Michael Sean Winters is spending this weekin the National Catholic Reporter talking about topics in preparation for the Synod on the Family in Rome next month. You can read his blog at http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/synod-family-part-i, Then you can read my comments. Due to their length, I am going to go day by day.
It will be an interesting conference if part of it looks at poligamy. Will they address poliandry as well? What about the concept of group marriage? Are they open to looking at the good points of all three in western society (economic diversity as a way to fight off poverty)? Will it address the problems with it in primitive cultures (women - or men - are considered chattel - where this is really only one senior wife (although her heart can break if she is treated as a cast-away when old). Aside from the practical problems, will they focus on the issue of equal status in the marriage (or the lack thereof), rather than the model of Christ and his bride, the Church (presumabley, from the way the Church treats us - the laity are secondary wives) - which defines traditional marriage - and which those of us who are modern in outlook reject in favor of equality between spouses and friendship with the Christ? As for pastors, should they be treating families as they chose to be, rather than how the theologians define them?
As for modern women, why do we assume daycare is the childcare solution and not a stay at home father. The hard part - including for stay at home fathers - is when even the mothers frown on it because the child has gone to school. No mother would be told she must work when the last child hits all day kindergarten - father's can't get away with it (which is why women still face a glass ceiling - since if you make me work, I want to be a manager or executive. How do you counsel a family in a culture change that you don't even like as a priest - though the vote is not yours. Oh, TV is an excellent babysitter.
I doubt the Synod will consider issues of the extended family and suburban sprawl, unless they want to open the can of worms of the urban parishes following their flocks out of the city - serving mainly noon Mass participants from nearby offices. As for the security of extended families, it can only be increased by recognizing those non-traditional arrangements such as gay marriage and cohabitation which the families themselves already recognize. The moral change is happening with the people, its time for the hierarchy to catch up.
In his speech last month, Cardinal Kaper Walter warned about the weaker bonds of the family. One good look at your own family tree should be enough to show that everyone who moved to America either weakened or severed bonds to their families. This is not new and varies with immigration as well as the affluence George Marsden warns about. I am not sure any of this is new to the human species - although modern communication and travel allow families of origin to deal with problems in the nuclear family (even if the matriarch is still in Ireland or Spain). What seems different is the role of the Church in helping cushion the blow. It does offer God's gentle graces at these times, but many if not most do not avail themselves of the Church's care. Reasons of the abuse scandal as well as being unchurched make it less likely that the faithful who miss this care will return to it, save for planning a funeral Mass.
I am less worried about consumerism. It is not more dangerous than allegience to one's soccer club or football team. Indeed, consumerism is the reason the industrial age has not moved into a socialist revolution. If workers are content because they have the stuff they need, they don't organize to overthrow capitalism. That is more a problem for me to deal with as a leftist than it is for the Church.
The viewing habits of children don't worry me, as long as homework is being done. I worry about the habits of some parents and grandparents who watch EWTN and FoxNews and are exposed to all kinds of propoganda, much of which is untrue. Debates with such folks about that non-sense does more to put families at risk than anything else, for example, parents who think voting for Clinton or Obama is mortally sinful because they don't believe in criminalizing abortion (which starts bitter years long arguments and turns parents into right wing sycophants at election time.
So what about the role of the Church? It can evangelize, but it must first listen respectfully - and not just at the eventful synod. The purpose of it should not be compliance as much as service. Seening where the people are, not where we want them to be (a reason some Catholics stay home). While some still regard Humanae Vitae as a triumph, the fact is that is intentionally left out the contributions of those who were listening, includng married couples. Had it simply reinforced our opposition to eugenics, which gives reproductive freedom, it does not take it way, we would be on track to discuss the son of eugenics, genetic engineering. Not all improvements are bad, of course, although some should be looked at carefully. For instance, removing the flaw that brings about mania also may squash creativity and spirituality. We should say why we care about such things, rather than simply assert authority to try to stop their use.
The Church needs to put on humility, not among the faithful but in the hierarchy. If it does, it might be able to cope with the family and the future. If it does not, is will lose more than families as part of society. Luckily, we have the Francis Effect (is that like being the Situation?) and His Holiness example may just right the ship of the Church, rather than prompting unwilling clergy to simply wait him out.