Other News

British parliamentarians conclude visit to the Vatican

2013-10-24 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) British politicians from the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See concluded a visit to the Holy See on Thursday, accompanied by the Catholic chaplain to the UK Parliament, Canon Pat Browne.
The 11 member Group, led by the Co-Chair Sir Edward Leigh, met with the Pope following his General Audience on Wednesday, held talks with top officials at the Secretariat of State and other Vatican offices, as well as visiting Caritas Internationalis and the Sant’Egidio Community.
The Group is made up of representatives of both House of Parliament and all the principal political parties. Its main role is “to monitor the relationship between the UK and the Holy See,” exploring a broad range of issues pertaining to the Vatican and the work of the Catholic Church”.
Just before returning to London, Sir Edward Leigh came into Vatican Radio to share his impressions of the three day visit and the important role that the Holy See continues to play in international affairs….


“The point about the Holy See is that it’s not a temporal power, but it is an enormous soft power, to use modern jargon. It’s a religion of 1.2 billion people and therefore the British government and the British parliament is very interested in what the Vatican says…..

For instance, Syria, what the Pope did in his day of prayer I think was significant: as you know, the British parliament, quite rightly in my view, led the world in voting against the war, and I think the Vatican and other Church people had a role to play in all that……

Archbishop Broglio on Church, family, charity

2013-10-24 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The head of the US Archdiocese for the Military Services, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, was in Rome this week leading a group of military chaplains in days of prayer, reflection and formation. Vatican Radio spoke with Archbishop Broglio about a range of issues when we caught up with him on the sidelines of the weekly General Audience. He explained that the pastoral care of families, which will be a focal point of bishops’ deliberations at the upcoming Synod Assembly, is also a major focus of the Military Archdiocese, which cares not only for service members, but for their spouses and dependents, as well. Listen:

“Certainly the family is a very important area for the work of the Archdiocese for military services,” he said, adding, “it is also the area that has been most affected by the recent wars in which the United States has been involved.” Archbishop Broglio also spoke of the powerful effect Pope Francis’ Audience reflections on certain Marian images of the Church. “The Holy Father was very impressive,” he said, explaining that he was very much moved by Pope Francis’ discussion of the Visitation. “He used it as an image for the Church,” he said, adding, “it is a good image for us to keep and conserve in our hearts.”

The concrete concern of the US Church for the poor, suffering and disadvantaged at home and around the world was another focus of our conversation with Archbishop Broglio, who said that the recently arrived Ambassador to the Holy See from the United States, Kenneth Hackett, who headed Catholic Relief Services for many years, is an exemplar of the US Church’s commitment to works of charity. “In a certain sense,” he explained, “[Ambassador Hackett] incarnates the image of our charity on an international level.”

Finally, we returned to the family, and the upcoming World Meeting of Families, to be hosted by the US city of Philadelphia in 2015. “I am sure that the United States and her bishops will do everything possible to make certain that the welcome is worthy of the importance of the event.” The last World Meeting of Families was held in Milan, Italy, in 2012. As many as 350 thousand people took part in three days of events. On the closing day, more than 1 million people gathered to take part in Mass offered by Pope Benedict XVI.

New U.S. Ambassador to Holy See Ken Hackett speaks to Vatican Radio

2013-10-23 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The United States’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, says his many years of experience working in the field of Catholic charities have introduced him to countless lay and religious in the Church “doing wonderful things” in the area of human development – a resource which he hopes to put to good use in promoting international development in unison with the Holy See.

Prior to his new posting, Ambassador Hackett gave forty years of service to the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), where he was the President and CEO from 1993 to 2012. He began his career with CRS in 1972 as a staff member in Sierra Leone.

He presented his letters of credentials to Pope Francis on October 21 this year. He shared this moment with Tracey McClure:

“It was a very moving experience to present the credentials, which I had almost forgotten – my secretary was right there – and secondly just to meet him. I had never met the Holy Father before and I’ve met a lot of Cardinals and church men and women around the world. But never him. And having read and heard and seen so much of what he had done, just to actually meet him was inspiring and an honor. … obviously I told him why we hope we can work together on many, many issues that affect human dignity and the poor and people who are marginalized.”

“I told him that I had experience in my many years (of service in human development and that I’d met) many people in the Church who’ve been courageous, intrepid. People who’ve done wonderful, wonderful things. Sometimes we hear about the negative and we don’t hear about the positive things done around the world.”

