Pre-synod jostling points to dynamism of Rome meeting on family

Filed in Family by on September 19, 2014 3 Comments


The Australian cardinal whom Pope Francis earlier this year put in charge of Vatican finances has added his voice to a large number of senior church figures warning against expecting changes to come from next month’s historic of bishops in Rome.

The “extraordinary” Synod of bishops on 5-19 October will be the first in a year-long series of meetings focussing on the challenges to the family, concluding with a second, “ordinary” synod of bishops in October 2015 which will make concrete proposals.

George Pell, the former archbishop of Sydney, is one of five cardinals brought together in a book that rejects calls by Cardinal Walter Kasper made in February in his address to the College of Cardinals.

The German cardinal, who believes that the indissolubility of marriage is not threatened by this proposal, did not suggest that second unions should receive public recognition as they are  in the Orthodox Church, but that a period of penitence could be followed by a readmission. His speech was later published as a book called The Gospel of the Family.Kasper called for the Church to look at ways of allowing Catholics who have divorced and remarried a way of being readmitted to the Eucharist under certain limited conditions which parish priests should consider on a case by case basis, arguing that “there is no human situation absolutely without hope of solution”.

The riposte by the five cardinals, to be published on 1 October, is also entitled The Gospel of the Family, but subtitled Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage and Communion in the Church.

In it Cardinal Pell writes that the attention given to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal is a “counterproductive and futile search for short-term consolations” over what is essentially a “peripheral” issue.

“Healthy communities do not spend most of their energies on peripheral issues,” he writes, “and unfortunately, the number of divorced and remarried Catholics who feel they should be allowed to receive holy Communion is very small indeed.”

He adds: “The pressures for this change are centered mainly in some European churches, where churchgoing is low and an increasing number of divorcees are choosing not to remarry.”

Quite a few cardinals have recently been keen to downplay expectations of shifts in church teaching and practice. Cardinal Dolan of New York, said he couldn’t see how there could be a a dramatic change “without running up against the teaching of the Church”.The other contributors are Walter Brandmüller, a retired Vatican official who is close to Benedict XVI; Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s supreme court, the Roman Rota; Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna; Velasio De Paolis, president emeritus of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See; and Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Similarly Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Council for the Family, saidthe 5-19 October synod wouldn’t change doctrine, but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be changes. “I do believe bishops will find real pastoral alternatives: profound human problems deserve profound solutions,” he told Crux.Another member (with Pell) of the so-called “C9″ council of cardinals close to Francis, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, has also cautioned against expecting too much change. “I think that the Holy Father’s concerns for the Catholics who are divorced and remarried will find a lot of support from the bishops,” he said, adding: “The pastoral practice must always follow our theology and doctrine.”

Many are stressing both that the synod is a year-long discernment that will not make concrete proposals until October 2015, and that the biggest issue was how to bolster marriage in a society which increasingly fails to understand and recognize its nature and significance.

The French Catholic daily La Croixreports that Pope Francis is said to be “irritated” by the publication of the book on the eve of the synod, and has told Cardinal Müller not to be involved in its promotion.Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, has picked out the importance of marriage preparation, and the support which the Church can give to families experiencing marital breakdown, as major priorities of the synod.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the synod’s secretary general, has spoken of how this reformed synod process will be dynamic and informal. He says Pope Francis wants it to generate authentic discussion.

Some believe that, rather than exploring the so-called “Orthodox” solution to the pastoral challenges presented by the large number of divorced and remarried, the Church should look at reforming the annulment system. One leading  commentator seesannulment reform as one of the synod’s most likely outcome.If Francis’s disapproval of the book by the five cardinals is true, it suggests not that that he fears disagreement, but that too much of the discussion through the media, with participants staking out positions in advance, will politicize the debate and make an authentic discernment harder.

At this stage, however, it is only possible to guess at some of the outcomes once the synod agrees what should the principal focus of discussion.

The meeting won’t be short of views and perspectives. In addition to the evidence gathered in last year’s consultation of the local Church, there will be plenty of expertise and testimony present in next month’s meeting.

Among the 253 synod participants (full list here) are 38 observers and 16 experts, who are nonvoting members invited by the Pope. Most are laymen and laywomen, including 14 married couples from across the world.

The voting delegates include 114 presidents of national bishops’ conferences, 13 heads of Eastern Catholic churches and 25 heads of Vatican congregations and councils.

(Join Austen Ivereigh on 1 October in central London for a Catholic Voices briefing on the synod: details here)


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  1. mags says:

    I wonder how many divorcee’s never re-married because their faith does not allow remarriage ~ but now share intimacy outside of marriage? ~ And how many of those unmarried lovers are receiving Holy Communion?

    Matthew 19:9 says ‘I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

    ‘EXCEPT FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY’ – Does this imply that if sexual immorality is committed this is an exception for divorce ?

    one would presume there was no annulment process back in Jesus’ time, and one would presume that if you were exceptionally divorced, you might have re married?

  2. mags says:

    At the moment we have a system that doesn’t allow for those who are already re-married as coverts from the secular world, and who re-married previous to coming to the Catholic Church, let alone our beloved brothers and sister to move forwards. Jesus would rather that people were coming to Mass, worshipping God, sharing in the Eucharist, and being filled with gratitude for life, than to be continually held outside of His sacrifice and falling away.

    Living in a committed beautiful re-marriage when a previous marriage was destroyed by adultery is a noble marriage for so many. And based on the above scripture.

  3. mags says:

    My situation has been so very desperate, having been awarded my annulment by Tribunal for my first marriage; I had been told that I could now be received into the Roman Catholic Church (providing I was living as brother and sister within my second marriage).

