Friday, 23 October 2015

Synod15: If you fail, we stay together; you belong to us

Pope Francis and Sodano

Today saw Pope Francis make an historic announcement of a new Vatican dicastery - the Congregation for Laity, Family and Life, thereby elevating the representation and care for the laity to the same level as that of bishops, doctrine, oriental Churches, liturgy, causes of the saints, evangelization, clergy, the religious, and education - the other Vatican congregations:
"I have decided to establish a new Dicastery with competency for Laity, Family and Life, that will replace the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. The Pontifical Academy for Life will be joined to the new Dicastery. To this end I have constituted a special commission that will prepare a text delineating canonically the competencies of the new Dicastery. The text will be presented for discussion to the Council of Cardinals at their next meeting in December."
In an interview two days ago, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi gave the following answer to a question about the Biblical roots of Pope Francis' speech about the future of the Church and the discussions at the Synod:
"I would say that the entire path, the itinerary, of the New Testament is marked by a kind of constant golden thread, which is linked to the message of Christ that continues to persist to this day. But, at the same time, there is a continuous articulation of this message with very diverse forms and types. Just think about the comparison between the messages of the four Gospels that also reflect different sensitivities. Just with regard to the issue of marriage, and its indissolubility, we see that Mark's message is radical, as it is in the affirmation of Christ himself. Matthew repeats the same radicalism, but he introduces this mysterious exception, which says that he feels the pastoral problem in a complex way. We have an example of it in the experience of "reconciliation" in Jerusalem, that is certainly synodal - in Acts 15 - where, on the one hand, there is a clear record of the distinction between different positions, Judeo-Christian, and the Churches that come from the Gentiles. And, on the other hand, there is an attempt at mediation, and this is achieved in the decree of the so-called Council of Jerusalem. And this is a mediation that, it can be seen, does not solve the problem completely, that then gets resolved gradually within the history of Christianity."
Cardinal Ravasi then also spoke about the family in the context of dialogue with non-believers and of the Courtyard of the Gentiles that the Pontifical Council for Dialogue, which he leads, manages:
"In the third part this issue enters the stage - let's think about the so-called marriages with a disparity of cult - so, at their basis there is interreligious dialogue. I would say that we should perhaps emphasize that it is not only a legal matter, it is also a liturgical-pastoral one, but that it is also one of the invaluable opportunities for affirm the dialogue first and foremost interreligious dialogue, and also dialogue with non-believers. Because - as we know - the family, the family community, is one of the environments where it would be possible to make even this reality blossom, that we try to build at a broader level, and that is the reality of dialogue."
Returning to yesterday's press conference, it is worth picking up on some points made by Cardinal Reinhard Marx there. In his introductory remarks he emphasized that most people who are in touch with the Church, but also most people in general, share the same dream of one man and one woman being together forever and having children.1
"The message the Church has to give is: your dream is right, but [if] you fail we'll stay [with] you. We stay together. You belong to us."
He then went on to emphasize the simultaneously private and public nature of the bond between the spouses:
"How can we help families? The dream they have in the beginning when they say "yes" to each other. One man, one woman, yes - that is the most intimate second, or minute, or half an hour - I don't know - in your life, but the public interest is very great. It is intimate and private, but this most intimate and private action is of most importance for the public interest. Otherwise society will not have a future. And the Church not and civilization not."
Carinal Marx was then asked a very good question about why the German language working group arrived at unanimity and whether that was because of formulations that were so generic that they could mean anything [asked by a journalist who, I'd say, very likely had not read the German text at that point]:
"We have discussed a lot and we know each other - Cardinal Müller, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Koch ... and the others, also the couple who were in good contact with Cardinal Müller during their studies, when he was at the university of Mainz. So, that is a good [basis for speaking] together, to be open and say what is the meaning here and can we find a text, can we find a formulation together. And, a great effort to make theology. So, you have to argue. You can't say I have an opinion. You must be very clear in your knowledge, to quote St. Thomas and the others. When you listen for a few minutes to Cardinal Müller, Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Schönborn discussing about St. Thomas that is very interesting and when they say St. Thomas said this or that then he really did. So, you have to be together and say: that is the meaning of St. Thomas. [...] We had the will to make a text together. It was clear when we wouldn't find unanimity but we tried to come together and also in the different points, for example regarding the divorced and remarried, we tried to make a text that everyone could accept as a proposal to the Holy Father. [Before the first set of reports we felt that other groups were looking to us to see whether we would find unanimity, given who we are in this group] and Cardinal Schönborn said: "The others are looking at us, so make an effort to come together.""
Asked about the concept of the "internal forum", mentioned in the German but also other working group reports, he then explained:
