The synod on the family: "The divorced and remarried seem excommunicated"
ROME.- The extraordinary synod of bishops held last October on the challenges posed by the family was just the beginning of a process which shall finalize in October, next year, with another synod, the Pope being the ultimate guarantor. When he was asked about this issue during the interview, Francis maintained that he is not afraid of the synod road which they have begun to walk. He did admit there were different positions and stated that the doctrine of the Church on marriage was not addressed, except for the issue of divorced Catholics who have remarried, and he stated that "nobody brought up the issue of gay marriage".
- The recent extraordinary synod of bishops on the family allowed two different visions of the Church to surface, one sector open to debate and the other one refusing to hear anything about it. Is this the case, what do you think?
- I wouldn´t say that´s quite so... True enough, if you wish to simplify in order to explain things, we might say that there were a few more on this side, or on the other side. What we benefitted from was the synodal process, which is no parliamentarian process but rather a protected space where the Holy Spirit may endeavour. Two clear qualities are needed: courage to speak and humbleness to listen. And that worked very well. There are, indeed, positions more inclined this way or that way, but in the pursuit of truth. You could ask me "are there any that are completely stubborn and won´t move from their positions?". Yes, there surely are. But that is not my concern. It´s a question of praying for the Holy Spirit to convert them, if any. The prevailing feeling was a brotherly one, trying to find a way to tackle the family´s pastoral issues. The family is so beaten up, young people don´t get married. What´s the problem? When they finally come to get married, having already moved in together, we think it´s enough to offer them three talks to get them ready for marriage. But it´s not enough because the great majority are unaware of the meaning of a lifetime commitment. Benedict said it twice in his last year, that we should takethis into account in order to grant nullity, each person´s faith at the time of getting married. Was it something general, though understanding perfectly well what marriage is about, understanding it enough to convey it to another person? That´s something we need to look into in depth, to analyse how wecan help...
A few days ago, a couple who are living together came to tell me that they were getting married. I said: "Good. Are you ready for it?" And their answer was: "Yes, now we are looking for a church which suits my dress best", the girl said. "Yes, right now we´re in the middle of all the preparations -the invitations, souvenirs and all the rest", the boy echoed. "There´s also the issue of the party, we cannot make up our minds because we don´t want the reception to be hosted too far from the church. And then there´s the other issue, our best man and maid of honour are divorced, same as my parents, so we can´t have both of them together". All these issues are about the ceremony! Indeed, getting married should be celebrated, because you need courage to get married and that should be commended. However, neither of them made any comment at all on what this meant to them, the fact that it was a lifetime commitment. What do I mean? That for a great many people getting married is just a social event. The religious element doesn´t surface in the least. So how can the church step in and help? If they are not ready, do we slam the door in their face? It is no minor issue.
- Conservative sectors, specially in the United States, fear that the traditional doctrine will collapse, they say the synod caused confusion because though it did mention the "positive nuances" of living together, and gay couples were mentioned in the draft, although the bishops then backed off..
- The synod was a process; the opinion of a synodal father was just that, the opinion of a synodal father; and a first draft was merely a first draft meant to record it all. Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod, it did not cross our minds. What we did talk about was of how a family with a homosexual child, whether a son or a daughter, goes about educating that child, how the family bears up, how to help that family to deal with that somewhat unusual situation. That is to say, the synod addressed the family and the homosexual persons in relation to their families, because we come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation. This happened to me several times in Buenos Aires. We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter. That´s what the synod addressed. That´s why someone mentioned positive factors in the first draft. But this was just a draft.
- Some people fear that the traditional doctrine shall collapse...
- You know, some people are always afraid because they don´t read things properly, or they read some news in a newspaper, an article, and they don´t read what the synod decided, what was published. What was worthwhile about the synod? The post synodal connection and the Pope`s address. That is definitive, but it will eventually become relative and provisional, turning into a "guideline" for the next synod. I think some fathers made a mistake when they talked to the media. We decided that each one of us would grant as many interviews as he liked, with total freedom, no censorship was imposed. We chose transparency. Why did we choose briefings or not? For two reasons: in the first place because written presentations were handed over first and we might find something in them, or nothing at all, or they changed things and thus were not the real thing. In the second place, to protect that person. And this is what really matters to me. If this were a Parliament, we would have to account to our principal, i.e. the local church. But this is not a Parliament and this man must be free to speak up without having to keep anything to himself, though nobody needs to know that he said this or the other. Disclosing what was said is OK, that´s why in the briefing we explained that we had said this, that or the other. Different bishops who had different approaches, but we will all move on together. We had to protect our work so that the Holy Spirit might move forward. I am not afraid.
- Afraid of what?
- Afraid of following this trail, the road of the synod. I am not afraid because it is the road that God has asked us to follow. More so, the Pope is the ultimate guarantor, the Pope is there to care for the process. We must move forward. In my last address I said something interesting, I pointed out that we had not addressed any part of the doctrine of the Church concerning marriage. In the case of divorcees who have remarried, we posed the question, what do we do with them? What door can we allow them to open? This was a pastoral concern: will we allow them to go to Communion? Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration. They have not been excommunicated, true. But they cannot be godfathers to any child being baptized, mass readings are not for divorcees, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach Sunday school, there are about seven things that they cannot do, I have the list over there. Come on! If I disclose any of this it will seem that they have been excommunicated in fact! Thus, let us open the doors a bit more. Why cant they be godfathers and godmothers? "No, no, no, what testimony will they be giving their godson?". The testimony of a man and a woman saying "my dear, I made a mistake, I was wrong here, but I believe our Lord loves me, I want to follow God, I was not defeated by sin, I want to move on". Anything more Christian than that? And what if one of the political crooks among us, corrupt people, ate chosen to be somebody´s godfather. If they are properly wedded by the Church, would we accept them? What kind of testimony will they give to their godson? A testimony of corruption? Things need to change, our standards need to change.
- What do you think about the solution put forward by the German cardinal Walter Kasper?
- Kasper´s address to the cardinals last February included five chapters, four of them are a jewel, about the purpose of marriage, open, in depth. The fifth is the question of what do we do with divorcees who have remarried; they are part of our congregation after all. Kasper´s hypothesis is not his own. Let´s look into that. What happened? Some theologians feared such assumptions and that is keeping our heads down. Kasper urged us to seek hypothesis, i.e., he made the first move. And some panicked. And went as far as to say: Communion, never. Only spiritual Communion. And tell me, don´t we need the grace of God to receive spiritual communion? That´s why spiritual communion obtained the fewest votes in the relatio synodi, because nobody was in agreement. Those for it, because there´s not much to it, voted against it; and those who are not for it and would rather go for the other one, because it´s not worth it.