Some thoughts about cardinals, (re-)marriage, divorce and communion

kasperCardinal Walter Kasper has come increasingly under fire from fellow cardinals and others in the Church for his comments about marriage, divorce and Communion. While some are concerned by these visible disagreements, and Cardinal Kasper himself having even suggested that his critics are personally attacking him and Pope Francis, this really is simply what Pope Francis has said he wanted: open and free discussion about the topics that the Synod will devote its time to next month. And while I usually don’t want to commit myself to stark distinctions between left and right, orthodox and liberal, in this discussion it really does seem that those who want the Church to change or loosen up her teachings are honestly insulted by those who disagree.

In an interview for Vatican Radio, Cardinal Kasper commented on the situation. I have translated some of his answer which I think are most interesting in this context.

“Of course everyone has the right to publicly state their opinion. Nothing can be brought against that. But I wonder if the entire Synod is not being reduced to a single point. It is about the pastoral challenges in the context of the new evangelisation. That is far broader field. An insider problem is being place at the centre here. What matters is to be able to speak again and discuss the beauty and the Christian understanding of the family, which many today no longer know – it is about far more fundamental problems than simply this one. And secondly: what sort of understanding of the Gospel is this? It is the Good News. One can’t turn it into just a legal codex alone and then say that there can be no discussion about this point anymore. That makes the Synod a joke. Nobody has the right to say in advance what is possible and what is not. The Pope wants an open discussion, and that should be held. Then, in the Synod, to listen quietly to one another, in an atmosphere of prayer, and the in the end make a decision for the good of the faithful. I will not enter into polemics.”

“Without doubt the family is the cell of society and the cell of the life of the Church. In the family, in marriage and family, life and faith come closest together. It is an essential reality of life which has been raised to the glory of a sacrament. In that way it is a very vital and central issue for the Church to stand for marriage and family and offer solutions for the crisis that exists today. It is about these pastoral challenges, which is the theme of the Synod, not a war of doctrine. Of course, pastoral care is impossible without being oriented on the truth. But the truth is not an abstract system, but in the  end it is Jesus Christ in person, and we need to bring the people close to Christ. In that sense the Synod must be oriented on the truth and understand  Tradition as a living and bubbling spring and not as a rigid system.”

“I have posed a question, not simply suggested a solution. And I posed that question in agreement with the Pope. That’s very important for me. I asked, “When a marriage has failed one should do everything to repair it. But when there is no way back, when someone has entered into a new relationship which is, humanly speaking, a happy one, lived in a Christian fashion, when there are children, one can’t give up this new relationship without serious consequence. And we must also see how God offers new chances – and God does. That is His mercy, that He does not let go of anyone of good will. And everyone does what he can in their situation. And I think that this should be pastorally clarified in every individual case, after a period of orientation. That is called the ‘Via poenitentialis’ – but those involved suffer enough already without it. They do not need to perform great acts of penance. But a new orientation is necessary. That should be the sacrament of penance – that is why we have it – and the sacrament of penance also means re-admission to the Eucharist. But as I said, that is not the solution for all cases, presumably for a minority of all people who live in our communities, who suffer from it and have an honest desire for the sacraments, who urgently need the sacraments to deal with their difficult situations.”

In general it is hard to disagree with much of what the cardinal says. He is very right that the entire Synod is indeed being reduced this single topic (and his perceived opponent Cardinal Burke recently said the exact same thing). His words about the importance of family and the Church’s  defense of and communication about it are also very important, as are his concerns for those who are involved in a good, Christian, loving second relationship while their first marriage is still canonically valid. There is a problem there, but  not with the quality of the second relationship.

And that’s were the problem of the discussion lies. Too many people shift the focus to those second relationships and how the mean Church wants to destroy them and the happiness of those involved. That is a clear untruth. The fact remains that a marriage is a sacrament, and therefore something that can’t be broken by human hands (we simply need to listen to Christ’s words: “What God has joined, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9)). So when a marriage exists (we’re looking at pure existence here, not quality), there can’t be a second marriage next to it. This is, in essence the basis of the argument. All discussion and, indeed, pastoral care needs to be built on it. And at the latter the Synod will look in detail.

