October 17, 2014 // Uncategorized

Updates on the extraordinary Synod of Bishops

Synod of Bishops sends message of encouragement to traditional families 

By Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — On its last day of business, the Synod of Bishops on the family approved and released a three-page message expressing solidarity with Christian families around the world.

The message, released Oct. 18, is distinct from the synod’s final report, which the assembly was scheduled to vote on later the same day.

Following two weeks of often-contentious discussion that included sensitive questions of sexual and medical ethics and how to reach out to people with ways of life contrary to Catholic teaching, the synod’s message, which was approved by a large majority of the assembly, focused on the challenges and virtues of traditional families.

“We recognize the great challenge to remain faithful in conjugal love,” the bishops said, citing obstacles including “enfeebled faith,” “individualism,” “stress that excludes reflection” and a lack of “courage to have patience and reflect, to make sacrifices and to forgive one another.”

The message praised parents caring for disabled children, families suffering economic hardship and the trials of migration, and women victims of human trafficking.

“Christ wanted his church to be a house with doors always open to welcome everyone,” the bishops said.

The document noted the reality of spouses in failed marriages who enter into second unions, “creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious.”

The synod fathers said that they had reflected on one of the assembly’s most controversial topics — the question of whether to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion — but gave no suggestion that they had arrived at any conclusions.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who led the panel that drafted the message, was asked at a news conference why the document included no reference to homosexuals, following remarkably conciliatory passages on “welcoming homosexuals” in the synod’s Oct. 13 midterm report.

“With this message we address Christian families, so the matrimonial model is the traditional one, with all its problems,” the cardinal said, adding that the synod’s final report would treat a wider range of subjects, including homosexuality.

The message ended on a positive note, celebrating the prayerful Christian family as a “small, daily oasis of the spirit” and sacramental “conjugal love, which is unique and indissoluble (and) endures despite many difficulties.”


Cardinal Pell: Synod says no to ‘secular agenda’

By Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Cardinal George Pell said working-group reports from the Synod of Bishops on the family finally give a true picture of the assembly’s views, counteracting what he characterized as a misleading midterm report.

“We wanted the Catholic people around the world to know actually what was going on in talking about marriage and the family and, by and large, I think people will be immensely reassured,” Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, told Catholic News Service Oct. 16, the day the reports were published.

“We’re not giving in to the secular agenda; we’re not collapsing in a heap. We’ve got no intention of following those radical elements in all the Christian churches, according to the Catholic churches in one or two countries, and going out of business,” he said.

In a surprise move, synod members voted Oct. 16 to publish summaries of comments by 10 small groups into which they had divided to discuss an Oct. 13 midterm report by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest. As the assembly’s relator, Cardinal Erdo has the task of guiding the discussion and synthesizing its results.

Cardinal Erdo’s report stirred controversy inside and outside the synod hall with its strikingly conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to church teaching, including divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and those in same-sex unions.

The midterm report was “tendentious, skewed; it didn’t represent accurately the feelings of the synod fathers,” said Cardinal Pell. “In the immediate reaction to it, when there was an hour, an hour-and-a-half of discussion, three-quarters of those who spoke had some problems with the document.”

“A major absence was Scriptural teaching,” he said. “A major absence was a treatment of the church tradition,” including teaching on the family by Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

“The secret for all Catholic vitality is fidelity to the teachings of Christ and to the tradition of the church,” said the cardinal, who sits on the nine-member Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on church governance.

Cardinal Pell said only three of the synod’s 10 small groups had supported a controversial proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, even without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriages.

“Communion for the divorced and remarried is for some — very few, certainly not the majority of synod fathers — it’s only the tip of the iceberg, it’s a stalking horse. They want wider changes, recognition of civil unions, recognition of homosexual unions,” Cardinal Pell said. “The church cannot go in that direction. It would be a capitulation from the beauties and strengths of the Catholic tradition, where people sacrificed themselves for hundreds, for thousands of years to do this.”

“If people are heading in the wrong direction, there’s no virtue in the church saying ‘that’s good.’ A lot of people outside won’t accept our views, won’t welcome them, but certainly not the people in the pews, the good people,” he said.

Cardinal Pell said he expected the synod’s final report, currently being drafted by a team of 11 members, would reflect the assembly’s views. But he said that if it did not, the synod would not vote its approval before ending its work Oct. 18.

