October 21, 2000
Fr. Svetozar Kraljevic, OFM
St. James Parish, Medjugorje
Dear Fr. Svetozar,
Here at last are my observations and analysis of the book you sent me, How to Change Your Husband: Owner’s Manual for the Family, by “a Friend of Medjugorje”. The author, as I can recognize from his earlier writings, is Terry Colafrancesco of Caritas of Birmingham. You may feel free to share this letter with Fr. Ivan Sesar, OFM, or with any other person you desire.
The book purports to represent God’s solution to the problem with families today. The author presents this as an important Scriptural lesson that Our Lady is teaching from Medjugorje. In fact it simply repeats a fundamentalist Protestant teaching that the Catholic Church does not teach. In fact, it is a teaching that Pope John Paul II explicitly rejects.
This teaching is that God’s plan for marriage and the family is that wives must be completely obedient to their husbands in everything but sin, obeying not just the ‘letter’ of his wishes but doing so wholeheartedly. Anything less endangers the marriage, the moral and spiritual well-being of the children, and all society. If the children turn out badly, turning to drugs or crime, or if the husband becomes irresponsible, ignoring his responsibilities and turning to drink or to the affections of another woman, the reason is that his wife has not given him her wholehearted obedience. The author goes so far as to state that every man will do the right and responsible thing, unless his wife’s nagging and insubordination drive him to wrongdoing.
The authorities that the author cites for the core of his teaching – the requirement of strict obedience – are all Protestant fundamentalists. When Our Lady is cited or the lives of the saints referred to, this citation is always as window dressing. Mary encourages us to pray and to love; the author then states that this means she supports his thesis. He quotes selectively from Pius XI’s encyclical on Christian marriage, interpreting him to say what he has never said. In the final analysis, this author holds that Scripture (especially Ephesians 5) demands the wife’s complete and wholehearted obedience to her husband in everything, except sin (an exception he mentions once). The counterbalance to the command of wifely obedience is not, as is commonly argued, that the husband is to love his wife. In this author’s view, the command to the husband is to be submitted to God the Father. He breezily dismisses those priests and bishops who shy away from presenting this scriptural truth in its entirety.
The problem for the Catholic is that one such priest is the Holy Father himself. In his Mulieris dignitatem he explicitly addresses the text in Ephesians 5 and in terms that this book’s author rejects. He states:
Pope John Paul II repeatedly and forcefully argues that this passage must be understood in terms of mutuality, not in terms of domination.
If this teaching of “Friend of Medjugorje” is really from God, then our current pope and the Second Vatican Council have failed faithfully to teach us a vital truth. Colafrancesco has, in fact, turned from the Catholic tradition and the Holy Father’s express teaching.
There is a further aspect to this that I find disturbing. I believe this author is leader of a community of believers. Some of us have had experience with a group in South bend that taught a similar “scriptural teaching’ about marriage. The leadership of that community illegitimately extended their control intrusively into the lives of their own membership – a control that my wife, Marie’s, confessor said could make membership in that community a matter of sin. This pattern is almost universal. Whether it is in the communities associated with the Catholic charismatic renewal, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas, the Protestant Gulf Coast Fellowship, or the little Mayflower Apostolic Church south of town here, wherever we see this false teaching of Ephesians 5, we also see a broader abuse of authority that comes to supplant the rightful teaching and governing authority of the Church in the lives of the members.
In my experience, whenever Catholic couples embrace this teaching, a genuine sorrow and division enters their relationship, a sorrow that all the wifely submission cannot overcome.At its root – and this is at the heart of John Paul II’s teaching – this interpretation of Ephesians 5 denies the inherent dignity of the wife by undercutting her personal likeness to God as one created in his image and by interposing another – the husband – between her and her own eternal Father.
Adrian J. Reimers
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