Cardinal Kasper’s mistake, in my opinion, is that he sweeps aside this basis when he says, “One can’t turn [the Gospel] into just a legal codex alone and then say that there can be no discussion about this point anymore. That makes the Synod a joke. Nobody has the right to say in advance what is possible and what is not.” There must be discussion, certainly, for the good of the faithful. But there are also parameters, which are set by Christ. If we want to follow Him, we must accept and work within His parameters. The Codex of Canon Law is the result of centuries of understanding these parameters and translating them for a host of situations, places and times. There must always be such development, and in that sense the law can change. But it can not be overwritten, swept aside or corrected as if what was once true no longer is. In the end it reflects the Truth that is its founder, Jesus Christ.

The Synod will certainly look at the law, but not in order to change it. No, it will concern itself with translation and communication. How can the pastoral care that the Church now offers be improved, so that what she asks the faithful is also possible for them to achieve. In a recent interview Cardinal Burke said, “It simply makes no sense to talk about mercy which doesn’t respect truth. How can that be merciful?” He’s right. Truth and mercy are not separate. How is it merciful to encourage someone to move further away from the truth that he or she wants to follow? And how are we true to what Christ’s asks of us if we show false mercy?

Baldisseri’s focus – not dogmatic, but pastoral

baldisseriIn an exclusive interview for Belgian weekly Tertio, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, says it’s time for the Church to change her attitude to marriage and divorce. Or so several media say. Tertio’s website offers two short excerpts from the interview, with the first expressly dealing with the question of remarried divorcees. While it is clear that the answer presented is not the full answer given by Cardinal Baldisseri, it also does not support in any way that he desires a change in Church teaching. Of course, once the full interview is out, this conclusion may prove incorrect, but, as ever, things are likely not as explosive as some would want them to be.

In the West many expect more openness on sexual morality, including the attitude towards remarried divorcees. Do you expect there to be any changes?

“The questionnaire covered many topics. Among them the topic of sexual morality, but also the situation of divorcees and people who have remarried civilly. […] Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio from 1981 was the last major document in the past thirty years about this topic. The Church is not timeless; she exists amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by the people of today. The message must be delivered in the present, with all respect for the integrity of whoever receives it. We now face two Synods to discuss this complex topic of the family, and I believe that this dynamic in two movements will allow us to give a more appropriate response to the expectations of the people.”

How can a greater balance be reached in the management of the Church, between the Curia and the world Church, between centralisation and local autonomy?

“That is the great question that Pope Francis knows himself to be confronted with, in the face of renewal and reform. According to him the bishops at the Conclave gave him that task. Synodality would have to guarantee decentralisation and more attention for the local churches, and also greater involvement of all bishops in the world with evangelisation. As head of the college of bishops the Pope must lead that process. The Council of eight cardinals is working towards a reform of the Curia and the central services of the Church.”

As an aside, the above answers are generally what Cardinal Baldisseri said in an interview for Vatican Radio in March. There he also said that what the Synod wants to do is get to know the problems, so solutions may be found. Pastoral care can and must be flexible, if always rooted in the faith of the Church. But pastoral care can only work if those who want to exercise it get to know the people and their situations. Getting to know and understand the questions and problems of people who are divorced and remarried is not the same as condoning their situation, but a first step towards a solution. I expect that is exactly what Cardinal Baldisseri and the Synod of Bishops is trying to do before the Synod starts in autumn.

The Vatican website re”design”

So the vatican redesigned its website. Reshuffled it, more likely.

vatican website

Still, at least they got rid of the unnecessary “choose your language” page which would then lead you to the homepage in your language of choice.

But, contrary to appearance, I am not bothered by how the website looks. It has a certain charm, and while intuition is not enough to find what you are looking for, it is there (and if it isn’t, there are countless websites which do – among them the Vatican’s own News.va, the website of Vatican Radio, Zenit, and so on).

My only wish would be proper websites for the Curial departments, with easy access to what they publish.

On notice – the press office to communicators

bloggingAn important communique from the Holy See press office yesterday, not least for us bloggers and others active in social media who regularly share and comment on what the Pope does or says.