He also noted that the synod would not issue any document with doctrinal weight, its task being to set the agenda for the world synod on the family scheduled for October 2015.

“Our task now is to ask people to pause, to pray, to catch their breath, to realize there’s going to be no abandonment of Catholic doctrine, and to work to diminish the divisions and to prevent any radicalization of different factions or points of view,” he said.

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A video interview of Cardinal Pell discussing the Synod of Bishops on the family is available at http://youtu.be/LlLqQJE9G_8.


Synod working groups emphasize beauty of marriage, church teaching 

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family must put greater focus on the beauty of the Christian vision of marriage and not let an approach of “welcoming” and mercy override the church’s duty to call people to turn away from sin, according to a number of reports from the synod’s small groups.

While the Oct. 4-19 synod was convened to talk about the pastoral challenges facing today’s families, its midterm synod report put too much emphasis on the problems, which risked making families and young people not want to bother with trying to make a marriage work, some synod groups said.

The frank comments and concerns were outlined in a 35-page compilation of the full written reports the synod’s 10 working groups submitted to the committee drafting the final synod document. The groups also submitted “hundreds” of proposals for line-by-line changes to the midterm report; those proposals were not released.

The groups, divided by language, met Oct. 13-16 to discuss and propose changes, amendments and clarifications to the synod’s midterm report, which was released Oct. 13.

Many of the working groups wanted a substantial reworking of the parts of the midterm report emphasizing the importance of a church that reaches out to families and people hurting in today’s world — including cohabitating couples, divorced and remarried Catholics and homosexual couples — and accompanies them back into the church.

Almost all of the language groups wanted to see a deeper emphasis on the beauty and attraction of God’s vision of an indissoluble marriage between one man and one woman who are open to life.

“Many in the group felt that a young person reading the ‘relatio’ (midterm report) would, if anything, become even less enthusiastic about undertaking the challenging vocation of Christian matrimony,” said the English group that included Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban, South Africa, and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

Someone needs to step up and be vocal about the joyous path of Christian living, and “such clear leadership can only come from the church,” the group said. “A failure to give such witness would be to fail humanity.”

The group, led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, said the synod’s final document must proclaim the truth of the Gospel, human life and sexuality as based on revelation and natural law, because pastoral care “cannot be separated from church teaching.” The group also included Cardinals Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England; Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; and U.S. Byzantine Archbishop William C. Skurla of Pittsburgh.

The group criticized the midterm report’s “methodology” of first listening to the people before it judged and discerned a course of pastoral action. Instead, the group said, the church always must “see” the world “through the lens of the Gospel” so as to be able to love and care for people, “while at the same time honestly recognizing and acknowledging sinful situations, and searching for ways to invite conversion of heart.”

The group felt the midterm report appeared to suggest sex outside marriage and other irregular lifestyles may be permissible. While “there are seeds of truth and goodness found in the persons involved, and through dedicated pastoral care these can be appreciated and developed,” the group said any implication that immoral behavior is acceptable would leave “concerned and worried parents” wondering, “Why are we trying so hard” to teach children the Gospel?

The third English group, which included Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia, said it did not want the final report to weaken any sense of hope that “fruitful, lifelong commitment in marriage is attainable.”

The church must reach out “to welcome, without judgment or condemnation, those people who, for some reason, are not yet able to express lifelong commitment in a marriage between a man and a woman,” the group said. But it also called for care in how one expresses God’s love for people because “we may inadvertently convey the impression that marriage is not important, or that it is an ideal that only a few select people can achieve,” it said.

One Italian group that included several curial officials — Cardinals Walter Kasper, Pietro Parolin, Gianfranco Ravasi and Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella — asked for an emphasis that “there is no fracture separating doctrine from pastoral care.”

But the group also affirmed the church’s responsibility to “express a judgment” on the problematic issues in today’s culture. The church should not be afraid of its prophetic role and must warn “the wicked” of God’s punishment if they do not change “their evil conduct,” the group said, citing the Book of Ezekiel (3:17-19).

