by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris

One of the consistent complaints being registered in the "circuli minores," or small discussion groups at the Synod is that the "Instrumentum Laboris," which is the primary text being discussed at the Synod, does not take into account non-Western, non-European perspectives on the family.  A particularly poignant critique of the "Instrumentum Laboris" in this regard has come from the African Bishops.

We should note here that even before the Synod began many Bishops expressed concern with the "Instrumentum Laboris." In the lead-up to the Synod, and then again in the first session this past Monday, several Bishops suggested that the "Instrumentum Laboris" be put aside, so that the Bishops could come up with a new working document more firmly rooted in Sacred Scripture and in the Church's rich Magisterial tradition on social doctrine. 

It seems as though the "Instrumentum Laboris" is encountering many of the same problems as did the Interim Report from last year's Extraordinary Synod.  However, the Pope himself intervened on the second day of the Ordinary Synod to state emphatically that the Bishops must regard the "Instrumentum Laboris" as one of a handful of documents that enjoy the papal seal of approval.

The weight given to the "Instrumentum Laboris" is indicative of a serious methodological change that doesn't sit well with several Synod Fathers.  In times past, the "Instrumentum Laboris" did not enjoy the weight it does this time around.  Many Synod Fathers are not comfortable with its having been presented to them as a "fait accompli" and regard portions of the "Instrumentum Laboris" as seriously problematic from a theological and pastoral perspective.  The problems identified seem to be contained mainly in the third part of the "Instrumentum Laboris," which is set to be discussed in the Synod's third week. 

Presently, the Bishops are meeting in small language groups in which the first section of the "Instrumentum Laboris" is being discussed.

On Thursday, I had an opportunity to sit down with a Maltese priest, studying here in Rome, to discuss matters as they pertain to his small country (traditionally very Catholic) that lies at the heart of the Mediterranean, just below Sicily, and which for centuries has acted as a bridge between Europe and Africa. Malta is indeed represented by a Bishop at the Synod but it could nevertheless be easily overlooked, given its relatively small size compared to that of other nations represented. The Maltese priest, speaking on condition of anonymity, offered me many insights into the problems that the family and the Catholic Church are experiencing in contemporary Maltese society.

Here is what I learned:

(1) Four years ago divorce was legally permitted in Malta.

(2) One month after divorce laws were introduced, General Elections were held in which 53% of voters elected the Labor Party with a view to economic change. Instead, what the Maltese got was a government hell-bent on pushing for change in social issues directly bearing on Malta's Catholic-Christian identity.

(3) Three and a half years ago, the Maltese government allowed for the recognition of gay unions with gay adoption, yet stopping short of legalizing same-sex “marriage”.

(4) One year ago "Gender Identity" laws were passed, so that any person can present him or herself before a notary to declare his or her new gender. At which point, such a person's gender is immediately changed for all legal purposes. As a matter of fact, there is no limit on the number of times that a Maltese citizen can change his or her gender. It's a very fluid question!

(5) Over the course of the past summer (2015), when most Maltese were on holiday, the Government accepted funding from Scandinavian countries to fund books about "Gender Identity," and the LBGTQ community geared up to indoctrinate children from the age of six.

(6) Also, in July 2015, the Labor Women's Movement, situated within the context of the greater Labor Movement Party in Malta, asked for an official change of Malta's law on abortion and a Facebook group was formed to advocate for this change.

(7) A pro-life group in Malta, known as "Gift for Life," expressed their desire for a Constitutional Amendment, needing 2/3 approval of the Parliament, to enshrine Malta's long-standing opposition to abortion on demand.  To date, Parliamentary figures have shown little to no courage in supporting the pro-life movement in Malta.

(8)  Likewise, this past summer, in an underhanded way, the Maltese government used the summer vacation period to push through legislation that allows for "in vitro" fertilization on the part of gay and lesbian couples. Many Maltese see this law as the first step toward the legalization of abortion because they know that many frozen embryos will subsequently be destroyed when they are no longer desired by couples, be they heterosexual or homosexual. 

These grave moral issues are by no means unique to Malta.  However, they are particularly disturbing when one considers that Malta is one of the most Catholic countries in the world, where 40% of the Catholic population attend Mass on Sunday. Malta is small, but its problems are big and transcend Malta. These problems that strike at the heart and soul of the culture of life must be of concern not only to the Maltese but to all Catholics. Therefore, we ardently hope that the present Synod of Bishops on the Family will be able to address these vital issues in order to promote and safeguard the inherent dignity and beauty of the family against its many enemies and detractors, who often make recourse to political processes, while relying on economic pressures, to impose their relativistic, immoral and amoral worldview on entire populations with serious conscientious objections that are ignored as unimportant. From sub-Sarahan Africa to Malta the Catholic Church is under siege by secularism and must therefore engage in a constant uphill battle to save the family from the throes of the dictatorship of relativism.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune of visiting Malta, and I recall now the locals telling me that Malta has so many beautiful Catholic churches that one could probably go an entire year without revisiting a single one. One of the highlights of that trip was visiting the church supposedly built on the sight of St. Paul's shipwreck, an event recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. It was the Apostle of the Gentiles who warned the early Christians and the first Bishops, like Sts. Timothy and Titus, not to make a "shipwreck" out of the faith.

The Synod Fathers would do well to heed St. Paul's admonition realizing, at the same time, that the enemies of the Church, the ardent and savvy opponents of traditional family and marriage, are seeking to take advantage of any missteps, confusion and signs of ecclesial and ecclesiastical weakness in order to further their secularist agenda, for all they really need is to get their nose into the tent to divide and conquer.