Ahead of World Synod on the Family in Vatican, Catholic marriage counselors warn against overloading bishops' meeting. Confidence-building measures are now needed, said Markus Wonka, head of marriage, family and life counseling in the diocese of Munster, in an interview with the KNA.
Catholic News Agency: Mr. Wonka, what would you advise the pope if he called you tomorrow and asked for advice for the synod??
Markus Wonka (head of marriage, family and life counseling in the diocese of Munster): I would advise him not to set the demands on the synod too high and not to succumb to the temptation as if the bishops' assembly could regulate everything. Perhaps it does not have to be. Even or especially a world bishops' meeting cannot give a comprehensive answer to such a diverse and difficult topic as marriage and family – and that even worldwide. We in the Western world have quite different problems with marriage and family life. But everywhere there are inquiries about the Church's teaching on marriage.
CBA: What then would be your work assignment for the synod?
Wonka: The Catholic Church has lost a tremendous amount of trust in this area in recent decades. The Magisterium gave the impression that it knew all the answers. The Catholics, with their very personal experiences and also serious efforts for successful relationships, felt that they were not being taken seriously at all. If the synod were to formulate in a positive way some basic outlines of an ecclesiastical doctrine on marriage and sexuality, that would probably be enough. What is needed now are measures that build trust.
CBA: And what could they look like??
Wonka: The church should show more clearly that it values people's life experiences. It is first of all about a change in style: I would advise less teaching, more listening and more restraint. The church should signal that it respects people's personal responsibility. And it is about breaking down black and white thinking: As if everything that takes place beyond pure doctrine is sin and wrongdoing.
CBA: But doesn't that mean, as some conservative Catholics fear, that the clarity of doctrine is lost?
Wonka: A change in style does not mean that the church conceals its own values and goals. Faithfulness, permanence and reliability are also much appreciated by the people. It is a matter of the church keeping alive the fundamental basics, but then leaving room for its own responsibility – and accompanying people in this. It should be about a basic attitude rather than laws.
CBA: But aren't many of the demands, for example, that sexuality be tied solely to marriage and the procreation of offspring, long outdated by biology and the human sciences and in need of updating??
Wonka: The Second Vatican Council already overcame the old doctrine of the purpose of marriage, which saw sexuality only in connection with the procreation of offspring. It has emphasized that sexuality also serves the well-being of partners and couple bonding. But this would have to be made clearer. If then in the debate about remarried divorcees it is again argued that a second relationship is only tolerable if sexuality is renounced, this is of course counterproductive. Such a view means a narrow focus on sexuality. But it is also about reliability and responsibility for each other.
CBA: The topic at the synod will probably also be the church's offers of help for couples. Does the church in Germany do enough to accompany married couples and provide counseling in crisis situations?
Wonka: More would always be desirable. On the other hand, we are already doing a lot. Year after year, around 100 couples in Germany take advantage of this service.000 people seeking counseling, including 30.000 couples, the offers of our marriage counseling. From diocese to diocese, however, there are great differences. It would be important to make the already existing offers in the parishes better known. Marriage preparation, accompaniment of couples and counseling in crisis situations could also be better linked together
CBA: Already among Catholics, there is a big gap between sexual teachings and the reality of life. Does Catholic marriage counseling still have a chance at all with people who are far from the Church??
Wonka: It is a paradoxical situation: by no means only good Catholics come to us, but also many Protestants, Muslims and non-Christians. Catholics make up about 55 percent, Protestants another 24 percent, 6 percent with other religious affiliation and 15 percent with no religious affiliation. And our marriage, family and life counseling centers can hardly cope with the influx. That seems to me to be important for the church: Where it accompanies and listens to people, without concealing its values, it is highly attractive and not at all old and dusty.