The French group led by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and including Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, said the challenge is to combine “love of truth and pastoral charity in a way that does not shock” those who are striving to follow all of the church’s teaching. The group referred to the “elder son” in the parable of the Prodigal Son and his dismay at seeing his father throw a party when his sinful younger brother returned, but never having given a party for him when he stayed and worked.

The group, which included many African bishops, affirmed “respect and welcome for homosexuals” and decried discrimination against them. However, it said the church cannot “legitimize homosexual practices, much less recognize a so-called homosexual ‘marriage'” and it denounced international organizations that tie financial aid to the adoption of more liberal laws.

The Italian group that included several curial officials — among them Cardinals George Pell, Francesco Coccopalmerio, Kurt Koch and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia — said “two diverse perceptions” emerged in the synod discussions. One approach said there should be no hesitation in using such terms as “‘sin,’ ‘adultery’ and ‘conversion'” when talking about situations that were contrary to the Gospel. The other approach was to recognize that the desire for a family has been planted by God “in the heart of every person, even those faithful who for various reasons do not live in full conformity to the word of Christ.”

A “lack of an awareness of sin and serious cultural conditions” often are the reason a Catholic does not live in conformity with church teaching, the group said. The final document should emphasize the need for improved education about the faith.

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden.


Cardinal says balancing truth, mercy always difficult, always needed 

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, one of the Catholic Church’s best known cardinal-theologians, said the Catholic Church must hold together truth and mercy, even if it is criticized for its attempt.

The cardinal, editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the son of divorced parents, led one of the small working groups at the Synod of Bishops on the family. He spoke to reporters Oct. 16 about the groups’ attempts to improve the synod’s midterm report, which had garnered attention around the world for its seeming openness to people living in situations the church traditionally has labeled as irregular or sinful.

As synod officials were set to modify the midterm report to draft the synod’s final report, all 10 working groups called for a clearer presentation of church teaching and a greater emphasis on how Catholic families striving to live according to that teaching are a blessing for the church and for their societies.

To ensure people do not think the church is watering down its teaching on marriage and sexual morality, Cardinal Schonborn said, “many of the synod working groups said, ‘Attention! We do not want to forget doctrine in those situations” in which people must be accompanied on the way to a fuller Christian life.

“The first place where the results of original sin are manifested is the family, where we live,” he said. But the synod preparatory document wanted to emphasize “the beauty and the necessity of the family. For this reason, we were invited to look attentively at the reality around us. I think this was the idea of the questionnaire sent around the world: ‘Tell us how the family is doing.'”

To understand the work synod members are trying to do, he said, people must understand what Pope Francis means when he talks of “accompanying. Many times he has said, ‘Don’t judge; accompany.’ Is that relativism? No, certainly not.”

Still, Cardinal Schonborn said, the synod itself mirrored the differences one might find in a family’s approach to new situations. “It often happens in a family that the mother says, ‘It’s too dangerous,’ and the dad says, ‘No, don’t be afraid.’ We’re in a big family and some say, ‘Attention!’ and they are right, it’s dangerous. But others say, ‘Don’t be afraid.'”

Different emphases are normal, he said, because “there are different aspects to consider: There is doctrine and the clear word of the Gospel and there is the evident action of Jesus showing an attitude full of mercy and compassion. How to unite the two is a perennial challenge for the church, its pastors and all of us.”

When the church addresses situations in which people have fallen short of the Gospel ideal, he said, it must “speak the truth,” but “it does so with compassion and with an invitation to undertake a journey of faith.”

At the meeting with the press, the cardinal was asked whether he thought the Catechism of the Catholic Church would have to be rewritten after the synod; among other things, the catechism teaches that homosexuality is a “disordered” inclination and that homosexual acts are sinful; it also says that those who are divorced and civilly remarried may not receive Communion without an annulment.

The cardinal said the catechism “is a synthesis of what the church believes and lives” and he sees no reason to change it, although “there are developments” of Catholic doctrine and there have been throughout history. As an example of a “notable development of doctrine” he cited St. John Paul’s “theology of the body,” which he said was the first systematic theological discussion of the human body and its role in relationships.


Anglican, Lutheran delegates say synod’s concerns are theirs, too 

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Upholding the Christian ideal of marriage and family life while also reaching out to those whose lives do not reflect that ideal is a pastoral challenge faced by all Christian communities, said the Anglican representative to the Synod of Bishops.

