Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What is past is prologue… the Synod on the Family


Many of the Mirror of Justice community, amongst others, have been following the work of and reports about the 2014 Synod on the Family. While the pace of the Synod’s work and observations about the Synod may let up a bit over the coming year, it won’t disappear as the work of the Synod will continue. In addition, the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s World Meeting of Families scheduled for next year will or should intensify the labors of the Synod.

I was surprised that there was little if any public discussion about the 1983 Charter of the Rights of the Family in the 2014 Synod. From my perspective, the Charter, while a document from the past, is surely related to the purpose of the Synod on the family. The relevance and significance of the Charter to the work of the Synod are critical. Yet, not much, if any, mention and discussion of this important document occurred during the Synod. Thus, this posting is designed to alert the members of the Mirror of Justice community to the role the Charter should have in the continuing work of the Synod.

First of all, a few general remarks about the 2014 Synod are in order. I share with many the view that texts, even ambiguously drafted ones, are important because the meaning of words and the ideas they represent are significant. We lawyers and others interested in the law and (Catholic) legal theory should agree with this point. Hence, the documents that have been generated by and that will be further produced by the Synod are critical to the legal, political, social, economic, and cultural issues concerning marriage and family life.

In addition, when documents are drafted in one language, it is imperative that their translation into other languages be faithful to the original text, the intent of that text, and the objectives of that text. While my Italian language skills are imperfect, I think my command of that language is sufficient to state here that some of the English translations of various documents of 2014 Synod were flawed and thus misrepresented the gist of the original documents. I hope that the misrepresentations of the past caused by faulty translations not be repeated in the future work of the Synod for the texts that it will produce cannot afford mistranslations especially when the critical meaning of the original documents is at stake.

Second, I return to the important role of the 1983 Charter on the work of the Synod on the Family. The three-decades old deliberations behind and the preparation of the Charter were and remain significant. While the Charter was completed and promulgated a generation ago, its relevance to the present age and its concerns about the family have not been altered by the passage of time. So what does the Charter say? For those interested, its full text is HERE. For the convenience of Mirror of Justice contributors and readers, I will present some of its salient points here that are worth pondering as the work of the Synod continues.

The first point is that this document was produced by the Universal Church, that it, it is the work of the Holy See, the 1980 Synod of Bishops, and the bishops’ conferences around the world. Next, it was not prepared solely for the Church and her members; it is also addressed to all States, international organizations, institutions, and persons in order “to promote respect” for the rights of the family “and to secure their effective recognition...” In short, the Charter was prepared for all people of good will.

A second point about the text is its definition of family as being based on the institution of marriage which is “that intimate union of life in complementarity between a man and a woman which is constituted in the freely contracted and publicly expressed indissoluble bond of matrimony and is open to the transmission of life.”

A third point is the Charter’s accord with international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the contexts of their definitions of marriage and the family—the basic cell or unit of society. The Charter further declares that as a natural society, the family pre-exists the State and all other communities and possesses rights that are inherent and inalienable.

A further point of concordance with international documents is the Charter’s reminder that States and international organizations have the affirmative responsibility of protecting the family through political, economic, social, and juridical measures.

The twelve substantive articles of the Charter elaborate upon its preambular principles I have just presented. These articles, moreover, are also in harmony with parallel principles found in international juridical and declaratory texts. However, one of these principles needs emphasis here, and that is that there is a natural complementarity that exists between man and woman that is essential to the relationship of spouses and the spouses’ dignity and rights. It appears that some of the participants at the 2014 overlooked this vital tenet; but it cannot be neglected without also ignoring the comprehendible reality of human nature.

A second principle from the substantive articles follows, and it is one that is frequently absent from many contemporary discussions or considerations of authentic human rights. This principle is the clear statement that human life is non-negotiable and must be respected and protected, absolutely, from the moment of conception onward. In this context, the Charter anticipates those who wish to make abortion access a “human right” by its stating that intentional abortion “is a direct violation of the fundamental right to life of the human being.”

As I have previously mentioned, the Charter deserves our careful reading and appreciation. Equally important is that the Charter demands the careful understanding and appreciation of the participants of the ongoing Synod on the Family. In its entirety, the Charter is also a pastoral document which enables Catholics and all people of good will to ensure the protection of the legitimate rights and responsibilities of families and each of their members.


As a number of folks have been asking me recently how I am doing on the health front, allow me to end today’s posting with this brief personal note containg some general information that is intended for the many wonderful people who have been praying for me. By the way, your prayers are deeply appreciated! I am now in my tenth chemotherapy; the first nine (including one clinical trial) have all ended in failure for one reason or another. The current therapy does not seem to be going well, but the doctors and I have agreed that a few more cycles are in order to ascertain whether I am receiving any benefit from this cocktail or not. Furthermore, another brain MRI done previously this week indicates that the lesion detected in my brain earlier this summer has grown considerably since its first detection; moreover, it appears that blood vessels in the vicinity of the lesion have also become enlarged and may be supplying the lesion with oxygen and nutrition that should be going elsewhere. I will have some more MRI work done this coming week along with another lumbar puncture to assess these developments in my central nervous system and to determine whether any cancerous B cells are present in my spinal fluid or not. These B cells have sometimes been detected in past lumbar punctures, but other punctures have been negative. Again, the point of this personal note is to thank all of you for your prayers for they are and remain vital to my wellbeing notwithstanding the challenges that I presently face. I can assure you of my own prayers for you in return. Let us also pray for our Church and for the ongoing work of the Synod.


RJA sj


Araujo, Robert | Permalink