FALSE STATEMENTS ATTRIBUTED TO POPE FRANCIS

Dear friends, we have been notified by many readers that there are stories currently circulating all over the Internet spreading statements by Pope Francis with regard to a number of issues, concerning the Bible’s content, the relations between religions, the renewal of the Church’s doctrine, and even the calling of an alleged “Third Vatican Council”, which are FALSE. These statements were spread by unknown sources. Therefore, we would like to alert all readers to be careful and not to trust too soon news about the Pope that are not from the Vatican. There are also many unidentified trolls on social networks that try to put false information in circulation, taking advantage of the fact that it is easy to “throw the stone and hide the hand”. Many are also not aware that ALL FACEBOOK PROFILES OF POPE FRANCIS/JORGE MARIA [sic] BERGOGLIO ARE NOT OFFICIAL PAGES AND THEY HAVE NOT BEEN AUTHORIZED TO OFFICIALLY REPRESENT THE POPE, THEREFORE THEY SHOULD CLEARLY STATE THEY ARE JUST ‘FAN PAGES’.  We encourage all readers to check the official Vatican media sources for further confirmation of Pope Francis’ statements, or even to check what exactly he said with reference to specific issues.  IF THE STATEMENTS ATTRIBUTED TO THE POPE BY ANY MEDIA AGENCY DO NOT APPEAR IN THE OFFICIAL MEDIA SOURCES OF THE VATICAN, IT MEANS THAT THE INFORMATION THEY REPORT IS NOT TRUE. Below is a list of the official Vatican media which you should use as valid reference to be sure that any reported statement referred to the Pope is true:

– News.va: a news aggregator portal, it reports the news and information from all the Vatican media in one website, available in five languages: www.news.va News.va also has a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/news.va

– L’Osservatore Romano (newspaper): www.osservatoreromano.va

– Vatican Radio: www.radiovaticana.va

– VIS (Vatican Information Service): www.vis.va

– Holy See Press Office: www.vaticanstate.va/content/vaticanstate/en/altre-istituzioni/sala-stampa-santa-sede.html

– Centro Televisivo Vaticano (Vatican Television Center): www.ctv.va  or www.vatican.va/news_services/television/

– Vatican.va: the official website of the Holy See, where you can find the full text of all speeches, homilies and Apostolic documents by the Pope: www.vatican.va

– PopeApp: the official app for smartphones dedicated to the Pope (Copyright News.va)

– @Pontifex: the official Twitter profile of the Pope.

The only official Facebook profiles representing the Holy Father and the Vatican are those from News.va and the Vatican media (see the above list of Vatican media). We would like to thank you all for your kind attention as well as for your notifications and suggestions. Please do share this information as much as possible with your contacts! Thank you very much!

First of all, it’s like I have said several times: if you want to know what the Pope said about something, read or listen to what he said. While there are many media outlets who do a good job in reporting on papal issues, there are also many who do not, either out of ignorance or malicious intent.

Secondly, this statement can be read as a duty for us Catholic bloggers and writers. It does not mean we can’t write about the Pope anymore, or discuss what he has said and what it means. It does mean that we must be as accurate as we can. Accuracy is a service to ourselves and our readers. We must first and foremost reflect the truth before giving our own interpretation or opinion.

Tweeting retreat – Sharing in Cardinal Ravasi’s reflections

ravasi retreatEvery year at the start of Lent, the Pope and the Roman Curia go on a weeklong retreat. They don’t go anywhere, but remain at the Vatican in prayer and reflection, and all appointments and regular duties are postponed. Every retreat is led by a prelate personally chosen by the Holy Father, and this year the honour fell to the President of the Pontifical of Council of Culture, and a papabile himself, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi (pictured at left, with the Holy Father in the background, in the seclusion of retreat).

What makes this retreat different is that Cardinal Ravasi not only offers reflections on the prayer of the Psalms to the prelates on retreat, but also to all the faithful. He has been tweeting short quotes and Vatican Radio has been posting summaries of his talks.

These days, leading up to the conclave, it is very interesting to be able to read and reflect on the theological thoughts of one of the cardinal electors, but, perhaps more importantly, it also offers us a guide through this important season of the Church year. A week in, it is perhaps good to ask: “How is your Lent going?”

Cardinal Ravasi’s tweets may offer us a hint of where to start. Short as they are, they can not offer very deep and detailed reflections, but they may point the way, so to speak. Let’s take a look at some and use them to reflect on our own life in the faith. I have put some tweets together, since they clearly form one line of thought.

“1st Meditation: breathe, think, struggle, love: the verbs of prayer. Prayer is not just emotion, it must be reason and will, reflection and passion, truth and action. Not just “speaking about” God, but “speaking to” God, in a dialogue in which we look lovingly at each other in the eye.”