Anglican Bishop Paul Butler of Durham, England, and “fraternal delegates” from seven other Christian communities addressed the synod Oct. 10. Bishop Butler also spoke to Vatican Radio Oct. 15 as synod members worked in small groups to amend the assembly’s midterm report.

He told members of the synod that he and his wife have been married 32 years and have four grown children. Although Anglicans have married bishops and clergy, “like you,” he told them, Anglicans “are wrestling with how best to respond” to the challenges facing family life around the world.

“As part of this response,” he said, “we want to speak more of the promise of and hope from the family than focus on the threats,” while also making it clear that “marriage is between a man and a woman and is intended to be for life.”

Still, he told the synod, “families of all types” exist in society and within the church. “We have to minister to and with cohabiting, single-parent and same-sex families. This demands listening, understanding, compassion and care rather than condemnation.”

In the Vatican Radio interview, he said that participating in a synod working group and making suggestions, he was looking first of all at “the tone” the synod report would take. “It’s about being as positive as we possibly can to families of all make ups, recognizing that within the Catholic confession marriage is a sacrament, but how can the church be as welcoming as it is possible to be to those whose family life is not the ideal.”

Being welcoming, he said, “is a way of offering hope to people and introducing them to the Christian doctrine. If we are seen as completely negative, then people won’t come near us and they will just dismiss the Christian Gospel.”

Lutheran Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswana of South Africa, representing the Lutheran World Federation, also told the synod that his community has been having “lively discussions” about how to respond to “new forms of family and marital relationships.” The process, he said, has “created tensions” within the federation.

On behalf of the federation, he thanked the Catholic Church for inviting him to observe the synod’s “discernment process and to learn from your discussions on this subject.”


Archbishop Kurtz hopes synod’s final report will ‘refine and clarify’

By Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, said he hoped the final report of the Synod of Bishops on the family would improve on the assembly’s midterm report in celebrating exemplary families, encouraging missionary outreach and emphasizing that the church’s pastoral efforts must be grounded in Scripture and Catholic teaching.

The archbishop, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke to reporters Oct. 15 about the process of recommending amendments to the midterm report, which Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest delivered two days earlier.

Cardinal Erdo’s address stirred controversy inside and outside the synod hall with its strikingly conciliatory language toward people in situations contrary to church teaching, including divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and those in same-sex unions.

Following the cardinal’s address, the 191 synod fathers split into 10 discussion groups organized by language. Archbishop Kurtz was one of 18 bishops in his English-speaking group, which also included Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, one of nine members assigned to draft the synod’s final report.

The archbishop said his group completed its work that morning, a half-day ahead of schedule, and had arrived at its recommendations with “great unanimity.”

Archbishop Kurtz said the group’s proposed changes had three basic purposes: “to highlight the importance of the witness of sacrificial, loving families today,” to encourage a missionary spirit of “reaching out and accompanying people, starting where people are,” and “to locate clearly our pastoral avenues and pastoral outreach … within the beauty of sacred Scripture and our church teaching.”

Asked about the midterm report’s call for the church to recognize the “positive reality” of non-marital unions when they reflect “authentic family values,” the archbishop said his group had sought to “refine and clarify what that means.”

When the church reaches out to someone, he said, it begins by “pointing to positive elements that are already in that person’s life or that person’s relationship that will accompany them. It’s not a way of denying but rather it’s a way of amplifying the beauty of our church teaching.”

Archbishop Kurtz said his group agreed that “we have to do a better job” in proclaiming “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI that affirmed the prohibition of contraception, as a “‘yes’ to the gift of faithful love that’s open to life.”

In response to a question about particular challenges facing American families, the archbishop said “our biggest problem is that individuals in the United States are tempted to feel that they are the mercy of statistics” and often buy into a “self-fulfilling prophecy of doom” about their marriages.

Americans need a “sense of inspiration,” he said. “We need that to live full lives, to live loving lives with others.”


Family synod midterm report released

By Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In strikingly conciliatory language on situations contrary to Catholic teaching, an official midterm report from the Synod of Bishops on the family emphasized calls for greater acceptance and appreciation of divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and homosexuals.

“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,” Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest told Pope Francis and the synod Oct. 13.

