Staying the course

Priest shares Church teaching on sexuality as synod debates family issues

Father Check, executive director of Courage International, leads the theology course

Father Check, executive director of Courage International, leads the theology course “Nature, Sexuality and the Civilization of Love” at the Augustine Institute Oct. 15. Photo by Todd Wollam/DCR

As a controversial document emerged from a Vatican synod Oct. 13 about homosexuality, divorce and birth control, Father Paul Check lectured students at the Augustine Institute in Greenwood Village about traditional Church teachings on sexual ethics.

Father Check, executive director of New York-based Courage International, was invited by Augustine professors Tim Gray and Christopher Blum to teach the week-long graduate-level course titled “Theology 762 Nature, Sexuality and the Civilization of Love.”

“I’ve tried to begin with Christian anthropology, to help students better understand human sexuality in a context of Christ and the Holy Trinity,” Father Check told the Denver Catholic Register. “Then the course moves into a discussion of virtue as a power that helps to express, perfect and fulfill the human person. From there it goes to a careful examination of the virtue of human chastity and then, ultimately, to take up the question of homosexuality.”

As Father Check lectured on Church teachings, the Vatican’s Extraordinary Synod on the family released a mid-term report that some interpret as the indicator of a possible liberalization of Church views on contraception, homosexuality and divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. The non-binding, working document, relatio post disceptationem, has been celebrated by some liberal observers while raising concerns among more conservative Catholics.

Father Check said the document needs to be taken in proper context and not misconstrued as new, more permissive doctrine.

“I think there is some confusion in a couple of the paragraphs of the relatio that aregoing to be sorted out, but I’m not worried about that because that’s a document about what’s being discussed. It’s not a document of magisterial teaching,” Father Check said.

He expressed mixed feelings about the contents of the report.

“I’m very happy for anything the Church is doing that is consistent with her understanding of the human person to reach out to people who feel estranged from the Church,” Father Check explained. “That is the focus of my apostolate, Courage. The Church offers to men and women with same-sex attractions much more than the word ‘no.’ But, the joy that we seek comes from our fidelity to our nature and to the grace that God gives us to live a holy life. And, so, the twofold expression of our humanity is male and female, not homosexual and heterosexual.”

In a lecture Oct. 15, Father Check emphasized that dignity, grace and joy result from pursuits of chastity.

“Chastity is part of the good news,” he explained after the lecture. “It’s not just a concession or a restraint that we have to endure through gritted teeth. As the Lord says, ‘blessed be the pure of heart for they shall see God.’” He added that the course sought to promote “awareness and alertness to a particularly, and often very difficult, struggle that certain people have—same-sex attraction. And a greater compassion and sense of pastoral charity on how to bring Christ to them.”

He emphasized to students the dangers of pornography and lust.

“A lustful person is someone who’s not striving for chastity,” Father Check said. “All of us, in one degree or another, have to be alert to those desires or inclinations or attractions that are pulling away from what is right, virtuous and true.”

Three days into it, students said the course was having a dramatic effect on the way they view sexuality throughout society and in their own relationships.

“In our current culture, it is difficult to understand that we’re not here to serve our own desires, but to serve one another,” said Anastacio Hinojosa, a teacher at St. Therese School in Aurora. “This course will enhance my marriage and help me better educate students about God’s plan for them. A lot of children really struggle with this (issues of human sexuality), and it’s something the Church needs to address quickly, and as best possible.”

Elizabeth Pawelek said the course helped her and others to see persons as “subjects of love,” rather than objects for gratification.

“I hope it helps me better evangelize our culture,” said Pawelek, a recent graduate of Texas A&M University who is pursuing a master’s degree at the Augustine Institute.

The course also gave her a better understanding of life as a single person.

“I’m learning to speak and live the joy of chastity and singleness. I feel such a greater call to my lifestyle,” Pawelek said.

—–RELATED READING ON SYNOD—–

Holy Spirit guides Church through rough waters, pope says

Family synod ends on high note, despite intense debate

By Kathleen Naab

The first of two synods on the family wrapped up on Oct. 19 with a solemn Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, in which he beatified Pope Paul VI, the pope most known for his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae in which he explained Church teaching against the use of artificial birth control.

The two-week synod, perhaps because family issues implicate everyone, was a setting for intense debate and a great deal of international media attention. “Catholic Church” was trending on Facebook after the release Oct. 13 of the “speech after the debate.” It caused a stir mainly because of wording regarding those with a homosexual orientation—it asked if Catholic communities are capable of “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation,” for example. Other points on the possibility of the divorced and civilly remarried receiving Communion garnered attention, as did points on “positive aspects” of civil unions and cohabitation.

However, immediately after the release of the document, some synod fathers asserted that the document did not reflect the synod debate, nor represent Scripture and the magisterium. The Vatican press office quickly released a statement clarifying that the document is not any sort of official Church teaching, and is rather a working document, to reflect the discussion under way. Some synod fathers lamented, however, that irreparable damage had been done since the document had already been widely discussed in the media.

For the second week of the synod, participants were divided into language-based working groups in order to further discuss the points raised in the first week, and concretely, to propose changes to the relatio. In contrast to the speeches of the synod fathers given the first week, the texts arising from the working groups’ discussions were released and published.

With varying levels of specificity, the working groups proposed changes to the relatio, many reflecting qualms about the paragraphs that had caused most stir. A Vatican spokesman said that all told, nearly 500 changes were proposed.

This set the scene for the release Oct. 18 of the final report, the relatio synodi. Synod fathers voted on this document paragraph by paragraph, and not all of the 62 paragraphs received a two-thirds majority approval.

Vatican spokesmen were careful to emphasize that this final report is not any sort of definitive document, but rather a guide for continuing consideration on the family, and the ordinary synod to take place a year from now.

The text of the final report was released in full, including with the numbers of the votes corresponding to each paragraph, and also including those four paragraphs that did not win two-thirds approval. Not surprisingly, those paragraphs deal with men and women with homosexual orientations, Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, and those in unions other than a sacramental marriage.

With so much controversy and debate within and without the walls of the synod hall, some voices gave negative evaluations about the synod’s outcomes.

Pope Francis, however, gave a positive and hopeful judgment of the whole event. In closing remarks Oct. 18, he listed “temptations” faced by Church leaders, calling out both “progressives” and “conservatives,” those who might tend to gloss over Church teaching and those who might tend to be overly demanding.

“Personally,” he said, “I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; … if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietest peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard—with joy and appreciation—speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal.”

The Holy Spirit, he assured, is “the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church.” And throughout history, the Holy Spirit “has always guided the barque, through her ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash