Divorcees “need a lot of emotional” and “spiritual support”. The Catholic Church must “learn to accept those who are divorced”.
Archbishop William Goh made these comments during the first Archdiocesan Catholic Family Dialogue (ACFD) held on Oct 22 at Catholic Junior College.
Speaking to an interviewer in front of more than 700 participants, Archbishop Goh also reiterated the Catholic Church’s stand on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people – that they “deserve respect” as “they are human beings”.
However, he expressed concern about movements such as Pink Dot, which he said “challenge the norms of society”.
“We have to be faithful to the teachings of Christ,” said Archbishop Goh, adding that the challenge lies in how the Church can present pastoral teachings to LGBT people.
The interview with Archbishop Goh was one of several segments of the day-long conference organised by the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family.
According to commission chairman, Dr John Hui, the event aimed to “obtain a better understanding of the very real issues that face our families today, so as to help us formulate an appropriate response”.
In his homily during the Mass earlier, Archbishop Goh said that people are now living in a time of “counter culture” in which humanity no longer believes in God but in its own reasoning.
He suggested that parents convey the “Good News” of family to their children, so they will believe in the institution of marriage; and draw strength from the Lord through prayer, which would enable people to find the “capacity for love and forgiveness”.
Another highlight of the dialogue was the panel discussion. Eight panellists – St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) principal Koh Thiam Seng, musician couple Corrinne May and Kavin Hoo, undergraduate Jocelyn Loong, couple Daniel and Shelley Ee, De La Salle Br Collin Wee, and CEO of Montfort Care Samuel Ng – shared the challenges that families in Singapore face.
Ms Loong noted that in the university culture, cohabitation and “sleeping around” are not uncommon. In such a situation, standing up for her beliefs as a “Catholic girl” does pose a challenge.
She also recounted how a close female friend, who went to study abroad, confided that she was “exploring her sexuality” and dating other women.
Ms Loong said she chose to put aside her own judgements to journey with her friend.
Singaporean singer-songwriter Corrinne May, who has a five-year-old daughter, shared that her faith, as well as bedtime prayers with her family “has helped anchor us”.
Mr and Mrs Ee, who have been married for 37 years and who are involved in Marriage Encounter, shared several pointers on how to keep marriages going.
“Communicate effectively”, and remember that there are always three people in a marriage: husband, wife and God, said Mr Ee.
He added that in the early years of marriage, many couples hit a “plateau” in their relationship. That is the time to “get help from priests and nuns”, he advised.
The couple also advised couples to go for retreats and pray together.
Families must also learn and accept that the attitudes of youth have changed, said the couple.
Educator Koh Thiam Seng shared that as families are living in a world that functions 24/7, there is a greater need for Catholic school education to develop a “sense of identity and purpose”.
“It’s all about a person being grounded in proper values” and having a personal relationship in Christ, he said.
Mr Samuel Ng, CEO of Montfort Care – a network of initiatives and programmes aimed at improving the lives of individuals, families and the community – shared that there is a rise in the number of people seeking help on extramarital issues.
What matters is “how you journey with them through their difficult times”, said Mr Ng.
Br Collin Wee, House Mentor of HopeHouse which serves boys at risk, agreed that it was important to “journey or accompany” people in difficulty. He added that he hopes more priests would be involved in future dialogues on the family.
Archbishop Goh then joined in for a question-and-answer session.
Parish breakout sessions
Participants were later divided according to parishes to reflect on a list of challenges that families face and how the parish and archdiocese can respond to these.
In one breakout group, a female participant suggested that there is a need to engage youths after Confirmation as there are hardly any programmes for them after they receive this sacrament.
A male participant suggested that priests should highlight Church doctrines and papal teachings in their homilies, especially where these touch on the family.
In another group, one participant suggested that just as in the Marriage Encounter programme, parishes could form “love circles” in which couples can support one another in their marital lives.
Another participant urged parents to have an open mind and speak to their children about controversial issues such as premarital sex and same-sex relationships. She said that such an open attitude would encourage young people to be more forthcoming in talking about their own sexuality.
Participants generally had positive comments about the dialogue.
Mr Dominic Lim, 55, from the Church of the Holy Spirit, noted that the panel discussion had good sharings from people from different walks of life. His wife Prisca Lim, 52, said she was impressed with Ms Jocelyn Loong’s sharing of how she put aside her own judgement when listening to a friend sharing about her sexuality.
Mrs Christine Lye, who has been married for 40 years, advised reaching out to people whose marriages have broken down.
“I don’t encourage divorce but if the circumstances are beyond their capacity, then we should see how we can help them,” she said.
Ms Agnes de Souza noted the “reality check” on “prevailing sexuality issues and values” provided by young people at the event.
“It’s vital that this generation enter into marriage and family life in all its sanctity and sacredness without compromise,” she said.
“I hope to see our parishes being the safe helping avenue for its parishioners to turn to without fear of prejudice or shame.”
ACF chairman, Dr Hui, told CatholicNews that the commission will now gather the feedback it has received during the event and see what are the next steps to be taken.
Additional reporting by CHRISTOPHER KHOO and MEL DIAMSE-LEE
Page 14: Pope Francis’ comments on the family