“We shared the fact that there are things in the world that the Holy See and the United States can come together on and particularly, peace. Obviously he talked about his prayer for peace and praying for our president… these are trying times obviously and he is quite aware of what has been done.”

Ahead of his audience with Pope Francis this week, Ambassador Hackett met Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello of the Vatican Governatorate. The two recalled their shared experiences in Rwanda, a “painful” recollection Ambassador Hackett observed. As Archbishop, Bertello was Apostolic Nuncio to Rwanda in the early 1980’s before the genocide. Ambassador Hackett said the Cardinal suggested he recount their Rwanda experience to Pope Francis.

“Since Catholic Relief Services has had programs in Rwanda and many other places around the world for many years, I would, as CEO and President, visit. We’d always call on the nuncio and the bishops’ conference, etc. And so I knew him before the genocide. And then I visited his home shortly after the genocide in Rwanda…in August 1994. And I told him that as I went to his nunciature and viewed the mortar holes in his ceiling in his bedroom, I said ‘you must have been absolutely traumatized.’ And he admitted he was. He came out and of course then was posted to Geneva and a few other places… but he did some wonderful things in there..”

“That’s the wonder for me in this position. That I have met people in the Church, women religious, lay leaders, cardinals, bishops, priests from around the world. And now, here I am in Rome, in the Vatican – they all pass through! And it’s so wonderful to recapture those friendships (of) people who have put me up in Congo and in Indonesia and then have them come here for their ad limina (visit to Rome) and to be able to offer them a meal or even just a cup of coffee , it’s wonderful.”

Past U.S. ambassadors from varied business and academic backgrounds have taken up causes to champion during their posting to the Holy See – causes such as ending human trafficking, promoting human rights and inter-religious dialogue. Ambassador Hackett’s more than 40 year history of working in the field of international human development brings a unique dimension to the job. Which areas of interest will he be pursuing in his new post at the Vatican?

“All of those areas regrettably are still in need and I will pick up on them. In my previous positions, I was engaged in all of those. International human development is something that the Holy Father has spoken about – then he talks about the situation of refugees as well obviously. That would fall under human trafficking and the movement of people. It’s something that is of concern to my government very much. And it is an area (in which) we have collaborated with the Holy See and will continue to. And if we can do more in human development, in peace issues, I hope we can. And I hope… that I can use my connections and contacts from the past to enhance those efforts in any way.”
Listen to Tracey McClure’s extended interview with Ambassador Hackett in which he discusses his Jesuit training, the rigorous selection procedure to become U.S. ambassador, whether his Catholic faith ever comes into conflict with his job, and what lessons are to be learned from the recent U.S. Government Shutdown :

Limburg Bishop to stay outside of Diocese for now

2013-10-23 Vatican Radio

(VIS) – A communique was issued today by the Holy See Press Office, published in full below.

“The Holy Father has been continually informed in detail and objectively on the situation regarding the diocese of Limburg. In the diocese, a situation has arisen in which Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst cannot, at the present moment, continue to exercise his episcopal ministry.

Following Cardinal Lajolo’s ‘fraternal visit’ in September, the German Bishops’ Conference, in accordance with an agreement between the bishop and the Chapter of Limburg Cathedral, has constituted a Commission to carry out a detailed examination of the matter of the building of the bishop’s residence. Pending the results of this examination and of an analysis of responsibility for the matter, the Holy See considers it appropriate to authorise for Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst a period of stay outside the diocese.

By decision of the Holy See, Stadtdekan Wolfgang Rosch is today appointed as vicar general, an appointment that had previously been announced by the diocese of Limburg as taking effect from 1 January 2014. Vicar General Rosch will administer the diocese of Limburg during the absence of the diocesan bishop, within the sphere of competence associated with this office”.

Pope’s Official Visit to the President of the Italian Republic

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Pope Francis: Unfair “Big Fish” escape punishment

2013-10-23 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday before the General Audience met with 200 Italian prison chaplains, whose ministry he called “very challenging and very important.” The chaplains are in Rome for their annual national convention, and come from all over the country.

Pope Francis began his remarks by asking the chaplains to bring his greetings to the prisoners whom they serve.

“Please say that I pray for them,” said the Holy Father. “I pray to the Lord and Our Lady that they can successfully overcome this difficult period of their lives. That they not be discouraged , that they do not quit.” He said the prisoners should be told that the Lord is with them in the prisons, and in their cells.

