As the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family takes shape, a slew of new or updated books upholding the Church’s teaching and tradition on marriage and the family have been written and published shortly before the meeting begins.

The publications are a response to what many see as threats to established Church teaching and practice presented at the last synod, and which look likely to be repeated at the upcoming meeting of bishops next month.  

One of the latest comes from no less than the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who has had published a new edition of his book: “Mystery and Sacrament of Love – A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization”.

As prefect of a Vatican dicastery, Cardinal Ouellet is automatically invited to the synod, but his decision to come out with an updated version of his book just ahead of the meeting is a sign that he wishes his views to continue to be heard.

The Canadian cardinal, who wrote the first edition before last October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, underlines the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the sacraments, and their “missionary dimension.”

He criticizes modern approaches to marriage which reflect an “anthropological crisis”, and he firmly opposes Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal for admitting remarried divorcees to Holy Communion. Rather, he believes such faithful bear better witness to Christ by abstaining from Holy Communion.*

The Canadian cardinal, who is renowned for his spiritual writing and theological expertise, draws on the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II, known as “Pope of the Family”, theological intuitions of Vatican II, the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, and influences of Pope Francis.

The book “lays the foundations for a faithful resurgence of well-being for families in our contemporary day and age,” write its publishers, Eerdmans. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, one of three bishops representing the U.S. Church at the synod, has called the book “ an invaluable resource in recovering a faithful understanding of marriage, family, and the new evangelization."

The prefect of another important dicastery has also had his comments published just ahead of the synod. Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah discusses with Nicolas Diat the mission of the Church, the joy of the Gospel, the “heresy of activism”, and the definition of marriage in the book entitled “God or Nothing”, published now in English by Ignatius Press.

The publication, originally in French, contains a well known critique of the synod “innovators” when Cardinal Sarah explains: “The idea of putting Magisterial teaching in a beautiful display case while separating it from pastoral practice, which then could evolve along with circumstances, fashions, and passions, is a sort of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology.” 

Cardinal Sarah also “solemnly” states that the Church in Africa “is staunchly opposed to any rebellion against the teaching of Jesus and of the Magisterium” and that the Church of Africa “is committed in the name of the Lord Jesus to keeping unchanged the teaching of God and of the Church."

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI praised the book, saying his witness to the Church in Africa and his life story has “great importance” for the Church which is a “bit spiritually tired in the West.”

Cardinal Sarah also appears alongside other African Church leaders in a third new book to be published ahead of the synod, also published by Ignatius, called “Christ’s New Homeland – Africa”.

The book includes Cardinal Sarah’s opening remarks at a meeting of African Church leaders in Accra, Ghana, in June, in which he said: “Be conscious of the mission of the Church; protect the sacredness of marriage which is now being attacked by all forms of ideologies that intend to destroy the family in Africa. Do not be afraid to stress the teaching of the Church on marriage."

The African Church is expected to strongly resist efforts by some synod fathers, particularly in German-speaking countries, to foist changes in pastoral practice on the Church that critics say are heretical and designed to circumvent established Church doctrine.

“Africa will speak with one voice at the next Synod – with one voice we will present the challenges and successes of family life in Africa,” Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi of Angola told the assembled prelates at the Accra meeting.

Some believe it’ll be the African bishops who will save the synod from Western and largely European bishops leading the Church into adopting dubious and ultimately heretical pastoral practices.

Other synod-related books have also been published, including a volume that drew much attention when published in August, called “Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family”. The book offers a pastoral perspective of the issues at stake, while reaffirming the truth of the Gospel on family and marriage issues.

Another is “Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction”, co-written by Professor Janet Smith, professor of moral theology and the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Issues at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and Fr. Paul Check, executive director of Courage International. The book aims to offer an approach to the issue based on a genuine Christian understanding of the human person and of human sexuality, and is published in response to questions raised on this issue at the last synod. The debate became controversial after it was given exaggerated weight at the last synod; the issue hardly appeared in synod fathers’ interventions.

 

* Some readers have rightly criticized that it’s not mentioned often enough that in some rare cases, remarried divorcees can receive Holy Communion. This applies to those who have repented of their illicit union, but remain together for a serious reason, such as for the sake of their children. But this is only permitted if their pastor judges that scandal can be avoided (meaning most people are unaware of their remarriage and consider them a married couple). Then they may live together as "brother and sister" (without any sexual relations), and be admitted to the sacraments. If scandal can not be avoided, then they must either separate or refrain from the sacraments. https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/communion_of_divorced_and_remarr.htm