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Abyss separating Church teaching from Catholics causes great suffering

HONG KONG (SE): While few countries have published extensive reports on the results of a survey carried out by their bishops’ conferences at the request of the Vatican on family life in preparation for the Synod of Bishops to be held in October, Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri, the general secretary of the synod, told L’Osservatore Romano that what they do show is that there is much suffering among the laity.

He added that this is especially true among those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church, because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond with the Church’s doctrine and discipline.

However, the report from the German bishops, which has been echoed by Japan and other conferences, notes that one thing that does stand out from the volume of responses, which includes 700 from Catholic groups, is that there is a great interest in the synod and people really want to be involved.

He also added that the enthusiasm of the response points to how necessary it is for Church officials to get out of their offices and walk around in the world where people really live.

The secretary to the synod called the job of recognising the lived reality of people urgent and praised the attitude of Pope Francis and his example of always being prepared to listen.

The questionnaire also shows up some interesting aspects regarding Church teaching on sexuality and marriage, as many people say they find it quite foreign to their own attitudes and even regard it as unrealistic and alienating.

This has prompted a bit of pre-synod lobbying among bishops eager to get their opinions into the public square before the synod kicks off.

Some bishops in Germany have called for changes to Church teaching on sexuality and noted that if this turns out not to be possible, then a radical overhaul in how teaching is presented would at least be a second best.

Reports from both Germany and Japan note that the Church’s articulation of its teaching on marriage, sexuality and family life appeals heavily to natural law, but on the off chance that Catholics in the street have even heard of it, they seldom have any understanding of what it is about.

The Japanese bishops even commented that bishops tend to hide behind it in an authoritarian manner, to demand obedience to something that is beyond their ability to explain.

Other bishops have responded that teaching is teaching and cannot be changed, while some have added that a greater acceptance of those who sit outside the defined parametres is needed and a more lenient pastoral approach in dealing with and accepting them is called for.

Much public discussion has been around the hot topics of pastoral care of the divorced and remarried, as well as same-sex unions, cohabitation and other situations that have often proved beyond the ability of the Church to handle pastorally in a positive manner.

Two of the most voluble in the pre-synod stakes have been Vatican heavyweights Gerhard Cardinal Müller and Walter Cardinal Kasper.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Müller, who is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, scotched any talk of change regarding communion for Catholics who are divorced and remarried.

He even blamed the media as misinterpreting what in some cases have been quite explicit words from bishops, saying, “Sometimes it is necessary to distinguish between reality and its presentation in the media.”

Cardinal Müller observed, “The idea that doctrine can be separated from the pastoral practice of the Church has become prevalent in some circles. This is not, and never has been, the Catholic faith.”

However, he told Avvenire that women should be involved in the preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the family and have a much greater role in the Roman Curia.

An intriguing approach has come from Cardinal Kasper. He told Vatican Radio on March 10, referring to a paper he had presented on the Gospel of the Family, “I propose a path that goes beyond strictness and leniency.”

His paper sets two extremes, one of rigidly following precepts and the other abandonment of teaching.

He then points out that he wants to find a middle ground that neither destroys nor abandons doctrine, but simply reinterprets teaching in order to help those with marriages that have become unlivable.

Cardinal Kasper called this an abyss between the on-the-ground situation of many people and the Church, adding that the Church has to find a way to get a bridge across the abyss. However, he distinguished between bridge-building and appeasement.

“But the Church must explain in a new way what the family and matrimony are in order to help people and at the same time remain faithful to the gospel,” the German cardinal said.

As the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kasper takes his examples from the ecumenical movement. He pointed out that Church teaching on ecumenism changed considerably with the advent of Vatican II.

Older Catholics would remember the time when they were all but forbidden to attend marriages of even close relatives or friends at a non-Catholic ceremony.

“There were doctrines of the Holy Office before the (Second Vatican) Council against ecumenism, yet the council found a way not to destroy or negate the doctrine, but find ways to interpret it in an adequate way,” Cardinal Kasper explained. “I ask myself why it could not be possible with other doctrines.”

He described his suggestion as being more about renewal, which is always necessary and possible.

He even suggested, as others have done, that the terminology of divorce and the remarried be dropped and replaced. His suggestion is calling it the Gospel of the Family.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has written a letter to families inviting them to pray for the upcoming synod.

Although refraining from using the United States of America presidential chat by the fireside on national television style in an attempt to get inside the family home, the pope seems to be looking more to the kitchen table than the living room.

He says, “I wish, as it were, to come into your homes to speak about an event which will take place at the Vatican this coming October.”

He explains that he is writing specifically to families, as the theme of the synod is devoted to them in a particular way.

“This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church,” he writes.

Dating his letter February 2, the feast of the Presentation in the Temple, Pope Francis says that the image of the encounter between the young couple and the aged pair brought together by Jesus is a powerful and beautiful one for families.


“He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments; meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages and times of mutual support…,” the pope writes.

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