The Pope, speaking off the cuff, lamented the injustices of the current system, “because it is easier to punish the small fry, but let the big fish swim free in the water.”

Pope Francis also assured the chaplains of his prayer, saying their ministry “is not easy.”

“You are a sign of Christ’s nearness to these brothers who are in need of hope,” he said. “Recently you talked about a ‘justice of reconciliation’ [at their conference], but also a justice of hope, of open doors, of horizons . This is not a utopia: It can be done.”

“It is not easy, because of our weaknesses which are everywhere, also the devil is everywhere, temptations are everywhere,” Pope Francis said. “But you must always try.”

Pope: Mary as model of faith, charity and union with Christ

2013-10-23 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) At his general audience on Wednesday morning, Pope Francis greeted thousands of pilgrims and visitors from around the world, including a delegation of British politicians who are part of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See. In his catechesis, read aloud by different language speakers, the Pope reflected on Mary as the perfect model of the Church

Please find below the full Engish language text:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the Church, we now look to the Virgin Mary who, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is “the model of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 63). As a daughter of Israel, Mary responded in faith to God’s call and became the Mother of his Son. She teaches us to live a life of faith by her obedience to God’s will and by her unfailing devotion to Jesus and his work. Mary also models the Church’s charity, born of faith, which brings the joy and peace of Christ’s presence to others and to our world. Finally, Mary models the Church’s union with Christ through her constant prayer and participation in the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection.
As Mother of the Church, may Mary, by her prayers, bring us ever closer to the Lord, open our hearts to share his transforming and redeeming love, and inspire us to put our firm faith in God’s word, trusting in his goodness and his gracious plan for us and for our world.

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, India, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Guam, Canada and the United States. In a particular way I welcome the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, with cordial good wishes for their meetings in these days. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

Archb. Chullikatt calls for all weapons to be silenced

2013-10-23 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, has called for general and complete disarmament.

Speaking a the First Committee of the 68th session of the General Assembly, Chullikatt said that this moment in history offers a moment of opportunity to rid the world of chemical and nuclear weapons.

Please find below the full text of Archbishop Chullikatt’s intervention.

Mr Chairman,
The First Committee meets this year at a moment of extraordinary opportunity. In the past few weeks, we have seen vivid action taken in the long struggle to rid the world of chemical and nuclear weapons.

The recent UN Security Council’s unanimous resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons has historic importance. However, in that regard the Secretary General noted: “a red light for one form of weapons did not mean a green light for others”. He therefore called for a complete stop to all violence and for all weapons to be silenced.

Another hopeful opportunity that has presented itself is the day-long unprecedented High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament in the General Assembly on September 26. From nearly every corner of the world — Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America – Heads of State and Government and other high officials called for action to begin comprehensive negotiations to ban all nuclear weapons. It was impressive to see such an outcry of concern at what is aptly called the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of the use of nuclear weapons.

The willingness of the world as a whole to move forward in a constructive manner to eliminate nuclear weapons has never been more evident. Yet a very small number of States stand in the way, trying to block progress and to find a comprehensive solution to the problem that goes on year after year in paralysis and obfuscation.

It was clear at the High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament that States around the world want to see the implementation of the 2010 decision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to convene a meeting to develop a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The progress made in the Syrian conflict and the prospect of a political solution on the horizon set the stage for the holding of the Middle East conference. This process dates back to 1995 when the NPT Review and Extension Conference adopted a resolution to address all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The failure of the international community to fulfill that promise has jeopardized the credibility of the NPT and the future of that region. With the 2015 NPT Review Conference quickly approaching, it is imperative that steps be taken to set a firm date for the holding of the conference.

It is sadly ironic that States vociferous in their condemnation of chemical weapons are silent on the continued possession of nuclear weapons. The international community must appeal and act with one voice to ban all weapons of mass destruction.

The prospects for the cooperation of all States on a new agenda for peace have suddenly taken an upturn. This work requires the continued advocacy and cooperation of all. A better world awaits us if we reduce the excessively high military spending and if we set aside part of military expenditures for a world fund to relieve the needs of developing and least developed nations. This committee, dedicated to reducing armaments worldwide must always be conscious of the true needs for achieving sustainable international peace and security. We must end myopic militarism and concentrate on the long-range needs of the human family.

