German Cardinal Marx shares his perspective on synod

Cardinal Marx (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Marx (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Most members of the Synod of Bishops on the family are enjoying the strangely warm Roman weather; only members of the groups drafting the synod’s message to the Catholic faithful and drafting its final report were working this morning.

But the media is still here in force and the Vatican press office wanted to give them more views of what happened inside and what will happen next. Tomorrow morning synod members will vote on the message and, in the evening, they will vote on the report.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German bishops’ conference, spoke to reporters today and focused on the report as the final step only of this stage of the discussion. For the next year, Catholic bishops around the world will be asked to study and discuss the themes and consult with their faithful in preparation for the next step: the world Synod of Bishops in October 2015.

Cardinal Marx was one of those bishops at the synod looking particularly for new ways to reach out to Catholics living in family situations that do not meet the ideals taught by the Catholic Church. As a representative of the German bishops’ conference, for example, he said a significant majority of German bishops voted to back “the question” raised by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who asked about possible ways to admit to Communion some Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried, but who do not have an annulment.

Still, he said, he is not disappointed by the discussion or the opposition of some synod members to the question. The discussion was important, it was mature and, he said, it deals with matters that will continue to be studied by pastors, theologians and canon lawyers.

Interestingly enough, the whole “three steps forward, two steps back” has Catholic roots. It’s part of a procession in Echternach, Luxembourg.

Pope Francis, Cardinal Marx said, has not called two synods simply so bishops listen to one another and then decide, “we can only repeat what we have always said.”

Cardinal Marx told reporters the synod process is important for helping the Catholic Church and its pastors find more compassionate, accurate language for its teaching on morality. It must be clear and faithful to the church’s tradition, he said, must it also must be realistic about how the way many men and women live is not completely good or completely bad.

Exclusion is not the language of the church,” he said. The church cannot say divorced and civilly remarried couples are “second-class” Christians and it cannot say there is no way for a homosexual person to experience the Gospel.

‘Adopt a Christian’ campaign to help Iraqi refugees

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has called repeatedly for prayers and concrete aid from the world’s faithful for those hit by the continuing crises in Iraq and Syria — a call just echoed recently by hundreds of the world’s bishops attending the extraordinary synod on the family.

After convening a high-level summit of Vatican diplomats Oct. 2-4 to discuss the dramatic situation of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, the pope will be asking a formal meeting of cardinals Oct. 20 to look at the summit’s findings.

Catholics around the world have been mobilizing, too, as church leaders in the region keep speaking out for an end to the violence, propaganda and funding of terrorists.

AsiaNews, a Catholic news outlet that’s part of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (an Italy-based missionary order), launched an “Adopt a Christian” campaign this summer, for those people forced to flee from their homes in Mosul, Iraq, and the Nineveh plain because of extremist militants sweeping the region.

They’ve collected nearly $900,000 — all of it going to bishops from the Catholic and Eastern churches who have distributed it among their internally displaced and refugee parishioners.

girl iraq

A displaced Iraqi child, who fled from violence by Islamic State militants in Mosul, sits with her family outside their tent at a camp in Irbil Sept. 14. (CNS photo/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)

The campaign is still on, said Father Bernardo Cervellera, the head of AsiaNews, and it will continue as long as the emergency lasts. He said just $6 can help feed one person a day, while $200 will last for one month.

He said the outpouring of support is a blow to the “globalization of indifference” with thousands of donations coming in from all over the world including China, Taiwan, Switzerland and Brazil.

Catholic Relief Services also gives people an easy way to support families affected by violence in Syria.

Chaldean Bishop Amel Nona of Mosul, who is with refugees in Kurdistan, has called for a permanent political solution because:

It is no longer possible to go on living in tents, or in public parks, or in schools because the season is changing and winter is knocking at the door. We have a lot of homeless people and not even a roof to cover them.

We are trying to find a solution to the housing problem, but we cannot accommodate everyone because the numbers are huge: we are not a powerful international humanitarian organization, although all our Christians insistently ask us to help them.

Our possibilities are limited because the whole country is going through a difficult phase of religious and ethnic division, accompanied by a real civil war and mutual distrust among the political and social parties. …

Once again I thank you all, praying to the Lord that our crisis is an opportunity to unite all Christians, making us active in our faith.
May the Lord bless you.


+ Amel NONA
Archbishop of Mosul of the Chaldeans
September 14, 2014

 

 

Synod work continuing in small groups

VATICAN CITY — As members, experts and observers at the Synod of Bishops on the family meet in small groups to discuss the midterm report and make suggestions — some major, some minor — for improving it, three group leaders met the press.

Jesuit Father Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the groups are formulating “a systematic reaction to the relatio post disceptationem (the midterm report) in such a way as to provide material for the drafting of the relatio sinodi,” which is scheduled to be voted upon Saturday and form the basis for preparing for the world Synod of Bishops on the family next year.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., said his group had finished its work this morning; a Vatican official said a couple other groups also finished — and so get the afternoon and evening off.

