[Rewind #AwaNgDiyosPH] Family ‘issues’ still tricky territory for Catholic Church



For Easter, The Filipino Connection releases articles from its special edition on the apostolic visit of Pope Francis last January 15-19, 2015.



PASAY CITY—A Filipino family congress here that coincided with the recent apostolic visit of Pope Francis provided a local version of how the Catholic world’s top bishops discussed and debated ticklish issues as an extraordinary synod.

What happened at the Vatican some five months ago was the Third Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, known for the unfinished debates over issues affecting families and over the dogmatic and pastoral responses of the Catholic Church for those experiencing family-related issues.

Miriam College and ABS-CBN organized a national congress on the Filipino that discussed thorny issues affecting today's families. Discussions during the said event showed how tricky dealing with these issues is (photo by the National Congress on the Filipino Family's Facebook account)

Miriam College and ABS-CBN organized a national congress on the Filipino that discussed thorny issues affecting today’s families. Discussions during the said event showed how tricky dealing with these issues is (photo by the National Congress on the Filipino Family’s Facebook account)

While many issues affecting families were frankly discussed during the National Congress on the Filipino Family (NCFF) at the SMX Convention Center last January 16 to 17, just tackling one issue alone —marital disunity— had participants test their tolerance and patience.

The Filipino family’s renowned close-knittedness isn’t bulletproof, like marriage, as warring couples see the apparent need for separation. The Philippines, a large stronghold of the Christian faith with over-80 million faithful, has yet to have a divorce law.

But prominent lawyer Lorna Kapunan thinks a divorce law “is needed”. “As what I always say, if it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, smells like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck,” says Kapunan in one of the sessions during the conference.

Canon lawyer Fr. Henry Bocala upheld the teachings of the Catholic Church in response: “The minister (in the sacrament of matrimony) is not priests. It is the spouses who are the ministers. What makes them married is the pronouncement of ‘I do.’”

The Catholic Church adheres to the teaching that the sacrament of matrimony bonds two people as “one flesh,” and marriage is thus indissoluble. The validity of marriage is what sets divorce and annulment apart: Divorce is when the marriage is valid and the reason for separation occurred after marriage. Annulment, for its part, proves that no valid marriage ever occurred in the first place due to technicalities.

Then came the debates at this single panel session of the conference, was witnessed by a crowd filled with mostly female college students from Miriam College (one of the co-organizers of the congress).

On one end is the anti-divorce group: Bocala and philosopher Dr. Corazon Toralba of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) think marriage is not a personal affair but is “public” and “communal”.

But pro-divorce lawyer Kapunan wasn’t about to be swayed. This sought-after legal counsel for celebrities in troubled marriages is adamant that if a couple’s marriage doesn’t work, one should not continue staying in that relationship since everyone “is entitled to their own happiness.”

“My appeal to the Catholic Church is to start being compassionate, like Pope Francis,” says Kapunan. “It’s about time that the Church be less ‘pope-ish’ than the pope.”

Kapunan’s reference to the Supreme Pontiff is brought about by Pope Francis’ concern to the spiritual life of divorced, separated and married couples. During the Extraordinary Synod last October, cardinals and bishops had agreed to find ways to speed up annulment procedures —but no agreements yet on pastoral approaches to families in such situations.


Family’s ‘Center’

The Vatican considers the family as a domestic church, where Catholic families advance gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God. Thus, clergymen and women —even some lay— persist in spreading the call to make God the center of family life.

In parenting, for example, couple Pete and Vangie Evalio believes that the best parenting principle “includes God” and the most effective way to impart Catholic practices is “by setting examples”.

But what about wounded family members? Can they still find the faith in troublesome situations? Ask broadcast journalist Kata Inocencio, who admitted her previous extramarital relationship during the congress: she said “yes”.

Kata stumbled into an extramarital affair when she was 22, an affair which bore her three children. After a miscarriage, she “realized her real worth” and had her personal encounter with Jesus Christ wherein she decided to put an end to extramarital relationship.

Confident that she has detached herself from her sinful ways, Kata said: “He has already forgiven me, as I have asked for (His) forgiveness and had forgiven myself too.” And to show God’s central role into her family, Inocencio increased the space of her home’s room called “God the Father’s” —not only for her children but for herself as well.

For actress Yayo Aguila, who had separated with her husband actor of 25 years, William Martinez, some seven years ago. Aguila said “they’re still a family” and that an ex-husband and ex-wife can still have a “harmonious relationship” through communication.

Mercy from God is what Inocencio and Aguila hoped for her family and other families like theirs. “We are human, we make mistakes, I made a mistake, their father made a mistake. But there is a God who is perfect. God who loves them perfectly and unconditionally.”


Pastoral care for families: Any new ways?

That is why theologian Fr. Francis Gustilo, S.D.B. (Don Bosco) thinks that Pope Francis intended the entire Catholic Church to approach these wounded families through mercy and compassion-filled pastoral care —amid the conditions they are in, and in a non-discriminatory way. “Then we Church workers journey with them in finding Christ,” Gustilo told The Filipino Connection.

That’s also what the October 2014 Extraordinary Synod envisaged to happen, Gustilo adds: that the Catholic Church must respond with “new pastoral approaches” to the struggles of families. This is while pastoral workers for families continue to adhere to prevailing Church teachings on marriage and divorce, homesexuality, and single-parenthood —those which others regard as “controversial”.

The Vatican, in preparation for the 2015 Extraordinary Synod that’s again on the family, had issued a questionnaire (or the lineamenta) for the religious and lay faithful to reflect on pastoral approaches for families in troublesome situations. (Organizers Miriam College and the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines or CEAP will bring “outputs” of the NCFF to the 2015 Extraordinary Synod.)

And Gustilo believes the new pastoral approaches are necessary because times had changed in terms of how families live out in the world. In the Philippines, for example these last three decades, overseas migration continues to impact on family unity.

So while resource persons during the congress agreed that times have changed, many things did not change like including the stance of anti-divorce clergymen that became evident during the 2014 Extraordinary Synod and in the National Congress of the Filipino Family.

Round two of openly discussing these ticklish debates, come the October 2015 synod that Pope Francis will convene, is coming up —and resolving these issues remains uncertain.–with reports from Jeremaiah M. Opiniano, publisher



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