“The longest of the Psalms (Ps 119) invites us to listen to the divine Word present in the Bible. In the verses of Ps 119 we can hear the love for this Word which shines even in the darkness of existence.”

“3rd Meditation: The song of the twofold sun: the Creator God. Psalm 19. The high and impressive silences of the starry heavens are symbolically broken by the song of faith. Biblical faith does not see space as a neutral thing, but as an epiphanic horizon, where God is present. Authentic ascesis is not only negation, it is also harmony between bodiliness and interiority; renouncing and practice for genuine fullness. The word of God irradiates its splendour in the horizon of the conscience, melting our coldness and spreading light and hope. Before creation in its richness, we can raise our thanksgiving to God for our existence and for so many marvels.”

“Our journey becomes a real pilgrimage towards the “meeting tent”, the sanctuary in its sacred culmination. The divine Person is there, manifesting himself, speaking and embracing the faithful. “As an eagle watching its nest, flying over its offspring, the Lord unfolded his wings, took him and raised him up” (Dt 32).”

“The great gestures of God’s love: creation; exodus from Egypt, sign of liberation and hope for a people experience of the desert guided by a pastor who protects from every natural and historical danger, and the journey towards freedom. We consider the Lord as an ally, a strong and loving companion on our journey.”

“Son of God, priest and just: these three features of the messianic figure at the centre of the psalms we meditate. The prophets criticised the prevarications of power and indifference in the face of injustice. God is the advocate for the undefended, the “father of the poor and defender of widows” (Ps 68,6). Before us shines the face of the Messiah, the Christ of God.”

Radical individualism and clear faith – Cardinal Eijk on the radio

Meeting with bishops from all over Europe in the plenary assembly of the Concilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europæ (CCEE), Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht, spoke to Vatican Radio about one of the topics that has determined his work as a bishop: clear faith in the face of radical individualism. I have translated some snippets from the original German. You can find the full recording here.

“Modern radical individualism… the individual sees it as his duty to invent himself, his own religion, his own worldview, his own value… making the individual see himself as the centre of the world, and ‘the other’ merely as spectator… this individual is locked within himself and isn’t open to what others have to say, not to mention to any transcendental reality…. This makes it very difficult to return the faith to the people of Europe.

The Christian faith requires a personal decision, a conscious decision, from us for Christ and His Church… When the individual, who is expressive and locked within himself, when he even makes a choice, it needs to be a choice for something that is clear, that is distinct. And perhaps we have made the mistake of describing the faith to children in seemingly vague terms in the hope that many will remain in the Church. And that hasn’t worked, nor can it when one considers the essence of the Church: we must continue the work of Christ here, in this world. Then we should also proclaim His message, His Gospel, very clearly. And when we do, we are also able to give the faith back to people. We see that the parishes where the sacraments are celebrated according to the liturgy of the Church, where the faith of the Catholic Church are clearly proclaimed, these are the parishes which still have vitality, these can still attract people, also young people. And I believe that we should go that path to proclaim the faith fruitfully, also in western Europe.”

Looking to families: married couple to write meditations for papal Via Crucis

The Holy Father at the 2010 Stations at the Colosseum

For the first time in Pope Benedict XVI”s papacy, the reflections for the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum will be written by two lay people. Danilo and Anna Maria Zanzucchi are an Italian married couple founded the New Families Movement and will fittingly be writing their reflections with a focus on the family. Vatican Radio features a short interview with them.

As Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict wrote the reflections for Blessed John Paul II’s last Via Crucisin 2005, and he has continued the custom of selecting various people to write new meditations every year. Among these have been the vicar-general for Vatican City, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Angelo Comastri (2006), Msgr. (now Cardinal) Gianfranco Ravasi (2007),  Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun (2008), Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India (2009, Cardinal Camillo Ruini (2010) and Sister Maria Rita Piccione in 2011. From an initial trend to look beyond Rome, it now seems that the laity are being chosen. It’s perhaps a recognition of the fact that, when it comes to reflecting on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit does not only work in the ordained.

Come Good Friday, the Stations of the Cross will once again feature prominently on this blog, although in what way, shape or form remains to be seen. In the meantime, remember that the Via Crucis is not limited to Good Friday. You can pray, walk and reflect upon Christ’s unimaginable sacrifice every day if you please.

Photo credit: Pool/Getty Images Europe