Cardinal Erdo, who as the synod’s relator has the task of guiding the discussion and synthesizing its results, gave a nearly hourlong speech that drew on the synod’s first week of discussions.

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” the cardinal said. “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?”

The statement represents a marked shift in tone on the subject for an official Vatican document. While the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for “respect, compassion and sensitivity” toward homosexuals, it calls their inclination “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.” In 2003, the doctrinal congregation stated that permitting adoption by same-sex couples is “gravely immoral” and “would actually mean doing violence to these children.”

While Cardinal Erdo said that same-sex unions present unspecified “moral problems” and thus “cannot be considered on the same footing” as traditional marriage, he said 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, emphasizing 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 grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them,” he said. “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 behavior that might make them feel discriminated against.”

Cardinal Erdo 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 communion, even without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriages.

Cardinal Erdo 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 favored 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 accounts for the “various levels through which God communicates the grace of the covenant to humanity,” the cardinal quoted Jesus’ words in the Gospel of St. Matthew (19:8) 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 news conference following the synod’s morning session, Cardinal Erdo said no one at the synod had questioned church teaching that Jesus’ 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 Erdo’s speech “is not to be considered a final document from the synod,” but a pretext for the further discussion, which concludes Oct. 18.

The synod is not supposed to reach any definitive conclusions, but set the agenda for a larger world synod to be held Oct. 4-25, 2015, which will make recommendations to the pope. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, announced Oct. 13 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.”


Married life is better with NFP, say couples at synod 

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholic couples who ignore church teaching on contraception “don’t know what they are missing,” said a U.S. couple invited to address the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.

Alice and Jeff Heinzen, family life leaders in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., spoke at the synod Oct. 7, urging efforts to find new ways to share its teaching about the beauty of family life.

Although the couple has practiced natural family planning for 27 years and taught natural family planning — Alice is a member of the NFP advisory board for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — they did not speak specifically about family planning in their presentation to the synod.

However, in an interview with Catholic News Service Oct. 9, the couple said church teaching about married sexuality, openness to life and against the use of artificial contraception is clearly a place where new ways of presenting the message are needed.

The good news, they said, is that natural family planning is good for a marriage, good for one’s health and good for the environment.

“Natural family planning is really a skill set that allows you to maintain your vow of openness to life,” Alice said. “When you look at other things, like being faithful to one another, if you’re going to be faithful you better have the skill of conflict resolution so that you can work things out. If you’re going to stay permanently married forever, well then you better be able to forgive one another. That’s another skill set.”

Once it became “part of our lifestyle, then it was pretty amazing because it led to a mastery for myself of my own human sexuality,” Jeff said, “and for Alice it really ended up bringing a higher level of trust because I think that for so long women have been taught to be the gatekeepers and men to be the demanders. And it completely changed everything.”

NFP courses in the United States are attracting more and more people interested in the methods simply because they are natural, not for religious reasons, Alice said. “However, after they start practicing and charting and discussing, they notice a shift in their relationship, they notice a deepening of their conversation.”

When that happens, she said, instructors can point out: “This is God’s plan. When you allow him into this whole process how can you not expect more joy, how can you not expect things to be better between you?”

Alice said their friends and even their three children noticed how it affected their relationship, keeping it fresh and vibrant.

If a couple can speak openly about their fertility and talk about when or when not to have sex, Jeff said, “well, the checkbook looks pretty easy and the finances aren’t such a big deal.”

The church is teaching truth, Jeff said, but sometimes it does not “package” it to sell. “It’s a consistent product; all we have to do is figure out how we are going to deliver this to the population, especially to our young adults today.”

Commenting on the synod discussions, including differing views on how the church should respond to those who do not follow church teaching on marriage and family life, both of the Heinzens said they are encouraged by the attention the church is giving to the issues.

“This is a new age; this is a new way of addressing the crises that are identified” in the synod working document, Alice said. “We’re discussing them, we’re wrestling with them — that is hope.”

Jeff said he is impressed that Pope Francis “has cleared his calendar to be in this room every day. Cleared his calendar. Not, ‘Well, I can be here on Monday and then I can make an appointment on Tuesday afternoon.’ No, he’s here all the time.”

