Explanation letter to all member Bishops of IMBISA

All member bishops of IMBISA                 28/11/13

All Theological Commissions

All Philosophical and Theological Faculties

Catholic Institutes of Higher Learning

Pastoral Institutes

All Catholic Media (print, radio)

All ‘Family Desks’ (dioceses, bishops’ conferences)

Marriage Tribunals

and Jesuit Institute SA


Reverend Bishops of  the IMBISA region,

dear Fathers and Sisters,  Doctors of  Sacred Sciences,

dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


RE: Special Attention given to Marriage and Family


 The Bishops of the sub-continent have just concluded the 10th Plenary Assembly in Gaberone/Botswana on the theme of the FAMILY. They listed in their final message under “lights” (positive aspects) “the improved role that women play in the welfare of the family (including earning income for the family), family members supporting each other, the increased accessibility of the Church to families, small Christian communities “,  and under “shadows” (negative aspects) “separation of families as members of families leave home or country to look for better job prospects and the spiritual conflict that the faithful experience between the teachings of the church and what many consider as exigencies that include the use of contraceptives, the perceived inescapability of divorce and stubbornly persistent traditional cultural practices that are opposed to the social teachings of the Church.”

At the same time Pope Francis has called for an Extraordinary Synod on the Family for October 2014.  The “Preparatory Document” contains a long list of new phenomena questioning marriage and family as we have known it. In the western world which has great influence through the media and migration even in our region marriage and family are called into question altogether, perhaps for the first time in human history.

The Church in Africa is understood as Family (First African Synod 1994) . African culture is a culture of the family. For us the Christian family is the socialization of the faith. The attack on the family is indirectly and maybe unconsciously an attack on  faith (see SADC Gender Protocol – an  Analysis, Working Paper No 11,  in : The Family in Africa, Imbisa Documentation for the 10th Plenary Session).

We consider monogamous, lifelong  marriage not just as a specifically Catholic ideal, but as a universal rule based on natural law. The “Preparatory Document”, in a long catalogue of questions (a novelty in such documents), asks us to investigate “Marriage according to the Natural Law” : “How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of the family?”  Concerning  family life as understood in Scripture and  the teaching of the Church, the document asks, “What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?” (culture understood  as both traditional and modern).

In the light of these dramatic developments and the recent responses of the Church in our region as well as at the centre in Rome, we need to make use of all our resources in preparing our response which the IMBISA representative can take to the Extraordinary Synod, aware that conventional answers will neither be good enough for the Synod nor satisfy the people of Southern Africa, deeply shaken as they are by the collapse of  marriage and family all round them.

IMBISA (Pastoral Department) is therefore appealing to all theologians, pastoral priests and pastoral workers (e.g. at ‘family desks’), as well as officials of marriage tribunals  to look at these questions and  work out satisfactory answers where possible, or just present us with the problems as seen in the social and cultural context of the region. We also appeal to church media to highlight these questions in their publications, DVDs  or broadcasts. Married couples  engaged in marriage instruction, active in associations of married couples and family movements, marriage counsellors and  couples engaged in marriage guidance should be asked to share their experiences and reflections.

The  twelve working papers made available  to the Bishops before their Plenary Assembly will be available online on  our IMBISA website (www…..). The material was also printed in a brochure entitled “Family in Africa” in English and  Portuguese. A limited number of copies are still available at the IMBISA Secretariat in Harare. Another IMBISA Documentation (no. 5) will be sent to all receiving this communication, containing a number of reflections as starting point for further research, debate and dialogue.

May I ask  the General Secretaries of Bishops’ Conferences to pass on this letter as well as IMBISA Documentation No 5 to all Bishops, Diocesan Seminaries, Theological Commissions, Institutes of  Higher Learning (Catholic Universities/Colleges), Pastoral Centres, ‘Family Desks’, Catholic Media and Marriage Tribunals. Institutes run by religious congregations I will contact directly from  here.

IMBISA was defined at the recent Plenary Assembly as a “platform for dialogue”. I hope this will prove to be true as we launch into this joint exercise of study, prayer and debate in the  Church of Southern Africa.

Yours sincerely in Christ,


Fr Oskar Wermter SJ

Past Dept IMBISA

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