Mr Chairman,

As the Holy See stated at the recent High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament, “[I]t is time to counter the logic of fear with the ethic of responsibility, fostering a climate of trust and sincere dialogue, capable of promoting a culture of peace, founded on the primacy of law and the common good, through a coherent and responsible cooperation between all members of the international community.”

Our world has never been so interdependent and interconnected; now more than ever we cannot risk falling into a “globalization of indifference”.

It is illusory to think that the security and peace of some can be assured without the security and peace of others. In an age like ours which is undergoing profound social and geopolitical shifts, awareness has been growing that national security interests are deeply linked to those related to international security, just as the human family moves gradually together and everywhere is becoming more conscious of its unity and interdependency.

Peace, security and stability cannot be gained strictly by military means, nor by increasing military spending, since these are multidimensional objectives which include aspects that are not linked only to the political and military sphere, but also to those of human rights, the rule of law, economic and social conditions, and the protection of the environment. These are things which have as their principal purpose the promotion of a true, integral human development, where wisdom, reason and the force of law must prevail over violence, aggression and the law of force.

Peace is an edifice in continual construction which lays its foundations not so much in force as in trust, confidence-building, on respect for obligations assumed and on dialogue. Without these fundamental elements one places at risk not solely peace, but also the very existence of the human family. The field of disarmament and arms control constantly demands the use of our wisdom and good will.

Archbishop Müller: Care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist

2013-10-22 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, has published an article in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, speaking about the issue of re-marriage and the reception of the sacraments. He begins by re-affirming the Church’s constant teaching that marriage is indissoluble, and that this is testified to both in Scripture and Tradition. In the article, Archbishop Müller acknowledges that modern misunderstandings over the meaning of marriage leads to more marriages being invalid than in previous times, but writes that couples should not decide for themselves whether or not their marriage is null.

“Marriage is not simply about the relationship of two people to God, it is also a reality of the Church, a sacrament, and it is not the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the Church, into which individuals are incorporated by faith and baptism,” he writes.

The Archbishop says he knows it is not an easy teaching, but those who are divorced and remarried should not that they are not alone, and the Church “as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey.”

“Clearly, the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist,” he writes. “It involves a much more wide-ranging pastoral approach, which seeks to do justice to to the different situations. It is important to realize that there are other ways, apart from sacramental communion, of being in fellowship with God. One can draw close to God by turning to him in faith, hope and charity, in repentance and prayer. God can grant his closeness and his salvation to people on different paths, even if they find themselves in a contradictory life situation.”

Testimony to the power of grace

On the indissolubility of marriage and the debate concerning the civilly remarried and the sacraments

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller

The problem concerning members of the faithful who have entered into a new civil union after a divorce is not new. The Church has always taken this question very seriously and with a view to helping the people who find themselves in this situation. Marriage is a sacrament that affects people particularly deeply in their personal, social and historical circumstances. Given the increasing number of persons affected in countries of ancient Christian tradition, this pastoral problem has taken on significant dimensions. Today even firm believers are seriously wondering: can the Church not admit the divorced and remarried to the sacraments under certain conditions? Are her hands permanently tied on this matter? Have theologians really explored all the implications and consequences?

These questions must be explored in a manner that is consistent with Catholic doctrine on marriage. A responsible pastoral approach presupposes a theology that offers “the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, freely assenting to the truth revealed by him” (Dei Verbum 5). In order to make the Church’s authentic doctrine intelligible, we must begin with the word of God that is found in sacred Scripture, expounded in the Church’s Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium in a binding way.

The Testimony of Sacred Scripture

Looking directly to the Old Testament for answers to our question is not without its difficulties, because at that time marriage was not yet regarded as a sacrament. Yet the word of God in the Old Covenant is significant for us to the extent that Jesus belongs within this tradition and argues on the basis of it. In the Decalogue, we find the commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14), but elsewhere divorce is presented as a possibility. According to Dt 24:1-4, Moses lays down that a man may present his wife with a certificate of dismissal and send her away from his house, if she no longer finds favour with him. Thereafter, both husband and wife may embark upon a new marriage. In addition to this acceptance of divorce, the Old Testament also expresses certain reservations in its regard. The comparison drawn by the prophets between God’s covenant with Israel and the marriage bond includes not only the ideal of monogamy, but also that of indissolubility. The prophet Malachi expresses this clearly: “Do not be faithless to the wife of your youth … with whom you have made a covenant” (Mal 2:14-15).