    My second marriage was then of 9 years and is now of 11 years, and was a Church of England marriage undertaken as a secular woman before I came to faith. My husband could not get his first marriage annulled (and neither does he wish to). His first marriage was a happy relationship that lasted 30 years. In the 30th year the marriage broke down. For two years he tried tirelessly to restore the relationship, but after two years they were divorced. We then met and were married. As a baby my husband was Christened Church of England, but is not himself a man of faith; he doesn’t believe in the supernatural.

    Having come to such a deep Love of the Catholic Faith in my mid thirties, I chose to give my children the privilege of a Catholic upbringing. This is a gift, and an eternal resource, which I was not privileged to have as a child. I was fashionably christened Church of England, but I had a working class secular upbringing, with no church attendance, my family had no practising faith. Having fallen in Love with the Catholic faith I decided to have all five of my children baptised Roman Catholic. From the very beginning I had every intention of being united with them in faith. I was initially told that I could be received into the Roman Catholic Church pending the successful annulment of my first marriage, and based on this understanding I went ahead with my children’s baptisms’. My five children were all received into the Roman Catholic Church in 2009.

    I was later told by another priest, that it was only possible for me to be received into the Roman Catholic Church if I was living as brother and sister within my current (second) marriage. I was not initially given this information.

    This left me with an excruciating moral dilemma. To live and possibly die (officially recorded) as a different religion to my five children, which was unspeakable.

    Or to continue to practice as an unofficial Catholic, but to be separated from my children and faith community by not receiving the Eucharist, the Sacraments and the official reception.

    Or to live platonically within my marriage, as brother and sister, and not to live as a loving marriage should be lived, thus hurting my husband. Thus freeing me to be officially received into the Catholic Church and being united with my children in faith.

    The only other alternative was that I could be received into full communion with Rome if my husband or his former wife were to die, thus ending their marriage covenant.

    I did not believe I could allow myself to be received into the church upon the required death of another being.

    In choosing to be part of an intimate marriage, I did not choose a life of celibacy, but the desire to be united with my children in faith as their mother was so very strong and maternal, and the spiritual division and separation between me and my children was all to painful to bear.

    The annulment process for my first marriage took over two long years. This gave me much time to consider my situation. I committed to my second marriage before I came to faith, before I came to know the Roman Catholic Church and her teachings on second marriages, and before I came to understand the beauty of the spiritual covenant of authentic Love and marriage within faith, between two people AND GOD. I have learnt the hardest way of all. The pressure of being faced with such a difficult situation, and of having no physically intimate relations whilst waiting for my annulment to be processed and whilst I was awaiting hopeful reception into the Catholic Church, caused the fissures and blemishes within my current marriage to deepen, and the 22 year age gap to be magnified, and my response has caused this 2nd marriage which was once happy, to break down. I bore the emotional brunt of my husband’s feelings of rejection and emasculation etc.

    My choice was to be an impossibly painful one.
    Trying to discern Gods desire in this situation has been so difficult. For the past 4 years I have been living as brother and sister within my cohabitatio situation (much to my husbands and at first my chagrin). Morally I feel as if I have cheated my husband out of a wholesome, fulfilling and intimately loving marriage. Physical and spiritual needs for us both are being challenged.

    Morally (because of Roman Catholic teaching) I am taught that I should not have married my husband, and that in honest truth he should still be with his first wife. Having embraced the faith so deeply, how can I not too embrace this? But we now have five children, including three beautiful children together, who are part of a loving family unit, which should not have been broken.

    On top of all of this my faith is so strong. I have had to turn so intimately toward Christ and my relationship with Him means everything to me. And selfishly because I had to prioritise my personal desires, I chose to be united with my children and convert to the Roman Catholic faith.

    Sometimes when we turn to faith, life can be turned upon its head and become utterly crucifying. I was in such a moral dilemma, that any which way I turned, I morally failed someone. Whether I failed my husband, the church, my children, or myself.

    I conclude that God calls us; to keep on in loving-kindness in whichever situation we are faced. In contradiction I met with an anger inside of myself that I never before knew existed; at times this has been difficult. Prayer has been such a deeply penetrating comfort.

    At times under the current legislation even officials and priests do not have all the solutions and answers, to bring good people to peace and salvation. The distortions of the protestant revolution has maybe left others in a state of flux as a result and influence of their inherited upbringing and choices made lawfully under those inherited laws.

    That the Roman Catholic’s teaching (in the context of this very individual situation) is paradoxically causing the opposite effect of what the Roman Catholics faith is trying to protect. The happy family unit.

    In complex situations where people have come to the Catholic Faith from a secular world, or different denomination of Christianity, people can have made quite acceptable choices within the law, choices which were not considered a sin. And yet those same law abiding people when they want to convert to Catholicism, having been led to the Catholic Church by God, are not only held apart as mortal sinners, but further more, have to commit further sins, by either breaking their current wedding vows after having committed to them, or by continuing to live (but now consciously) in mortal sin, as taught by the Catholic Church ~ or as in my situation be true to God.

    As a result of the reformation, Christian faiths are not only fractured but the different laws regarding re-marriage have the potential to crucify good people. The divide between secular/protestant and Catholic faiths can be crippling.

    For mine it is too late ~ but with the correct Synod outcome others marriages may be strengthened and enriched with the Catholic Churches blessing. Which can only be a good thing for society and the Christian faith ~ A Unity which God knows we so desperately need today in the face of such extreme crimes of Evil against God and the people made in His image.

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