"No, that is not a commission. No! Not the commission! [he laughs :)] That is the sheltered way with the priest, so it was clear, and that was one of the very important points of our study of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Cardinal Müller and Kasper. At the weekend they came back and said: "I read St. Thomas" ... that we have to look on the different situations - that is also Familiaris Consortio - to discern the things in a situation and also - that is St. Thomas - to look at what are the principles, what is the application to the special situation and to the special person in their situation. And St. Thomas is very clear in it. So, that is not possible in a great commission. That is the normal challenge for pastoral accompanying of a person in a spiritual way - that is the task of the priest. But, we have given also some criteria. [Here Cardinal Marx provides a summary of the criteria from the group's report.] The forum internum means that these criteria are not a public process but that it is a spiritual way and then you can find a way of whether it is possible to make a reconciliation."
In response to a question where theology and doctrine were used interchangeably, he responded:
"Theology and doctrine is not the same thing. You have to look at what the Church defines at different levels. I am astonished that many people speak about doctrine. They have no idea what doctrine is. We have different levels. Opinio certa, de fide definita, revealed truth, doctrine of the Church, and so on ... So, that's the first point. The doctrine is the tradition of the Church. The tradition of the Church is not a closed shop, but a living tradition. Between Casti Conubii, the Encyclical of Pius XI, and Familiaris Consortio is a way - its not the same. Between Vatican Council I and II there is a way. They are not the same! I cannot understand that these normal things are not clear. We don't change the truth but we find the truth. The truth owns us, we don't own the truth. The truth is a person we meet. That's the point."
In response to another question, Cardinal Marx gives an example of a lack of "synthesis" - maybe consistency - in the current Catholic theology of marriage:
"There is a lack of synthesis in the theology of marriage. [...] When two persons who have left the Protestant church marry in a German registry office, they receive the sacrament of marriage, because canon law says: every marriage contract between two baptized is automatically sacrament. And I said to myself, as a student, is this possible? Perhaps in other cultures, in the past, where everybody was Catholic ... And also Cardinal Müller sees it. We work together. We must deepen these studies to look at the relationship between faith and sacrament."
And as a closing point, he quoted from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice:
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;"
Today also saw the publication of an interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he responded to a question about why there are attempts made to influence the Synod:
"Because some people are nervous and now look with apprehension towards the outcome of the Synod, from within and from the outside. Moreover some do not like this Pope, that seems obvious to me. Maybe they tried to influence us, but we do our work, the Pope is in good shape. It is a vain attempt."
To a question about whether he felt hurt when he was accused of being opposed to Pope Benedict XVI:
"It is unfair to involve Pope Benedict in matters of the Synod. And then, with Ratzinger we have known each other for over fifty years! We have always cooperated, also during his pontificate ... There were also different positions, but this is normal, in theology: Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure have supported different things, and they're both saints!"
Then, he was asked about how come his working group, which included Cardinal Müller and himself always voted unanimously for its reports:
"Yes, and there was good cooperation between Müller and me, there has never been a rift that some thought. I hope we can move in the direction indicated by our working group. Of course no one wants to touch doctrine. This is a pastoral matter, a matter of discipline. For admission to the sacraments you look at the person's conscience, the "internal forum", one indicates the authority of the bishop. We must distinguish individual situations, it is clear, no one wants a generalized solution, for all."
Then, in another instance of fisticuffs among the cardinals, Cardinal Francis Arinze had some sharp words for Cardinal Reinhard Marx yesterday, after Marx said that “[t]he advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship not only appears unrealistic to many. It is also questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context”:
“You might as well tell the man who is walking in the office, and his secretary is a lady, that it is unreasonable to expect them to be chaste. Likewise, it would be ‘unreasonable’ to expect people to be honest when they see a chance to take government money, or to take another person's property. [...] You cannot name a situation which Christ did not foresee, nor can you tell us that you are wiser than Christ and that you can modify what he has said. We will then ask you, ‘who do think you are? Greater than Christ?’ He is the way the truth and the life.”
Let's again conclude though with this morning's great homily by Pope Francis:
""Oh, Father, can we think that sanctification comes from the effort that I make, like victory, for those who do sport, comes from training?" No. The effort that we make, this daily work of serving the Lord with our soul, with our hearts, with our bodies, with our whole life, only opens the door to the Holy Spirit. It is Him who enters us and save us! He is the gift in Jesus Christ! If it were otherwise, we would be self-sufficient ascetics: no, we are not self-sufficient ascetics. We, with our effort, open the door. [...]

Some months ago I met a woman. A young mother of a family - a good family - who had cancer. A bad cancer. But she moved with happiness, as if she was healthy. And speaking of that attitude, he said: 'Father, I put it all towards conquering cancer!' So is the Christian. We who have received this gift in Jesus Christ and have passed from sin, from a life of iniquity to a life of being a gift in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, we must do the same. Every day one step. Every day one step."

1 I have taken the liberty of changing some of the conjunctions and other terms used by Cardinal Marx [indicated in square brackets - but not always as I was doing that at the same time as transcribing ...], who spoke in English and who in the beginning started in German, saying that he will be able to express himself in a more nuanced way like then, only to be asked by Fr. Lombardi to speak English since not all journalists had access to the simultaneous translation.