Above all, it was his controversies with the Pharisees that gave Jesus occasion to address this theme. He distanced himself explicitly from the Old Testament practice of divorce, which Moses had permitted because men were “so hard of heart”, and he pointed to God’s original will: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and … the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:5-9; cf. Mt 19:4-9; Lk 16:18). The Catholic Church has always based its doctrine and practice upon these sayings of Jesus concerning the indissolubility of marriage. The inner bond that joins the spouses to one another was forged by God himself. It designates a reality that comes from God and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal.

Today some exegetes take the view that even in the Apostolic era these dominical sayings were applied with a degree of flexibility: notably in the case of porneia/unchastity (cf. Mt 5:32; 19:9) and in the case of a separation between a Christian and a non-Christian partner (cf. 1 Cor 7:12-15). The unchastity clauses have been the object of fierce debate among exegetes from the beginning. Many take the view that they refer not to exceptions to the indissolubility of marriage, but to invalid marital unions. Clearly, however, the Church cannot build its doctrine and practice on controversial exegetical hypotheses. She must adhere to the clear teaching of Christ.

Saint Paul presents the prohibition on divorce as the express will of Christ: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11). At the same time he permits, on his own authority, that a non-Christian may separate from a partner who has become Christian. In this case, the Christian is “not bound” to remain unmarried (1 Cor 7:12-16). On the basis of this passage, the Church has come to recognize that only a marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman is a sacrament in the true sense, and only in this instance does unconditional indissolubility apply. The marriage of the unbaptized is indeed ordered to indissolubility, but can under certain circumstances – for the sake of a higher good – be dissolved (privilegium Paulinum). Here, then, we are not dealing with an exception to our Lord’s teaching. The indissolubility of sacramental marriage, that is to say, marriage that takes place within the mystery of Christ, remains assured.

Of greater significance for the biblical basis of the sacramental view of marriage is the Letter to the Ephesians, where we read: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). And shortly afterwards, the Apostle adds: “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32). Christian marriage is an effective sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church. Because it designates and communicates the grace of this covenant, marriage between the baptized is a sacrament.

The Testimony of the Church’s Tradition

The Church Fathers and Councils provide important testimony regarding the way the Church’s position evolved. For the Fathers, the biblical precepts on the subject are binding. They reject the State’s divorce laws as incompatible with the teaching of Jesus. The Church of the Fathers rejected divorce and remarriage, and did so out of obedience to the Gospel. On this question, the Fathers’ testimony is unanimous.

In patristic times, divorced members of the faithful who had civilly remarried could not even be readmitted to the sacraments after a period of penance. Some patristic texts, however, seem to imply that abuses were not always rigorously corrected and that from time to time pastoral solutions were sought for very rare borderline cases.

In many regions, greater compromises emerged later, particularly as a result of the increasing interdependence of Church and State. In the East this development continued to evolve, and especially after the separation from the See of Peter, it moved towards an increasingly liberal praxis. In the Orthodox Churches today, there are a great many grounds for divorce, which are mostly justified in terms of oikonomia, or pastoral leniency in difficult individual cases, and they open the path to a second or third marriage marked by a penitential character. This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage. But it represents an ecumenical problem that is not to be underestimated.

In the West, the Gregorian reform countered these liberalizing tendencies and gave fresh impetus to the original understanding of Scripture and the Fathers. The Catholic Church defended the absolute indissolubility of marriage even at the cost of great sacrifice and suffering. The schism of a “Church of England” detached from the Successor of Peter came about not because of doctrinal differences, but because the Pope, out of obedience to the sayings of Jesus, could not accommodate the demands of King Henry VIII for the dissolution of his marriage.

The Council of Trent confirmed the doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage and explained that this corresponded to the teaching of the Gospel (cf. DH 1807). Sometimes it is maintained that the Church de facto tolerated the Eastern practice. But this is not correct. The canonists constantly referred to it as an abuse. And there is evidence that groups of Orthodox Christians on becoming Catholic had to subscribe to an express acknowledgment of the impossibility of second or third marriages.

The Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes on “The Church in the Modern World”, presents a theologically and spiritually profound doctrine of marriage. It upholds the indissolubility of marriage clearly and distinctly. Marriage is understood as an all-embracing communion of life and love, body and spirit, between a man and a woman who mutually give themselves and receive one another as persons. Through the personally free act of their reciprocal consent, an enduring, divinely ordered institution is brought into being, which is directed to the good of the spouses and of their offspring and is no longer dependent on human caprice: “As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them” (no. 48). Through the sacrament God bestows a special grace upon the spouses: “For as God of old made himself present to his people through a covenant of love and fidelity, so now the Saviour of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. He abides with them thereafter so that just as he loved the Church and handed himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal.” Through the sacrament the indissolubility of marriage acquires a new and deeper sense: it becomes the image of God’s enduring love for his people and of Christ’s irrevocable fidelity to his Church.

Marriage can be understood and lived as a sacrament only in the context of the mystery of Christ. If marriage is secularized or regarded as a purely natural reality, its sacramental character is obscured. Sacramental marriage belongs to the order of grace, it is taken up into the definitive communion of love between Christ and his Church. Christians are called to live their marriage within the eschatological horizon of the coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.

The Testimony of the Magisterium in the Present Day

The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio – issued by John Paul II on 22 November 1981 in the wake of the Synod of Bishops on the Christian family in the modern world, and of fundamental importance ever since – emphatically confirms the Church’s dogmatic teaching on marriage. But it shows pastoral concern for the civilly remarried faithful who are still bound by an ecclesially valid marriage. The Pope shows a high degree of concern and understanding. Paragraph 84 on “divorced persons who have remarried” contains the following key statements: 1. Pastors are obliged, by love for the truth, “to exercise careful discernment of situations”. Not everything and everyone are to be assessed in an identical way. 2. Pastors and parish communities are bound to stand by the faithful who find themselves in this situation, with “attentive love”. They too belong to the Church, they are entitled to pastoral care and they should take part in the Church’s life. 3. And yet they cannot be admitted to the Eucharist. Two reasons are given for this: a) “their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” b) “if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage”. Reconciliation through sacramental confession, which opens the way to reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted in the case of repentance over what has happened and a “readiness to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.” Concretely this means that if for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, the new union cannot be dissolved, then the two partners must “bind themselves to live in complete continence”. 4. Clergy are expressly forbidden, for intrinsically sacramental and theological reasons and not through legalistic pressures, to “perform ceremonies of any kind” for divorced people who remarry civilly, as long as the first sacramentally valid marriage still exists.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s statement of 14 September 1994 on reception of holy communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful emphasizes that the Church’s practice in this question “cannot be modified because of different situations” (no. 5). It also makes clear that the faithful concerned may not present themselves for holy communion on the basis of their own conscience: “Should they judge it possible to do so, pastors and confessors … have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church’s teaching” (no. 6). If doubts remain over the validity of a failed marriage, these must be examined by the competent marriage tribunals (cf. no. 9). It remains of the utmost importance, “with solicitous charity to do everything that can be done to strengthen in the love of Christ and the Church those faithful in irregular marriage situations. Only thus will it be possible for them fully to receive the message of Christian marriage and endure in faith the distress of their situation. In pastoral action one must do everything possible to ensure that this is understood not to be a matter of discrimination but only of absolute fidelity to the will of Christ who has restored and entrusted to us anew the indissolubility of marriage as a gift of the Creator” (no. 10).

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of 22 February 2007, Benedict XVI summarizes the work of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the Eucharist and he develops it further. In No. 29 he addresses the situation of divorced and remarried faithful. For Benedict XVI too, this is a “complex and troubling pastoral problem”. He confirms “the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments”, but he urges pastors at the same time, to devote “special concern” to those affected: in the wish that they “live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children”. If there are doubts concerning the validity of the failed marriage, these are to be carefully examined by the competent marriage tribunals. Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children. Because many Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization within an environment of faith. Therefore assessment of the validity of marriage is important and can help to solve problems. Where nullity of marriage cannot be demonstrated, the requirement for absolution and reception of communion, according to the Church’s established and approved practice, is that the couple live “as friends, as brother and sister”. Blessings of irregular unions are to be avoided, “lest confusion arise among the faithful concerning the value of marriage”. A blessing (bene-dictio: divine sanctioning) of a relationship that contradicts the will of God is a contradiction in terms.

During his homily at the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan on 3 June 2012, Benedict XVI once again had occasion to speak of this painful problem: “I should also like to address a word to the faithful who, even though they agree with the Church’s teachings on the family, have had painful experiences of breakdown and separation. I want you to know that the Pope and the Church support you in your struggle. I encourage you to remain united to your communities, and I earnestly hope that your dioceses are developing suitable initiatives to welcome and accompany you.”

