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a ‘pastoral earthquake’ in Rome



A MID-TERM report from the synod of bishops on the family has emphasised calls for greater acceptance and appreciation of divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and gay people.

Cardinal Péter Erdő of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, said: “It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations.”

Cardinal Erdő, who as the synod’s relator has the task of guiding the discussion and synthesising its results, was reading out a report summing up discussions so far called the relatio post disceptationem.

The report said: “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and evaluating their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

“Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners,” the cardinal said.

The statement represented a marked shift in tone on the subject for an official Vatican document. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for “respect, compassion and sensitivity” toward gay people, but says same-sex attraction is “objectively disordered”. A 1986 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called homosexuality a “more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”.

Cardinal Erdő said same-sex unions presented “moral problems” and thus “cannot be considered on the same footing” as traditional marriage. But he added that they also can exemplify “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [that] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners”.

He noted that the “Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasising that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority”.

The cardinal said a “new sensitivity in the pastoral care of today consists in grasping the positive reality of civil marriages and ... cohabitation”, even though both models fall short of the ideal of sacramental marriage.

“In such unions it is possible to

Pope Francis, cardinals, bishops and other participants attend a morning session of extraordinary synod of bishops on the family at the Vatican CNS/Paul Haring

The synod report seems to have been published over the heads of the participants

Vatican Notebook Edward Pentin

Was it a “pastoral earthquake” and a “stunning” shift in the Church’s approach to homosexuality, as some reports suggested? Whatever it was, the content of the relatio post disceptationem and how it was released possibly provided an accurate depiction of the synod, not only its tone but who is running it and its likely outcome. Its publication was expected. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said it is standard procedure to publish the contents of the discussions half-way through a synod, but the subject-matter this time provoked unusual interest. “It’s something all of us with anything to do with communications could have foreseen,” he said.

This leads to the obvious question: why was the probable reaction not thought through? Cardinal Wilfrid Napier told journalists on Tuesday its publication was not expected by the synod fathers, and he even went so far as to say there wasn’t agreement on it. “Just like you, I was surprised that it was published,” he told reporters. “You people got the document before we got it, so we couldn’t have possibly agreed on it.”

In fact, 41 synod fathers opposed the report, and yet it was published seemingly over the heads of the participants. The majority didn’t see it before Cardinal Péter Erdő read it out on Monday morning.

Two possible reasons can be given for this. One is that it was a simple oversight, as the Vatican implies, and the document was automatically sent out, as per usual synods – and in common with the Vatican’s habitual mishandling of the media. The second is that certain figures at the synod wanted it put out, so as to make public their own agenda and to give the impression the document, described by one commentator as having “an emotivist, subjectivist and therapeutic tone”, had Vatican approval.

The latter seems more likely, and, if so, then it appears the synod is indeed being “engineered”, as one senior participant put it to me privately.

Many point to similar incidents happening during the Second Vatican Council.

The question now for this synod is: can these attempts to produce an outcome with a clear agenda, strongly opposed by orthodox-thinking cardinals such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, be stopped?

Although his comments were directed at what he saw as media exaggerations, Cardinal Napier lamented that once such perceptions are “out there” in the public “there’s no way of retrieving them.” But this was probably what was wanted all along.

grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them,” he said. “Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects. All these situations have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk toward the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel.

They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy.”

Similarly, the cardinal said, divorced and civilly remarried

Catholics deserve an “accompaniment full of respect, avoiding any language or behaviour that might make them feel discriminated against.” He added: “For the Christian community, looking after [divorced and remarried people] is not a weakening of its faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but rather it expresses precisely its charity in its caring.”

Cardinal Erdő noted that various bishops supported making the annulment process “more accessible and flexible”, among other ways by allowing bishops to declare marriages null without requiring a trial before a Church tribunal.

One of the most discussed topics at the synod has been a controversial proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper that would make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, even without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriages.

Cardinal Erdő said some synod members had spoken in support of the “present regulations”, which admit such Catholics to Communion only if they abstain from sexual relations, living with their new partners as “brother and sister”.

But the cardinal said other bishops at the assembly favoured a “greater opening” to such second unions, “on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of graduality, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances”.

As a historical example of the “law of graduality”, which he said accounted for the “various levels through which God communicates the grace of the covenant to humanity”, the cardinal quoted Jesus’s words in the Gospel of St Matthew acknowledging that, “because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”.

Critics of Cardinal Kasper’s proposal commonly cite the Gospel’s following verse, in which Jesus states that “whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery”.

At a press conference following the synod’s morning session, Cardinal Erdő said no one at the synod had questioned Church teaching that Jesus’s prohibition of divorce applies to all Christian sacramental marriages.

Also at the news conference, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, one of the assembly’s three presidents chosen by Pope Francis, said Cardinal Erdő speech “is not to be considered a final document from the synod”, but a pretext for further discussion, which concludes tomorrow.

The synod is not supposed to reach any definitive conclusions, but set the agenda for a larger world synod to be held on October 4-25, 2015, which will make recommendations to the Pope.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, announced that the theme of next’s year assembly will be: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the modern world.”

Pope: if law does not lead people to God ‘it is dead’


IF LAWS do not lead people to Christ then they are obsolete, Pope Francis said in his morning homily on Monday.

The homily was given the day the mid-term report was released. Aside from his homilies, the Pope has not spoken in an official capacity since the synod began.

During a Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae the Pope said that the scholars of the law in Jesus’s day were so wrapped up in doctrine as an end in itself that they were unable to see that Jesus was leading people down a new and surprising path toward his glory.

Jesus did “strange things,” like “walk with sinners, eat with tax collectors” – things the scholars of the law “did not like; doctrine was in danger, that doctrine of the law” that they and the “theologians had created over the centuries”, he said, according to Vatican Radio.

The scholars were safeguarding the law “out of love, to be faithful to God”, the Pope said, but “they were closed up right there”, and forgot all the ways God has acted in history.

“They forgot that God is the God of the law, but is also the God of surprises,” he said.

“God is always new; he never denies himself, he never says that what he had said is

Francis delivers a homily at his morning Mass CNS

wrong, but he always surprises us,” the Pope added. The scholars of the law had forgotten how many times God surprised his people, like when he freed them from slavery in Egypt, he said. They were too wrapped up in their perfect system of laws – “a masterpiece” where everyone knew exactly what he or she was supposed to do. “It was all settled. And they felt very secure there”.

They couldn’t see beyond “this system made with lots of good will”, and they could not read the “signs of the times”, the Pope said.

They could not see that what Jesus was doing was a sign indicating “that the time was ripe”, he said. This is why in the day’s Gospel reading (Lk 11:29-32) Jesus said: “This generation is an evil generation”, because it sought the wrong kind of sign, the Pope continued.

The scholars of the law also forgot that the people of God are a people on a journey, “and when you journey, you always find new things, things you never knew before”, he said. But the journey, like the law, is not an end in itself; it is a path, “a pedagogy,” toward “the ultimate manifestation of the Lord. Life is a journey toward the fullness of Jesus Christ, when he will come again.”

The law teaches the way to Christ, and “if the law does not lead to Jesus Christ,” Francis said, “and if it doesn’t get us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead.”

Pope Francis asked people to reflect: “Am I attached to my things, my ideas. Am I closed? Am I at a standstill or am I a person on a journey? Do I believe in Jesus Christ, in what Jesus did?” he asked. “Am I able to understand the signs of the times and be faithful to the voice of the Lord that is manifested in them?”

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