Olivier and Xristilla Roussy, a French couple who are part of the Emmanuel Community and leaders of its Amour et Verite (Love and Truth) ministry for couples, addressed the synod’s evening session Oct. 9 and were honest about their experience with artificial contraception and with natural family planning.

After their third child was born, Olivier said, Xristilla was exhausted; they thought that using the pill for a few months would help their marriage, “but it had the opposite effect.” He said his wife was always “in a bad mood, desire was absent and her joy disappeared.”

In addition, he said, they both “understood we closed the door to the Lord in our conjugal life.”

Olivier told the synod that using natural family planning to space the birth of children is not always easy, especially because sexual desire increases during a woman’s fertile period, but talking to one another and exercising discipline teaches trust and tenderness.

“We have found these methods are reliable,” he said, “even though we must admit that when we did not contain our desire, an infant came nine months later.”


Synod sends message, prayers to families suffering because of war 

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Gathered with Pope Francis, members of the Synod of Bishops on the family issued a message of solidarity, support and prayers for all families suffering the impact of war and violence, especially in Iraq and Syria.

The members prayed particularly for those who, “because of the Christian faith they profess or because they belong to other ethnic or religious communities, have been forced to abandon everything and flee toward a future that lacks any kind of certainty.”

The Vatican published the message Oct. 10, the middle of the Oct. 5-19 synod.

Members echoed Pope Francis’ words in condemning the claim — used by the Islamic State militants, among others — that they are acting in God’s name when they commit violence and murder.

Thanking international organizations and individual countries that have come to the aid of “the innocent victims of the barbarity,” they also asked for coordinated international action “to re-establish peaceful coexistence in Iraq, Syria and throughout the Middle East.”

While particularly concerned about the suffering of families there, synod members also offered prayers for “families split apart and suffering in other parts of the world that are subject to persistent violence.”

“May the merciful Lord convert hearts and give peace and stability to those who are undergoing trials,” the message said.

A married couple from Iraq, Riyadh Azzo and Sanaa Habeeb, addressed the synod Oct. 10, recounting the huge difficulties war and emigration have had on family and church life in Iraq.

The bombing of churches, the kidnapping of priests and faithful and — more recently — the activity of “the ISIS terrorism gang,” which forced tens of thousands of Christians and other minorities from their homes, has meant the Christian community in the country is “reduced to less than one third” its size 20 years ago.

“Families disintegrated,” they said. In too many cases, those who could have fled, leaving the elderly behind. Children’s education has been disrupted. Most young people are afraid to marry because the future is so uncertain, although some have quickly and casually contracted marriage with people outside Iraq in order to escape the country.

At the same time, they told the synod, “the common danger strengthened the bond between the people” and made it clear that “their Christian faith should not be compromised.” The parishes that are still open are a “safe haven,” organizing relief and aid and becoming real communities.

The couple pleaded for more support for the Iraqi Christian family “in the face of threats to its very existence.”


Real-life experience can strengthen church teaching, bishops tell synod 

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Catholics see couples who are patient, kind, never jealous or rude, they “behold the beauty and simplicity and strength of married love,” but the church also must learn to help and to heal those whose dreams for lifelong love have been shattered, said Scottish Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow.

“We must have compassion for the pain and laceration of the human hearts caught up in separation, betrayal and divorce,” the archbishop said Oct. 8, giving a brief reflection during the opening prayer for the day’s session of the Synod of Bishops on the family.

The archbishop’s remarks focused on the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

The reading is one proposed to couples for use at their wedding, and the archbishop said those about to be married read it and think, “That’s so beautiful. I want my love, our love, to be like that: patient and kind, trusting, enduring, faithful, lasting forever.”

“In a family,” he said, “there is every opportunity to be patient and kind and excusing and trusting. There is every opportunity to renew faithfulness to one another by laughing together, crying together, supporting one another, saying sorry to one another, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, embracing one another, being happy for each other, just knowing the right word at the right time.”

For the church’s pastors and for the wider community, the archbishop said, it is a privilege to observe that love in action and it is not difficult to recognize in it “a love which truly, through the grace of Christ, endures all things.”

But when marriages fall apart, he said, “love is the first casualty,” hatred can take root and division becomes the most obvious characteristic of the relationship. “Children’s peace of heart is shattered and they find themselves both loving and hating their parents at the same time.”

