr. Cook-Rivers was particularly indignant that the gay movement had wrapped itself in the cloak of the civil rights movement.  She insisted that there is no equivalence whatsoever between the agenda of the homosexual community and the civil rights movement.

At the beginning of the second half of the morning sessions Cardinal Müller announced that Wael Farouq, who had spoken the day before, had requested to address the assembly.  Prof. Farouq said he was chosen by the other Muslims at the conference to speak on their behalf.  He said he had been part of the group that took over the square in Cairo to speak out against the brutal dictatorship of the Muslim Brotherhood.  He said when the Catholics in the crowd wanted to say mass, he said he and his fellow Muslims formed a protected area, a “church”, with their own bodies for them.  He said he saw Christians as brothers and sisters.  Speaking on behalf of the Muslims present he said, “We strongly condemn without reserve the violence against the innocent and all places of worship.  Our religion has been kidnapped by a very small group of radicals.”  One could see the pain in his face as he had to address the atrocities committed by those who claimed to be members of his religion.
The next speaker was Prof. Abdelwahab Maalmi who had served as the Ambassador of Morocco to the Holy See and is a professor international relations at the law faculty of the University Hassan II. 

The topic he addressed dealt with the relationship between women and society in contemporary Muslim countries and how those relations are regulated by both Sharia law and law.  In his mind, the notion of complementarity raised more problems than it solved because the important theme in Islam is not complementarity but rather equality.  The speaker presented complementarity as being opposed to equality.  In my opinion the speaker fundamentally misunderstood the understanding of complementarity developed by the conference.  Perhaps I misunderstood the interpreters!  He nonetheless made some interesting points about contemporary Islam and the place of women.  He said Islam had made great progress.  Women can be lawyers, physicians, professors, writers, but the Muslim woman is still in a situation of inferiority in private life because of Sharia law which dictates family policies.  He did not mention it but there is considerable variety in Muslim countries in the way in which women are treated.

The Rev. Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke next saying that the fundamental question of our day is whether we will think of man as a machine whose parts can be altered and changed or a creation of God with specific ends and purposes inscribed in his very being.  Marriage is imbedded in the created order; marriage and family were not crafted by any human state.  As an Evangelical he said he was concerned with protecting marriage not only to contribute to human flourishing and a sound social order but also with the goal and meaning of the universe since the mystery of the universe is in Christ which is manifested in marriage, in the indissoluble union between Christ the bridegroom and His bride the Church.  In my opinion, Dr. Moore did not give a lecture; he rather delivered a rousing sermon which elicited shouts of “Amen, brother” from the Pentecostals and other Protestants present.  It was probably a first for the Synod Hall!  He had some great quotes which I have to paraphrase since I did not record him.  The sexual revolution is not a liberation but a new form of slavery in which women continue to be used and exploited for man’s benefit.  Immorality is not just naughtiness but a sermon, a sermon preaching a different message.  He said, “We must resist the will to power which would treat children as manufactured products or nuisances to be destroyed”.  He said there are those who tell us that contemporary society will not hear us if we do not accept and speak in its terms.  He went on, “The churches that adopted those positions are now deader than Henry VIII”.  That brought resounding applause but I could not help but wonder what the Anglican bishops present thought!

Cardinal Müller thanked him for his presentation and observed, “If you are standing at the precipice, to step back is the best way to progress”, which elicited laughter and applause from the assembly.
The next speaker was a Taoist, Mrs. Tsui-ying Sheng of Fu Jen University.  She spoke of the symbol ying/yang which permeates their religion and reflects the complementarity found throughout all the created order: day, night; darkness, light; man, woman; husband, wife.  She spoke of the beauty of harmonious married life and how the ying/yang accommodates, for example, one partner growing weak with the other growing stronger.

The afternoon session was presided over by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, a Dominican and Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  He pointed out that St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the Dominican Order, never used the word “complementarity” but he spoke to the reality of it.  The Archbishop expounded on St. Thomas’ teaching on the human person as being a single reality of body and soul.  The soul is created by God to be infused into a body created by Him to receive it.  The relationship between body and soul is complementary and one cannot exist without the other.  And the body which the soul will inform, will vivify, is ineluctably either male or female.  This makes complementarity an objective, incontrovertible reality in human existence.  And this complementarity is more than biological but permeates the full reality of what it is to be a human being.  Indeed, “sexuality extends from the tip of the toes to the top of the soul”.

The next speaker was the Rev. Dr. Richard Warren, a very popular author, preacher and pastor of one of America’s mega-churches, Saddleback Church in California with 25,000 members.  I have attended many conferences in the Vatican, and the papers are invariably quite scholarly and not infrequently boring.  It was a new experience to witness the Evangelical approach with great animation and moving oratory.

