Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Church must ‘update’ teaching on marriage and family: Pope Francis’ head of Synod of Bishops

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

ROME, May 9, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The time has come for the Church to “update” its teaching on marriage and the family, one of the Vatican’s highest ranking cardinals has said.

“The Church is not timeless,” Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops said. In an interview with the Christian weekly magazine Tertio on Wednesday, Baldisseri added, “The message [of the Church on marriage] should be in the present, with all respect for the integrity of the one who receives that message.”

The cardinal is in the process of collating the responses to a questionnaire sent out by his office “to consult the base.” He added that the questionnaire “helps us concretely assess the actual situation of the people.”

The responses – which showed a nearly universal ignorance and rejection of the Church’s teaching on the family and sexuality by Catholics around the world – will be used to create the working documents for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family, planned for October.

Baldisseri said the Synod will “treat this complex theme of the family” and will “allow a more adequate response to the expectations of the people.”

He added that the document “Familiaris Consortio” by John Paul II needs to be “updated,” noting that it was published 33 years ago.

A small excerpt was published by Tertio online, and LifeSiteNews obtained the full interview in the original Dutch today. Tertio asked the cardinal, “In the West, many expect that openness will arrive on sexual morality, including in the attitude towards remarried divorcees. Do you expect that there are changes [planned], for example, in line with the speech of Cardinal Walter Kasper at the consistory of February?”

“The questionnaire had many themes. Among them, the themes of sexual morality, but also the real situation of those who are civilly remarried. During the consistory, Pope Francis asked Cardinal Kasper, who is a theologian, to address the issue of family in view of the Synod.”

“There arose a debate, as the Pope has asked for repeatedly. That is synodality,” he added, “participation and open exchanges in all fields.”

“We also wish to update the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio by Pope John Paul II from 1981. That is the latest large document of the past thirty years on this issue.”

“The Church is not timeless, it lives amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today. It is in the present that the message should be, with all respect for the integrity of whoever receives that message.”

He said that the two Synods, the meeting in February and the planned gathering in October, will “treat this complex theme of the family” and the “the dynamics in two movements will enable us to more effectively respond to the expectations of the people.”

In a break with past practice, Baldisseri had asked bishops to send the questionnaire not only to qualified theologians and experts but to ordinary lay Catholics in parishes. The decision was questioned by some who said that the ordinary faithful were not equipped to respond to the highly technical language used in such documents and that most lay people would not be in a position to answer such sweeping questions that require access to statistical data. Some bishops are already using this result to add fuel to calls for a change in Eucharistic discipline, if not the actual teaching on marriage.

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But Baldisseri defended the decision, saying, it was intended as “a way of feeling out the people of God, to understand the ‘sensus fidelium’” [“sense of the faithful”]. This comment may be contrasted with the concern expressed recently by Pope Francis himself  that the term not be reinterpreted to mean “majority opinion” or to give the impression that doctrine can be decided by a kind of democratic vote. When some national bishops’ conferences released the responses to the media, many took it as an opportunity to increase calls for the Church to abandon its unpopular teachings.

Baldisseri’s comments come in the context of an ongoing uproar in the hierarchy and the curia over Kasper’s speech, in which he presented a “new paradigm” to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion “after completing a period of penance” but without any change of lifestyle. Kasper’s plan reportedly aroused anger among some cardinals present at the consistory.

The 73 year-old Baldisseri is a rising star in Francis’ circle, having been appointed by the pope as Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in September 2013. Previously Baldisseri was a long-serving Vatican diplomat and curial insider, having served in the nunciatures of Guatemala, El Salvador, Japan, Brazil, Paraguay, France, Zimbabwe, and Haiti. In Rome, Baldisseri served as Secretary, the number two position, in the Congregation of Bishops that helps the pope select bishops around the world. As Secretary to the College of Cardinals, he was also Secretary of the last Conclave.

He was officially named as a cardinal at the most recent consistory in February, but it was reported that Pope Francis had given Baldisseri his own old zucchetto – the red skullcap that symbolizes the rank of cardinal – only a few minutes after having been elected pope. Baldisseri has said he wants to see the Synod of Bishops made into a “permanent advisory council,” a move that is in line with Pope Francis’ stated desires for a more “synodal” model of Church governance. He was also involved in the drafting of Pope Francis’ first major document, “Evangelii Gaudium.”

Well before he was formally named as a cardinal, and months before Cardinal Kasper’s consistory speech, Baldisseri made known his discomfort with the current teaching and practice of the Church. He told La Stampa’s Vatican Insider magazine in November 2013, “A new approach needs to be taken with respect to the administration of the sacraments to remarried divorcees.”

Baldisseri’s reference to Familiaris Consortio comes in response to the forceful criticism of Kasper by Cardinal Caffarra, the archbishop of Bologna, in a lengthy analysis published by Il Foglio. Caffarra said that the teaching on the nature of marriage and the family is derived from the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.

Familiaris Consortio is “directly in the crossfire,” said Caffarra, who was one of the consultors of the Synod on the Family in 1980. Far from requiring an “update,” the document, he said, “did not ignore the real problems. It also spoke of divorce, of free cohabitation, of the admission of divorced-and-remarried to the Eucharist.” To characterize it as belonging to the past, “is a caricature. Or is it a consideration made ​​by people who have not read it.”

Something similar, Caffarra added, could be said about the attempt to sideline Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which was described by the German bishops’ conference as creating only “confusion.”

Responding to Kasper’s suggestion that the rules should be changed to examine marriages on a case-by-case basis, Caffarra said, “Do not touch the marriage of Christ. It cannot be judged case by case; you do not bless a divorce and hypocrisy is not ‘merciful.’”

Following Cardinal Kasper’s address to the consistory, and before it had been released to the public, Pope Francis praised the German cardinal’s “serene” theology, saying, “I would like to thank him, because I found a deep theology, and serene thoughts in theology. It is nice to read serene theology. It did me well and I had an idea, and excuse me if I embarrass Your Eminence, but the idea is: this is called doing theology while kneeling. Thank you. Thank you."

Speaking to Vatican Insider in November, Baldisseri indicated that Pope Francis’ intention towards the issue can be read in Evangelii Gaudium. Francis’ comment that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” can be read as a signal, he said.

“We should pay attention to the phrase that follows immediately after this: ‘These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness.’ The Pope presents these two elements together. This means he wants these issues to be examined with prudence and therefore with attention to the Church’s doctrine. But he also wants them to be examined with boldness, which for me means ‘without fear,’ taking individual circumstances into account.”

In February, Baldisseri said that the responses coming to Rome to the pre-synodal questionnaire show “much suffering, especially by those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond to the Church’s doctrine and discipline.”

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