The most recent Synod of Bishops on the theme “New evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith” (7-28 October 2012) addressed once again the situation of the faithful who after the failure of a marital relationship (not the failure of a marriage, which being a sacrament still remains) have entered a new union and live together without a sacramental marriage bond. In the concluding Message, the Synod Fathers addressed those concerned as follows: “To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the Church loves them, too, that the Church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the Church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist. May our Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation.”

Observations based on Anthropology and Sacramental Theology

The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is often met with incomprehension in a secularized environment. Where the fundamental insights of Christian faith have been lost, church affiliation of a purely conventional kind can no longer sustain major life decisions or provide a firm foothold in the midst of marital crises – as well as crises in priestly and religious life. Many people ask: how can I bind myself to one woman or one man for an entire lifetime? Who can tell me what my marriage will be like in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years? Is a definitive bond to one person possible at all? The many marital relationships that founder today reinforce the scepticism of young people regarding definitive life choices.

On the other hand, the ideal – built into the order of creation – of faithfulness between one man and one woman has lost none of its fascination, as is apparent from recent opinion surveys among young people. Most of them long for a stable, lasting relationship, in keeping with the spiritual and moral nature of the human person. Moreover, one must not forget the anthropological value of indissoluble marriage: it withdraws the partners from caprice and from the tyranny of feelings and moods. It helps them to survive personal difficulties and to overcome painful experiences. Above all it protects the children, who have most to suffer from marital breakdown.

Love is more than a feeling or an instinct. Of its nature it is self-giving. In marital love, two people say consciously and intentionally to one another: only you – and you for ever. The word of the Lord: “What God has joined together” corresponds to the promise of the spouses: “I take you as my husband … I take you as my wife … I will love, esteem and honour you, as long as I live, till death us do part.” The priest blesses the covenant that the spouses have sealed with one another before God. If anyone should doubt whether the marriage bond is ontological, let him learn from the word of God: “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said: for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mt 19:4-6).

For Christians, the marriage of baptized persons incorporated into the Body of Christ has sacramental character and therefore represents a supernatural reality. A serious pastoral problem arises from the fact that many people today judge Christian marriage exclusively by worldly and pragmatic criteria. Those who think according to the “spirit of the world” (1 Cor 2:12) cannot understand the sacramentality of marriage. The Church cannot respond to the growing incomprehension of the sanctity of marriage by pragmatically accommodating the supposedly inevitable, but only by trusting in “the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). Sacramental marriage is a testimony to the power of grace, which changes man and prepares the whole Church for the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the Church, which is prepared “as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). The Gospel of the sanctity of marriage is to be proclaimed with prophetic candour. By adapting to the spirit of the age, a weary prophet seeks his own salvation but not the salvation of the world in Jesus Christ. Faithfulness to marital consent is a prophetic sign of the salvation that God bestows upon the world. “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Mt 19:12). Through sacramental grace, married love is purified, strengthened and ennobled. “Sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by Christ’s sacrament, this love remains steadfastly true in body and in mind, in bright days or dark. It will never be profaned by adultery or divorce” (Gaudium et Spes, 49). In the strength of the sacrament of marriage, the spouses participate in God’s definitive, irrevocable love. They can therefore be witnesses of God’s faithful love, but they must nourish their love constantly through living by faith and love.

Admittedly there are situations – as every pastor knows – in which marital cohabitation becomes for all intents and purposes impossible for compelling reasons, such as physical or psychological violence. In such hard cases, the Church has always permitted the spouses to separate and no longer live together. It must be remembered, though, that the marriage bond of a valid union remains intact in the sight of God, and the individual parties are not free to contract a new marriage, as long as the spouse is alive. Pastors and Christian communities must therefore take pains to promote paths of reconciliation in these cases too, or, should that not be possible, to help the people concerned to confront their difficult situation in faith.