Not surprisingly, Pastor Warren said the first thing we must do to save marriage is “Affirm the authority of God’s Word”.  As Catholics we do the same but we also draw from sacred Tradition and the natural order.  He insisted, as would we, that “We build our lives on the unchanging truth of God’s Word, not on passing fads.  Truth is still truth no matter how many people deny it.”  He did address the natural order to a certain extent by pointing out that when couples make love, or even just show affection to one another, they secrete the hormone oxytocin which engenders feeling of happiness and satisfaction.  It is sometimes known as the “bonding hormone”.  He suggested activities which would lead to the secretion of oxytocin as one way to help preserve marriages!
In referring to the previous 20 presentations (!) of the conference, he said it was good to speak to the nature of marriage and the threats to it in contemporary society.  But he said, with great zest, that the REAL issue is, “What are we going to do about it?!” which generated loud applause.  I turned to Lord Windsor, a Catholic convert of the British royal family, who was sitting beside me and said, “A typically American approach”, at which he chuckled.  However, we both agreed that the good pastor raised a critically important point!  He went on to list very practical approaches that can be taken at the local congregational level to strengthen marriage.  One was forming small groups of married couples to share their experiences and to have couples with successful marriages mentor newly married young couples.

The program had presenters with more academic papers and “witnesses” who spoke to their own experiences of marriage.  The next speaker was President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, i.e., a Mormon leader.  He was older and a bit frail but he did what Pastor Warren had said should be done, he gave testimony to a happy marriage.  He simply told a love story of encountering his wife, falling in love, and raising a family.  He occasionally choked up a bit with emotion which made the presentation all the more moving.  His story was touched off by his telling us that, as he arrived for the conference, he had received news of the birth of their first great grandchild! The Mormons have been extraordinarily strong defenders of marriage and supporters of the larger movement in defense of marriage.

The final presentation of the day was provided by the handsome couple from Benin who had shared their umbrella with me that morning, Cyro and Cyra Seke.  They had a beautiful story of a love that overcame many obstacles.  He was a tribal prince from the north of the country, and she was from the south.  Apparently the north and south simply do not intermarry, and their marriage was fiercely opposed by both families, especially his.  His family tried to talk him into taking several wives but he had been educated in a Christian school and had converted.  He refused.  Despite the opposition of their families, they married.  In their culture a couple has children as soon as they marry.  They have gone 10 years without children which is seen by some as a punishment.  However, they took in a special needs child who had been rejected by his family so that they now have their own family.  They were engaging, taking turns telling their story – and entertaining, singing a couple love songs for us!  They truly provided a beautiful example of embracing true marriage despite great cultural opposition.

The day concluded with a panel of five experts.  One of them was Professor Robert George of Princeton University who has been particularly forceful in the defense of marriage.  He gave an impassioned appeal for rallying all the resources at our disposal on behalf of marriage.  He said the demand for gay marriage is not the cause of the current decline of marriage and family in our society but rather one of the effects of the devastation resulting from a culture of divorce and promiscuity.  He said to permit the attempted redefinition of marriage in the United State would lead to catastrophe.  All our attempts to work against divorce, promiscuity, out-of-wedlock births, co-habitation, increased drug use among the young will be in vain because true marriage, the basis of family life, will cease to exist in law.  The state should have no particular interest in regulating friendships and romantic relationships.  The social purpose of marriage is conjugal, to provide a mother and a father in a permanent bond for a child who is born from their union.  This social purpose is absolutely irreplaceable.

Professor Robert George

After the day’s program, on a walk along the walls of the Vatican City State on the way to the Vatican Museum, I spoke with a law professor. We spoke of Prof. George’s stern warning and of how urgent it was to continue the struggle for marriage. The law professor said that the loss of this struggle could be worse than the abortion one from a legal point of view. He said we can keep working against abortion and making it progressively less bad. However, it would be virtually impossible to undo the legal consequences that result from our failure in defense of marriage. How could one in the future contend with same-sex persons being “spouses” under law with all the legal and governmental benefits that accompany it? A remedy would be virtually inconceivable if the status of marriage was nationally awarded to same sex couples. So the day ended on a rather sobering note after some of the beautiful testimonies that had been given in the course of the day to married love.


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  1. Did Mrs Tsui-Ying Sheng's talk get published?

  2. Hi Michael, thank you for asking!

    From what we understand, all the talks will eventually be made available by by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. You can keep an eye on their site to see when the proceedings might be posted:

  3. Thank you for this, Dr Haas. may well be a video presentation of her speech, though I am unable to verify this, given that I am unable to access it for the moment.

    Am also considering adding a chapter (entitled "From Taoism to Thomism") in my forthcoming short book and so am grateful for this alert to her potentially important work.