The Catholic Church is called to be present in those situations, too, and to show them that despite their experience love is a reality, he said.

“St. Paul’s words encourage us to find a way to uphold God’s holy purpose in marriage and in the family while also upholding those for whom that purpose has become almost impossible to attain,” Archbishop Tartaglia said. “In times of distress and misfortune, people still instinctively turn to the church for hope and consolation and inspiration. We must not fail them.”

Addressing the synod Oct. 7, Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin also spoke of the obligation to bring healing and hope to people whose marriages have failed.

According to a summary of his remarks released by the Irish bishops’ conference, Archbishop Martin told the synod, “Jesus himself accompanied his preaching the good news with a process of healing the wounded and welcoming those on the margins. His teaching was never disincarnated and unmoved by the concrete human situation in which people could come to be embraced by the good news. Jesus’ care for the sick and the troubled and those weighed down by burdens is the key which helps to understand how he truly is the Son of God.”

When it comes to marriage and family life, he said, too often the church appears to be speaking in a vacuum, using terminology that does not acknowledge the lived experience of the Catholic faithful, even those who “actually live out the value of marital fidelity day by day, at times heroically.”

“The experience of failure and struggle cannot surely be irrelevant in arriving at the way we proclaim the church’s teaching on marriage and the family.” he added.

The need to listen to the faithful’s experience is not simply a tool for framing the church’s message, he said; it has a theological value since it affirms the truth that every Christian relies on the mercy and grace of God to live the Christian life.

“The church must also listen to where God is speaking to the church through the witness of those Christian married couples who struggle and fail and begin again in the concrete situations of the harshness of life today and fail again,” the summary said.


U.S. couple at synod calls for ‘robust, creative’ family programs 

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Existing diocesan programs and Catholic organizations aimed at helping Catholic families fulfill their vocation clearly are not strong enough to meet modern needs, a Wisconsin couple told the Synod of Bishops.

“We must develop more robust and creative methods to share the fundamental truth that marriage is a divine gift from God, rather than merely a man-made institution,” Alice Heinzen told the synod Oct. 7, reading a speech she and her husband, Jeff, wrote.

The Heinzens, from the Diocese of La Crosse, were named synod auditors by Pope Francis and were chosen to introduce the work of the synod’s afternoon discussion on pastoral programs designed to meet the challenges facing families. Alice is director of the diocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life; Jeff is president of McDonell Catholic Schools in Chippewa Falls.

The Catholic Church, its parishes and organization need to review “the methods by which we teach our children about the nature of human sexuality and the vocation of marriage,” Heinzen said. In addition, when Catholics talk about vocations and God’s call to each of the baptized to serve the church and humanity, they cannot speak only of priesthood and religious life. “Marriage should be included in all programs designed to explore vocations.”

Presenting marriage as a vocation and the immediate preparation of couples for marriage are not enough, she said. The church also needs to review “how we provide for the aftercare of marriage that can help couples deepen their relationship.”

The Heinzens said they recognize that their parents’ example and their family life growing up were major factors in their continuing to be active today; Alice said she remembers seeing her father leave early to go to Mass before work, praying the rosary together during the month of May and attending Sunday Mass as a family.

“To all this we can add our mothers who reminded us to always love our siblings, to use our best manners with others, and to save our pennies to help those less fortunate,” she said. “Our homes were schools of love and virtue and our parents were the primary educators.”

But many young people today have no similar experiences and, instead, suffer the pain of seeing their parents divorce or are raised by a single parent who was never married.

Sociological research and the international input used for the synod’s working document indicate that “children raised without the blessing of married parents, who have created a home animated by love and faith, will likely struggle to trust in God and their neighbors,” she said. “How can they create lifelong marriages?”

Through their ministry, she said, “we know countless divorced adults who have joined other faith communities because they do not feel welcomed in the Catholic Church. And, our hearts ache for single parents who struggle to care for their children. Like you, we strive to find simpler, more effective ways to better share the blessings of God’s plan for marriage and family.”

The church is not confused or in a state of crisis about its teaching on marriage and family life, she said. But there is “a crisis of methodology. How do we as a church effectively share what we know to be true in practical, simple and convincing ways, so that all men and women are challenged and supported to live lifelong marriages and build homes that reflect the domestic church?”