Observations based on Moral Theology

It is frequently suggested that remarried divorcees should be allowed to decide for themselves, according to their conscience, whether or not to present themselves for holy communion. This argument, based on a problematical concept of “conscience”, was rejected by a document of the CDF in 1994. Naturally, the faithful must consider every time they attend Mass whether it is possible to receive communion, and a grave unconfessed sin would always be an impediment. At the same time they have the duty to form their conscience and to align it with the truth. In so doing they listen also to the Church’s Magisterium, which helps them “not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it” (Veritatis Splendor, 64). If remarried divorcees are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals. Marriage is not simply about the relationship of two people to God, it is also a reality of the Church, a sacrament, and it is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the Church, into which the individuals are incorporated by faith and baptism. “If the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful, and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “The Pastoral approach to marriage must be founded on truth” L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 7 December 2011, p. 4)

The teaching on epikeia, too – according to which a law may be generally valid, but does not always apply to concrete human situations – may not be invoked here, because in the case of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage we are dealing with a divine norm that is not at the disposal of the Church. Nevertheless – as we see from the privilegium Paulinum – the Church does have the authority to clarify the conditions that must be fulfilled for an indissoluble marriage, as taught by Jesus, to come about. On this basis, the Church has established impediments to marriage, she has recognized grounds for annulment, and she has developed a detailed process for examining these.

A further case for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in terms of mercy. Given that Jesus himself showed solidarity with the suffering and poured out his merciful love upon them, mercy is said to be a distinctive quality of true discipleship. This is correct, but it misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental theology. The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same. An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive. The mystery of God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice. If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s mercy to man. Jesus encountered the adulteress with great compassion, but he said to her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfil them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in its fullness according to the image of our heavenly Father.

Pastoral care

Even if there is no possibility of admitting remarried divorcees to the sacraments, in view of their intrinsic nature, it is all the more imperative to show pastoral concern for these members of the faithful, so as to point them clearly towards what the theology of revelation and the Magisterium have to say. The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned. Yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey. Insofar as the parties make an effort to understand the Church’s practice and to abstain from communion, they provide their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage.

Clearly, the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist. It involves a much more wide-ranging pastoral approach, which seeks to do justice to to the different situations. It is important to realize that there are other ways, apart from sacramental communion, of being in fellowship with God. One can draw close to God by turning to him in faith, hope and charity, in repentance and prayer. God can grant his closeness and his salvation to people on different paths, even if they find themselves in a contradictory life situation. As recent documents of the Magisterium have emphasized, pastors and Christian communities are called to welcome people in irregular situations openly and sincerely, to stand by them sympathetically and helpfully, and to make them aware of the love of the Good Shepherd. If pastoral care is rooted in truth and love, it will discover the right paths and approaches in constantly new ways.

Pope: God meddles with our lives and heals our wounds

2013-10-22 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Contemplation, proximity and abundance are the three words upon which Pope Francis centered his homily on Tuesday at Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.
Speaking to those present for the morning celebration, the Pope reiterated that one cannot understand God solely with the mind and pointed out that God challenges us by “meddling” in our lives to heal our wounds, just as Jesus did.
Intelligence – the Pope said – is not sufficient to enter into the mystery of God. You need contemplation, proximity and abundance.
Drawing his inspiration from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Pope Francis said there is only one way we can understand they the mystery of our salvation, and that is: on our knees, in contemplation.
Intelligence is not enough – he added: “ You need contemplation, intelligence, heart, knees praying… all together: this is how we enter into the mystery”.
And the Pope went on to speak about closeness – or proximity. “One man created sin, Francis explained, and one man saved us”. God is close, he is close to our history. From the very first moment when he chose our father, Abraham, he walked with His people. And Jesus himself – he said – had a craftsman’s job:a worker who uses his hands. The image that comes to mind – the Pope continued – is that of a nurse in a hospital who heals our wounds, one at a time. Just like God – he explained – who gets involved, who meddles in our miseries, He gets close to our wounds and heals them with his hands. And to actually have hands – he continued – He became man. So God saves us not only by decree: “He saves us with tenderness and with caresses. He saves us with His life for us.”
And then Pope Francis spoke of “abundance”. Where sins abound – he said – grace abounds. Each of us knows his miseries and knows how they abound. But God’s challenge is to defeat them and heal the wounds as Jesus did with His superabundance of grace and love. And Francis pointed out that although some do not like to admit it: those who are closest to the heart of Jesus are sinners, because He goes to look for them, calls them and heals them, while those who are in good health do not need a doctor: “ I have come to heal, to save.”
The Pope concluded his homily reflecting on how some saints say that one of the ugliest sins is distrust: distrust in God. “But how can we be wary of a God who is so close, so good, who prefers the sinful heart ?” . This mystery – he said – is not easy to understand with intelligence, but with the help of these three words: “contemplation, proximity and abundance” because God “always wins with the superabundance of his grace, with His tenderness “, with His wealth of mercy.”