Strict compliance with traditional church laws was forseen yesterday as the solution the Roman Catholic Church will offer later this fall for the painful concerns of modern Catholics over such issues as birth control, divorce and abortion.
A working document released yesterday for the Worldwide Synod of Bishops, scheduled to begin at the Vatican on Sept. 26, offers the most traditional view of church doctrine relating to the synod's theme of "The Role of the Christian Family in the World Today."
The 115-page document calls the family "the first and natural seed of human society," but views the husband/father as the provider in the normal family.
It notes that "experiments" to "improve the condition of women" for "a future vocation both in specialized professions and in roles particularly suited to them."
But while such "experiments" may help realize her "God-created dignity," the document said, it added that "these movements toward the affirmation of women's rights have occasionally lessened her role in married life itself and in domestic life." The statement cited "greater equality amongst the sexes" as one of the factors in soaring divorce rates.
Reasserting traditional church teaching that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only licit form of birth control, the document states that "The Synod firmly believes this doctrine is becoming ever more clear, and the better it is investigated, the more it wins over minds."
Four years ago the American priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley released a study in which he concluded that the church's continued ban against contraception is the largest single factor in the erosion of church membership in the last two decades.
The document released yesterday was prepared as a working paper for the Synod of Bishops by the staff of the Vatican's permanent secretariat for the Synod.
The bishops' synods wre an institution inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council, which met in four sessions from 1962 to 1965 in response to the appeal of Pope John XXIII to renew the church and bring it into the modern world. They have been held every two or three years since Vatican II, each focusing on a central theme. Attended by bishops from all over the world, the functions is to aid the pope, the central and final authority in Roman Catholicism, in governing the church.
The disposition of the working document, released yesterday, is entirely up to the bishops when they assemble later this month. But the fact that the paper was assembled to "reflect the input of conferences of bishops throughout the world," as an American church spokesman explained yesterday, would indicate that the views expressed in the document must be taken seriously.
At some points, the style of the document seems to reflect a view of the Catholic Church and the Catholic family as a lonely and embattled outpost besieged by a hostile secular world. Thus in sharp contrast to the mood of the Vatican Council to relate the church to the world.
For instance, in a discussion of sex education for Catholic children, the document complains that such courses in public schools may contain contraceptive information. "This manipulation of consciences arises from ideological, economic and even political reasons," the document laments.
The document gives relatively short shrift to the question of divorce, which statistics indicate occurs at the same rate among Catholics as non-Catholics. sChurch law prohibits remarriage after divorce, unless the original marriage can be voided by a church court. Pastors readily acknowledge that the painful situation of devout Catholics barred from receiving holy communion irrespective of who was the guilty party, when they do remarry remains one of the most agonizing problems in church life today.
The working paper blames the situation on "civil legislation which favors divorce more and more as well as . . . the whole cultural conditions of modern times, tainted as it is with subjectivism and hedonism. It results as well from the widespread ignorance of the true nature and effects of Christian marriage."
The cure, which is being implemented increasingly by the church, is better preparation for marriage to encourage "the greatest sense of responsibility . . . so that imprudence in a matter of such importance does not fill their entire lives with bitterness or become a cause of sadness for themselves and the people of God."
For those caught up in broken marriages, the document suggests "Christian prayer" and "penance," but offers no hope for a return to holy communion "unless they have the required dispositions."
Citing Catholic doctrine that marriage and married love "are ordained to the procreation and education of offspring," the document approves of limiting births, as long as it is done by "licit means" -- namely, abstinence from sex at appropriate times.
This "natural approach to building a family," the document said, "aims at helping the spouses to acquire sexual discipline at the same time as mutual intimacy in their whole conjugal life . . . "
On abortion, the document maintains that no matter what the circumstances, "there is no reason which can justify abortion in any case."
The paper laments the "movement and campaign" to relax civil legislation banning abortion "even in nations with solid Catholic traditions [where] political leaders promote abortion and seem to have no regard for the teaching of the church or for the political consequences of their actions."