Philippine cardinal hopes synod debate goes beyond Communion question

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The separation of married couples is a huge issue in the Philippines and other parts of Asia, not because of divorce but because poverty pushes couples to separate in search of jobs abroad, said Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.

While he hopes the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried couples is debated openly and with good will, he said he also hopes members of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops give appropriate consideration to the impact of poverty and migration on families and to a host of other issues that help or hinder family life.

Cardinal Tagle, who is one of three presidents Pope Francis appointed to guide the synod assembly Oct. 5-19, spoke to Catholic News Service Oct. 4.

“Poverty is not just an external context” for family life, but it “affects relationships,” he said. “One dramatic effect of poverty is migration. De facto there is separation of couples and separation of parents from their children, but not because they could not stand each, not because there is a breakdown in communication, not because of conflicts. They get separated because they love each other and the best way for some of them to show concern and love and support is to leave and find employment elsewhere.”

Working overseas is such a normal part of Filipino life — and the money overseas workers send home is such a significant part of the Philippine economy — that the country’s president’s office has a special Commission for Filipinos Overseas; up to 11 percent of the county’s population is living and working abroad. The top five destination countries are: the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.

The separation of families “definitely creates a wound and leaves a wound,” the cardinal said. Obviously the children suffer because of their parent’s absence, but the parents suffer from not being present in their children’s lives and they are challenged to remain faithful to spouses they may not see for years.

Cardinal Tagle said he gave a speech at a youth camp in his former Diocese of Imus. At the end of his talk, rather than asking questions, several young people asked him to sing. He told them he would, but only after responding to questions about his talk.

A year later, a boy who had been present, had asked the cardinal to sing and then had the cardinal autograph a T-shirt told the cardinal he puts the shirt under his pillow each night. The teen said he had not seen his father, a foreign worker, in many years, but the T-shirt reminded him he still had a father and still had a family — the church.

“When they ask me to sing, is it just a song? Or are they children wanting to hear (something) like a lullaby?” the cardinal said. “They have not probably heard their mothers or their fathers singing to them. Is this a child’s cry?”

The cardinal said that because of migration, the airport “has become a traumatic place for me — not because of my travels and the dangers — but to see and hear especially mothers talking to their children in the airport, bidding them goodbye, and you can see how their hearts are broken. And then you wonder what kind of strength they need and you just pray, ‘Lord give them strength.'”

“We hope these realities can be brought to the synod,” he said. Migration is a concern for many poor countries, but it is also a pastoral challenge for the church in host countries; pastoral programs must provide those Catholics with a welcome, assistance and support, including for keeping their family bonds strong.

Turning to the question of the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, Cardinal Tagle said, “debate is healthy.” He said he has asked several people their reaction to the very public discussion of some cardinals proposing or opposing finding a way to allow some civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion even if their original unions have not been annulled — something not currently foreseen under church law.

“Some are very happy that finally this question is being addressed” and that the discussion is taking place publicly, not just “within the hallowed walls” of the Vatican, he said. But others “are worried” about the tone of the debate and possible conflict within the church.

“But I am a firm believer that the Lord is risen and that his promise that his church will be guided by the Holy Spirit is true,” the cardinal said.

What is essential, he said, is that as synod members and others debate the issue, they listen to one another with a conviction that the other loves the church. That, he said, is the only way to bring the “gems” of the other’s thoughts and concerns to bear on any eventual decision.

Asked what he sees as the positive contributions of people on both sides, the cardinal said those looking for a more flexible pastoral response are displaying “realism — life is not perfect” — and are making suggestions in line with the fact that God’s saving action throughout history demonstrates a willingness to meet, reach out to and heal wounded human beings.

On the other hand, he said, he appreciates the position of those who, “knowing the human person,” see a danger that many people would interpret pastoral exceptions and “an uncritical openness” as a sign that “anything goes,” which is not true in Christianity. “Being a Christian is not a walk in the park. There are some demands.”

Cardinal Tagle said he hopes synod members “don’t jump to conclusions” on the issue, but enter the synod process, which Pope Francis had decided will extend through next year with the world Synod of Bishops.

“Let us not rush into simplifying matters into clear formulae or clear directives. That will come,” he said. “Let us allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.”

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