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Maike Hickson

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Eleven cardinals defend Catholic moral teaching on marriage and family

Maike Hickson

August 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- This fall, Ignatius Press is going to bring out another important book dealing with topics of the upcoming October 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome. The book is called Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Viewpoint. While the 2014 "Five Cardinals Book," which was also published by Ignatius Press, responded more directly, and on a doctrinal level, to Walter Cardinal Kasper's own earlier proposal for allowing "remarried" divorcés to receive Holy Communion, the "Eleven Cardinals Book" has a different approach. While all the eleven authors hold to the traditional moral teaching of the Church – and at times explicitly defend it – they concentrate on pastoral ways of dealing with the current crisis of marriage and the family, without a deeper doctrinal discussion.

Therefore, the two books together form a pastoral as well as doctrinal refutation of the "Kasper proposal," as it had been first endorsed by Pope Francis at the College of Cardinals meeting in February of 2014 and as it has been promoted far and wide ever since, not least at the last 2014 Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family.

In order to give a revealing glimpse of this effort of eleven princes of the Church to demonstrate that there is an alternative approach to the laxer and more lenient way of Cardinal Kasper, we will pick out a few of the eleven contributions. Important to note is that these cardinals – among them Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Robert Cardinal Sarah, and Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes – come from different parts of the world and thereby are able to give a fuller insight into the moral crisis as well as an adequate response to it.

Cardinal Caffarra of Italy is perhaps the author who is the most attentive to doctrinal matters in this book. He bases his argumentation on the fundamental truth of our own sinfulness and our need for being forgiven by God. God, in His love for mankind, "provided for all creation – the human person in the first place – in Christ the Redeemer of man by means of his sacrifice on the Cross" (p. 1), Caffarra reminds us. The "death of Jesus for the remission of our sins" was God's eternal plan (2). Caffarra reminds the reader also that it depends upon the free will of each person whether he will be at all and finally united with God or not. He says: "In committing moral evil, man imprisons himself" (3). Cardinal Caffarra stresses the importance that man sincerely convert and ask God for forgiveness in order to be able to receive God's generous forgiveness. God, therefore, requires our cooperation. Our conversion needs a confession and then a firm resolution of amendment, meaning to recognize our own sins and then to decide not to commit them in the future.

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True mercy, in Caffarra's understanding, means, then, to tell the sinner that he is living in sin and that he needs to convert: "In other words: it must be said that man must convert, and from what actions and attitudes, that is, vices he must turn away" (7). Therefore: "Mercy without [any requirement for] conversion is not divine mercy" (7). Caffarra also insists that one needs to acknowledge the existence of sin and evil, that "in general there are such things as en erring life and a just life, such things as good and evil that precede and judge our free choices" (8). With it, the Italian cardinal reminds us of the necessity of speaking the truth, and of the danger of pretending that there is no sin to be rejected and permanently shunned. When applied to the problem of the "remarried" divorcés, this doctrinal explanation makes clear to the sinner that he sincerely has to change his life and has to stop committing the sin of adultery. With it, Caffarra has made his own strong stand in relation to the "Kasper proposal," according to which – in Kasper's indulgent view – those living in the state of adultery should be somehow still admitted to the Sacraments.

The German cardinal Paul Josef Cordes is known for his defense of the traditional moral teaching of the Church. In his contribution to the book, he presents a summary of his position. In presenting the Church's history with regard to the indissolubility of marriage, Cardinal Cordes shows that there is no chance for a change of her traditional doctrine and practice. He says:

This review of Church history gives little reason to hope that the most recent attempts and opinions [to change the Church's moral teaching] have now found the "philosopher's stone." Even though their proponents are brimming with self-confidence, like men on a mission, and can be assured of the applause of the media, any careful and thoughtful observer will be skeptical about their suggestions. (20)

Cordes also repeats his reproach of the German bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who, earlier this year, had claimed that the Church should now take much more into account the "concrete experiences of people," claiming that "doctrine and life must not be completely separate from one another" (21). Cordes, in his strong rebuke of this claim, criticizes the idea of taking those Catholics who live in a irregular state as the standard for the Church:

Finally, it would be quite paradoxical to set aside these unequivocal instructions and to try to assign to a small group of Church members, who are living in a spiritually lamentable yet objectively irregular situation, the role of being a source of faith. Bishop Bode's call for a change of perspective is therefore neither original nor helpful. (22)

Two other important voices of the book may also be briefly presented here. They come from Eastern Europe and Africa, both giving a different perspective upon the current problems in the Church.