Archbishop Kurtz, Spanish Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, each said their groups insisted on improving the relatio by highlighting the beauty and the powerful witness provided by strong Catholic families who are living in accordance with church teaching.

They also insisted their groups are trying to preserve and strengthen the relatio’s missionary approach and emphasis, which consists in reaching out to all families, listening to them, affirming those qualities that are good and accompanying them in growing toward holiness.

Asked whether they were swayed by negative reaction to the relatio, particularly reaction from organized groups fearing the relatio’s language marked a watering down of church teaching, the three claimed no.

Cardinal Sistach said, “We are all working with great freedom,” speaking from the heart, listening to one another as Pope Francis had encouraged them and praying for guidance. “We are seeking the will of God, not the will of any groups.”

However, he said, his group is making some changes in every section of the relatio. In addition to adding stronger language about the beauty of marriage, he said, his group wants to see an affirmation of “the Gospel of life,” since the human person is born into a family, should be protected and raised within a family and is watched over by the family until natural death.

Archbishop Fisichella said his group is asking for the inclusion of something mentioned in the synod hall, but not in the relatio: a request that couples seeking an annulment are not charged money for the process in order to ensure that, “when speaking of a sacrament, there is not the minimum suspicion” that money is the aim of the process. A second addition, he said, is recognition that couples who adopt a child are, in fact, making an act of love and charity.

Asked if their groups are making any mention of “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 teaching on married love affirming the church’s ban on artificial contraception, the three synod members said yes, but the problem was how to educate Catholic consciences and how to encourage more of them to learn about natural family planning.

The synod members also were asked if with all the freedom to speak and the humility of listening to others the tradition of disputatio – a disciplined, but not always sweet debate — had disappeared. Fortunately, no, Archbishop Fisichella said. Listening to about 200 four-minute speeches, disputes are “an element of growth” and are an important antidote to the discussion being “insanely boring.”

The synod’s halfway mark; “the drama continues”

VATICAN CITY — Meeting the press after the reading of the synod’s midterm report, leaders of the assembly told reporters the document is very much a work in progress and that already that morning many synod members suggested changes and phrases that need more precision or greater study.

Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, the synod relator who led the drafting of the report and read it to the assembly this morning, said it was a huge challenge, for example, to take a theme 30 bishops spoke about — in different languages and with different terminology — and synthesize it.

Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, one of the synod presidents, described the report as “a mirror,” reflecting the first week of discussion. However, he said, it is a provisional document and will be the object of discussion in small groups, which will propose amendments to the text. “The drama continues,” he said.

Cardinal Erdo said there already were calls from synod members to include in the text a recognition that there exist “disordered forms of cohabitation,” but there were even more calls to give greater emphasis to “the special value of marriage lived according to God’s plan.”

Even once the synod concludes Oct. 19 — with the final report being voted on Oct. 18 — the work will not be over. Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, special secretary of the synod, told reporters that the hope is that bishops around the world will discuss the final report with their people, especially married and other lay Catholics, and bring their reflections to the 2015 world Synod of Bishops on the family.

Several questions focused on the midterm report’s seeming openness to gay people and to Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried; the bishops were asked about the lack of clear-cut statements.

Archbishop Forte told them, “There is always a risk, especially for those called to be a teacher or a prophet, to want to cut things with a hatchet,” responding with a simple yes or no. But the complexity of a situation must be studied first. “One who does not use this logic risks judging the person rather than understanding them,” and understanding is the aim of the synod.

A recurring theme at the news conference was how the synod on the family reflected or continued in the line of the Second Vatican Council, which met 1962-1965.

Cardinal Tagle said the experience was like the Second Vatican Council in that it was striving to be “a church that is not self-absorbed, a church that knows how to exist as a missionary church, listening and dialoguing with the contemporary world. I think that is what the synod fathers were affirming.”

Archbishop Forte said taking seriously the idea that the church on earth can grow in holiness means “to place ourselves in a position of listening, which is one of the most beautiful experiences we are living in this synod.”

The listening, he said, applies also to the church’s attitude toward members who are not fully living church teaching on marriage and the family, yet are trying to love another person faithfully and responsibly.

The sense of the document is to “welcome the positive wherever it is found. And it certainly does exist,” he said. “To discern, to appreciate all that is positive in these experiences is an exercise of intellectual honesty and of pastoral charity.”

Synod synopsis: What’s being said behind closed-doors

Synod 2014

VATICAN CITY — The latest discussions coming out of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family are continuing to focus on the challenges today’s families face.

This morning the auditors — almost all of them lay couples or individuals — took the floor to explain the pastoral situations they face and the approaches they take in their work to help families. Today’s briefing also covered talks by the synod fathers from yesterday afternoon.

Here are a few highlights of the latest that’s unfolding:

The church needs to show its concern for children who are living in broken families, one bishop told the assembly.

