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Cardinal Godfried Danneels, former archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels Wikimedia Commons
Pat Buckley

The Pulse,

Cardinal Danneels’ message at the Synod was subtle, but misguided

Pat Buckley

The interventions presented by cardinals and bishops to the Synod on the Family are not being made public by the Synod press office but daily bulletins are being released which give some highlights of the proceedings of each session without attributing them to anyone. The press office is exercising a stringent level of censorship, nevertheless some interventions are finding their way into the press and the blogosphere.

The intervention by Belgian Cardinal, Godfried Cardinal Danneels, for example has already been published. The attitude of Cardinal Danneels, who is one of the Synod fathers personally selected by Pope Francis, is well known particularly for opposing Church teaching on marriage. LifeSiteNews reported in June 2013 that Danneels referred to “gay marriage” laws as a “positive development.”

“I think it’s a positive development that states are free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want,” the cardinal told the Dutch language newspaper De Tijd, even as he said he thinks such unions should be given a different name than marriage.

The tone of Danneels intervention at the Synod was carefully measured and to illustrate his comments on mercy he once again returned to the topic of communion for Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried while their first marriage remains valid in the eyes of the Church.

“There should be no immediate focus on the painful question of Communion being denied to those who have entered into a second marriage. True listening carries healing within it,” he said.

The approach suggested by Cardinal Daneels appears to be very one-sided and seems to either ignore or forget the pain and hurt of the abandoned spouse, who is the other party to the indissoluble marriage, and the children of that marriage.

The indissolubility of marriage was taught to the Apostles and the Church by Jesus Himself and His command was to go out and teach all nations. He did not say that they must dialogue or compromise or accommodate other teachings.

The entire text of Cardinal Daneels intervention is set out below:

“God is just and merciful. He can’t contradict himself. He can separate good and evil in a great straddle. We, we have difficulty because we are only poor ballet dancers for a moment in the whole of history.

It is up to us, poor sinners, to find ways of mercy which do not deny the truth; to find a way for the times in which we live and for every culture. It is up to us to find ways of mercy.

I will limit myself to a single way of mercy, which is so necessary today. Many are confronted with the failure of their first marriage and have committed themselves to a second marriage which, however, is neither valid for the Church, nor sacramental. Today there are many people in this situation. What do we do for them? They often desire regularisation but known that there are no options. While many fall away there are others who suffer much. What do we do for all these brothers and sisters who desire to be able to marry anew for the Church?

I regularly think that we could established something in the Church like the catechumenate and the ordo penitentium of the past, for which the Church could be a mother. Actually, what matters is more is to organise some pastoral care for divorced and remarried people, and less about an institutional change. How to form priests and laity for this specific ministry like, in the past, for the catechumens and for those in the process of receiving pardon for their sin?

In the first place we are invited to greatly respect our brothers and sisters, the divorced and remarried. Mercy starts where we have unconditional respect for all who want to live within the Church but can’t marry again for the Church and receive Communion.

The same respect is due to every actual marriage. Some carry within them the seeds waiting for spring. Very often divorced and remarried faithful are consciously or subconsciously looking for a way out. But there is no way out. In many cases couples are on the way to the ideal they so desire. Respect must be the ministry of our Mother the Church a ministry which sees the growth, the journey.

How to create space in the mission of the Church for a ministry for divorced and remarried people? In the first place, let us try and find these people. Many are hiding and dare not speak about it, sometimes not even with their partner. There is much hidden suffering. It is up to us priests to search for the sheep who want to come home but do not have the courage to say so.

Let us invite these people to come together, to meet and listen to one another, but in the presence of the shepherd. A shepherd who listens with his heart. There should be no immediate focus on the painful question of Communion being denied to those who have entered into a second marriage. True listening carries healing within it.

It is so important to speak with them, to let them speak about the beauty of marriage and the Christian family. Beauty is so powerful! This is obviously not esthetic beauty, but beauty who is the sister of truth and goodness. According to Aristotle “beauty is truth in all its glory”. Pulchrum est splendor veri.

Among our contemporaries there is much scepticism about the truth; even goodness can discourage, but beauty disarms. Beauty heals. Archimedes said about our world today, “Give me a place to stand and I will lift the world.”

The divorced and remarried are not the only suffering children, but there are far more than we think. My appeal – in all simplicity – is: to love God’s children. Their pain and suffering is often great. They don’t immediately ask for the regulations of the Church to change. Their cry is rather one to the shepherds with their hearts in the right place, why carry the wounded lamb on their shoulders. Beauty disarms. We hold the cards: there is indeed nothing more beautiful than Christian marriage and a deeply faithful family. But we must communicate the truth to divorced and remarried people – delicately – with the words of Saint Francis in mind, which he spoke to the superiors of his small communities, “never let anyone leave you in sadness”.

+ Godfried Cardinal Danneels,

Rome, 8 October 2014

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