"What do we call a person who has not been faithful to his oath [or vow], who has not kept his given word, who does not remain at his post but flees like a coward?" —Dominik Cardinal Duka

Dominik Cardinal Duka, O.P., of Prague (Czech Republic), examines the situation on the background of his country's own protracted experience with Communism. In his eyes, the destruction of the family has been on its way since the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, and it started with the 1848 Communist Manifesto. He asks us: "Do we understand the significance of this ideological pressure that has lasted for more than a century and a half?" The family has been demeaned and besmirched for a long time: "The family has been pilloried as an exploitative institution, as a place that oppresses spontaneity and destroys hedonistic desire, individual liberty, and so on" (39). In studying the biblical foundations of our faith, says Duka, we can find greater strength and consolation in these times of gathering oppression and persecution: "Here we find the basis for the Church's warning, because she is convinced that father and mother are irreplaceable" (41).

In strong words, Cardinal Duka candidly names things by their true names and reminds us of the importance of keeping our word, especially with regard to the vows of marriage. As seldom seen, he describes how base any breakup of a marriage is:

What do we call a person who has not been faithful to his oath [or vow], who has not kept his given word, who does not remain at his post but flees like a coward? If we speak about the break-up of marriage, we have to realize that this is one of the most profound crises: […] It is a betrayal. (43)

Yet God called us to keep our word, since he Himself kept His own word, as Duka says:

God gave His word and kept it; He kept it on the Cross in Jesus Christ. […] The Cross is the exaltation of faithful love. The Cross is the exaltation of keeping one's word, of the oath that God gave to mankind[.] (43)

"Efforts to introduce changes in Church doctrine and practice are being persistently inflicted on our Church, not only by fringe theologians on the margins of the Church, but sometimes by people quite high up in the ecclesiastical realm." —John Cardinal Onaiyekan

John Cardinal Onaiyekan, of Nigeria, has a similarly fresh and strong way of reminding the Catholic world of our duties and also of the impending and actual threats to our Faith in the modern world. With a more acute look from a distance upon the dominant Western society, he sees how much the mass media are in control of it. "Those societies ['that claim to be developed'] also control the mass media, through which they almost succeed in misleading the rest of the world along the same line of error they have taken" (64). Modern technology and science have made man believe that he is no longer in need of God, says Onaiyekan. "This is why we have many projects involving the total re-engineering of human nature." These projects also especially alter the view upon the human family, according to the African cardinal:

It is in this context that we should place the tendency to see marriage in a completely different way from what humanity has been used to. This explains why homosexuality and same-sex unions are being vaunted as normal, perhaps even as the preferred option. This is the world we have now around us, with its secularist approach to human society in total disregard for God, even if God is not being explicitly denied. (64)

Cardinal Onaiyekan also expresses his indignation that now, such manipulative, subversive forces are even to be found within the Church herself, that these errors "are now invading our Church":

Efforts to introduce changes in Church doctrine and practice are being persistently inflicted on our Church, not only by fringe theologians on the margins of the Church, but sometimes by people quite high up in the ecclesiastical realm.

An African colleague of Onaiyekan, Robert Cardinal Sarah (of  Guinea) reminds us in his own contribution to the Eleven Cardinals Book of a trenchant quote from G.K. Chesterton: "Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural." In his own presentation, Cardinal Sarah shows the consequences of the loss of the supernatural for the most vulnerable ones, the unborn children in the womb. He has thus formulated these strong and piercing words:

As for the unborn child, he is often regarded as a threat, to the point where it is necessary to protect oneself from him and to wage against him the most merciless chemical warfare. (102)

It is to be hoped that these voices from around the world, coming from princes of the Church with many years of pastoral care, as well as doctrinal study, will be heard at the upcoming Synod on the Family. May their voices have weight and push back the forces of modern society that have invaded the Church and are now trying to eclipse the Truth of Christ – at the expense of the most vulnerable ones: the children, born and unborn.

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