Will the collective voice of the African bishops save the Synod on the Family?
In June, 50 African prelates met in Accra, Ghana, "to protect the sacredness of marriage which is now being attacked by all sorts of ideologies that intend to destroy the family in Africa". Ten thought-provoking essays, most of them originally in French, and a Preface by Cardinal Francis Arinze have been published in English by Ignatius Press as: Christ's New Homeland—Africa: Contribution to the Synod on the Family by African Pastors.
The statement of purpose was part of the opening remarks to that gathering by Cardinal Robert Sarah, a well-known figure since his appointment as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the recent publication of a book-length interview, God or Nothing (Ignatius Press, 2015), containing a biographical section that describes the missionary work of the Holy Ghost Fathers (then headed by Archbishop Lefebvre) in his native village in Guinea.
In the first essay in this collection, Cardinal Sarah critiques the “blunders” and “errors” that remained in the final report from the Extraordinary Synod in 2014, despite improvements over the disastrous interim report. Similarly, Bishop Barthelemy Adoukonou flags the tendentious passages in the "working document" for this year's Ordinary Synod that adds confusion instead of facilitating discernment. Both prelates reject attempts to pit Church laws against Christian "values" or to suggest that the Gospel is an intolerable burden that can only be accepted "gradually".
The essays in Part Two, "The Gospel of the Family" review recent Magisterial teaching on marriage and the family (including the 1981 post-synodal document Familiaris consortio), examine the concept of indissolubility and describe effective programs for sacramental marriage preparation. Part Three contains much wisdom about pastoral ministry to couples experiencing separation, divorce or remarriage, or in countries where Muslims practice polygamy and interfaith marriages presents a challenge. An epilogue appeals to African states to support the institution of marriage.
More than half of the world’s Catholics now live in the Southern Hemisphere. Today it will not be so easy for a well-funded faction of Western European bishops to influence a Synod disproportionately. If the powerful voices of the African bishops who contributed to this volume are heard at the Synod, they may well lead the way in proposing Catholic remedies to the problems of contemporary married and family life.