The Synod of Bishops on the Family has begun.
Pope Francis convened this synod nearly a year ago in order to address “concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago,” including but not limited to phenomena like “the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage…same-sex unions…marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman…an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood” and so on. Like Pope Francis, those Catholics who have spent the past year anticipating this synod have similarly focused most intently on issues of sex and sexuality. Many Catholics hope that the bishops will re-consider the sacramental status of divorced and remarried Catholics or perhaps even soften the church’s stance on the use of contraception within marriage.
I do not deny the deep relation between sexuality and family. Nor do I contest the importance of any of the issues enumerated by Pope Francis. Drawing upon the church’s own wisdom, I simply want to argue that the “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of Evangelization” extend beyond matters of sex and sexuality. Structural injustice wreaks havoc upon the family just as much as disordered expressions of sexuality do.
Catholic Social Teaching stresses the relation between the social and sexual orders. In his 1981 Apostolic Exhortation, “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” Pope John Paul II reminds us,
“In the conviction that the good of the family is an indispensable and essential value of the civil community, the public authorities must do everything possible to ensure that families have all those aids—economic, social, educational, political, and cultural assistance—that they need in order to face their responsibilities in a human way.” (no. 45).
But poor families do not simply lack assistance; they are burdened by injustice. In its embrace of the preferential option for the poor, the church recognizes this. God is for preferentially for those whom the world is especially against. God puts first those whom the world places last. God loves us not just in history but in response to it.