One idea is to set up “support groups,” so kids — so often the victims in difficult family situations — can get additional help. Kids who find care  and support in the church also can be a bridge for getting the parents back to the church, some said.

 —-

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the English press briefer, said the same bishop wanted to see this focused pastoral care extended to all children, emphasizing that kids of same-sex couples shouldn’t be denied the sacraments because of their parents’ irregular situation.

 —-

One “new element” that emerged in discussions was the idea of a “penitential journey” for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told journalists this topic received “detailed and intense” discussion.

One synod father offered a model of how couples would have to reflect on a number of questions, like the impact their divorce has on the children and spouse, and how the damage and errors could be repaired.

It’s not “a simple solution,” but it would be part of a wider, longer journey of reconciliation to bring the couple back to the church.

 —-

Talks continued on the need to streamline the process of verifying the nullity of some marriages. Now with the new commission Pope Francis has created for this task, synod fathers expressed hopes some agreement could be reached on a simple and uniform procedure for the whole church.

Synod participants also wanted to see more lay judges, especially women, working on marriage tribunals.

People also recognized that engaged couples often see the marriage preparation course as “an imposition” or “a duty” to put up with so there ends up being no real learning or appreciation for the teachings.

Courses then become too brief and are spending too much time on “social and juridical” matters rather than the religious and spiritual side of the vocation of marriage. Marriage should have the same lengthy and intense preparation and follow-up care as religious vocations have, according to today’s briefing.

 —-

Attention again turned to the unfair pressure Western countries put on African nations by giving economic aid only when a recipient country promises to promote abortion, contraception and same-sex unions — things that go against not just church teaching, but traditional cultures as well, assembly members said.

“Our poverty doesn’t mean we have no dignity,” Father Rosica quoted one synod participant as saying.

 —-

Jocelyne Khoueiry, a synod expert who spoke to reporters at today’s news conference, said everyone agrees that the indissolubility of marriage is sacred and must not be changed. However, two different approaches for protecting this truth have emerged, she said.

The ideal situation is for the church to use God and his mercy as its guide and “integrate the truth of marriage” without compromise while being close to those who are suffering, she said.

 —-

The synod assembly put out a message of support for all families who are affected by the world’s conflicts, especially families from Iraq and Syria.

Thanking the world community for the assistance they’ve shown so far, “we invite people of good will to offer the necessary aid and help to the innocent victims of the barbarity underway,” the synod fathers wrote.

 —-

And lastly, it’s the final blow to Latin at the synod.

After Pope Francis switched the synod’s official language from Latin to Italian, Father Lombardi now said the small working groups — that have now been set up and are divided up by language — would not have a Latin group. Miseret Latin lovers!

To beard or not to beard: Faith’s call vs. prison authority

beardThe Supreme Court Oct. 7 took up the case of an Arkansas prisoner who is seeking permission to grow a beard, in keeping with the instructions of his Muslim faith. The prisoner, Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik, is challenging the prison system’s blanket ban on inmates having beards for any reason but medical need.

There is a serious constitutional issue at stake — does the prison system’s need to control inmate behavior trump an individual’s right to follow the teachings of his faith.

But as you might expect in a case about beards, the topic inspired a few wisecracks and lighthearted discussions about the ramifications of policies.

The transcript of the oral argument includes an exchange about the difference between the beard ban and the same prison’s policy on hair, which can be unlimited in length on top as long as it doesn’t hang any lower than mid-neck.

At another point, Justice Samuel Alito wondered why a prison that’s worried about inmates hiding contraband in beards couldn’t simply require prisoners to run a comb through their beards.

That way, he said:

“If there’s a SIM card in there or a revolver or anything else you think­ can be hidden in a 1/2-­inch beard, a tiny revolver, it’ll fall out.”

And Justice Antonin Scalia couldn’t resist putting in his take on the power of a commandment of God:

“Well, religious beliefs aren’t reasonable. I mean, religious beliefs are categorical. You know, it’s God tells you. It’s not a matter of being reasonable. God be reasonable? He’s supposed to have a full beard.”

Vatican rule: “No Tweeting from synod hall”

VATICAN CITY — Many members of the Synod of Bishops have Twitter and other social media accounts. But they won’t be tweeting or posting from the synod hall.

Obviously, Pope Francis as the church’s chief legislator is free to ignore that rule given this morning by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod. But he can also appeal to the fact that his @Pontifex tweets are posted from the Apostolic Palace and not the synod hall.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris (on Twitter @avingttrois), Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona (@sistachcardenal) and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa (@CardinalNapier) all spoke at the synod this morning, but you would not know that from their Twitter feeds.

Cardinal Baldisseri made his announcement after the morning prayer and brief remarks by Pope Francis. A couple dozen photographers, camera operators and reporters are allowed into the synod hall each morning for the opening prayer. We were not told we couldn’t Tweet. So we did.

popeinhousenexttweets

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