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A Book Review . . . Eleven Cardinals Are An Essential Pre-Synod Voice

September 6, 2015 Featured Today No Comments

By MAIKE HICKSON

This fall, Ignatius Press (www.ignatius.com) is bringing 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 and it represents a kind of pastoral counterpart to the well-known 2014 Five Cardinals Book (also published by Ignatius Press) which refutes the “Kasper proposal” on a more doctrinal and historical, as well as theoretical level.
The Eleven Cardinals book will soon also appear in other languages, such as German and Italian. The eleven cardinals concentrate on the question of how to deal with the current crisis of marriage and the family without thereby undermining the doctrinal teaching of the Church.
It will be an important voice in preparation for the 2015 Synod on the Family since it sums up the experience of many princes of the Church in the field of pastoral care.
For this book, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, the editor of Ignatius Press, specifically looked for cardinals “who are both deeply rooted in the Church’s long tradition and aware of the challenges of contemporary culture,” as he told me. He also forthrightly reminds us that: “Nothing which conflicts with the authoritative teaching can be pastoral.”
And he said that after I had asked him in our interview whether there may be a pastoral approach to moral questions which would go against the continuous teaching of the Church.
Fr. Fessio also assured me that this year’s book is coming out early enough, so that the synod participants may have sufficient time to read the book reflectively ahead of the synod.
Since Fr. Fessio is also publishing a book that specifically deals with the viewpoints of some African cardinals and bishops, I asked him about the distinctively African contributions at the upcoming Synod on the Family.
He answered: “Not being themselves in an affluent region, people there have to work hard to support themselves and their families. They are close to nature and not benumbed by technological gadgets. They therefore have a kind of connaturality with the things of nature — including gender, sex, family, and community. It’s a young Church with strong and vibrant faith. It’s a land of many martyrs — most of them within the last century.”
The eleven cardinals who contributed to Fr. Fessio’s book are the following: Cardinals Carlo Caffarra (Italy), Baselios Cleemis (India), Paul Josef Cordes (Germany), Dominik Duka (Czech Republic), Willem Jacobus Eijk (Netherlands), Joachim Meisner (Germany), John Onaiyekan (Nigeria), Antonio Maria Varela (Spain), Camillo Ruini (Italy), Robert Sarah (Guinea), and Jorge L. Urosa Savino (Venezuela).
This list shows that many parts of the world, with their own specific conditions and problems concerning marriage and the family, are aptly represented in this book.
For the sake of brevity, I shall now sum up some of the contributions of the cardinals, all of which are written in the form of an essay. The essays in the book are not ordered according to the themes, but follow the alphabetical order of the contributors’ names.
Carlo Cardinal Caffarra reminds us that we have to start with the very existence of sin and the mercy of God. While God in His love for mankind foresaw our fall and provided the means for our redemption and salvation in Christ the Redeemer, He still will only grant us forgiveness for our sins if we undergo a true conversion.
This conversion entails two parts: confession and amendment. Cardinal Caffarra says:
“Recognition of one’s own condition of moral misery, one’s own sin: ‘What I did is not right.’ This is the repentance that is expressed in confession. The consequence of this — the second act — is the decision not to do in the future what we acknowledge to be wrong: the resolution.” Applied to the question of the “remarried” divorcees, this principle clearly rules out the proposal to allow them to receive the Sacraments since they do not repent their living in the state of sin.
Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes also refutes the idea that there could be a change in the Church’s moral teaching. He shows with the help of historical examples that the indissolubility of marriage has been taught and defended by the Church from the beginning. He also wonders what the effects of the implementation of the “Kasper proposal” would have on marriages in crisis: “Might a concession allowing divorced and remarried persons to receive the sacraments send the wrong signal to spouses who were experiencing tensions and thereby weaken their own resolution to be faithful?”
Cordes criticizes the idea — as proposed by the German Bishop Franz-Josef Bode — of taking those Catholics who live in an irregular state as the proper 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.”
Wilhelm Jacobus Cardinal Eijk presents also once more the Church’s teaching on marriage. He says:
“The Magisterium has always been clear and decisive about the indissolubility of a ratified and consummated marriage and about the absolute prohibition of divorce followed by a new marriage.” He also quotes Pope Pius VII with the words that second “marriages” “should not be called nuptials, but rather adulterous unions.”
Eijk reminds us: “The Church’s longstanding practice and repeated pronouncements of the Magisterium that a divorced and civilly remarried person cannot be admitted to Communion are standards indicating that this is an unchangeable doctrine.”
The influence of Communism upon the whole world with regard to the family is being discussed in the Eleven Cardinals book, as well. Since the 1848 Communist Manifesto, says the Czech Dominik Cardinal Duka, OP, there has been a continuous attack upon the family. He reminds us that “thousands of millions of the earth’s inhabitants [are] living under totalitarian dictatorships.”
And he continues: “Indeed, the Marxist concept of class struggle has become a tool of depth psychology as well, in countries where the confessor has been replaced by therapists, by psychologists, and the logical consequence of this has been the rejection of the family.”
With strong words, this cardinal also does not hesitate to condemn in a moral way those people who break their marriages and thereby inflict much suffering upon an abandoned spouse and the children. He says:
“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 breakup of marriage, we have to realize that this is one of the most profound crises:. . . . It is a betrayal. . . . .But what do we expect from a soldier who ought to protect the post assigned to him, not to mention a household sheltering a mother with children?”
With these words, Duka points to a way of dealing with separation and divorce, namely by calling the wrongdoer to his duty, instead of pandering to his vice.

Sharing The Joy

As Baselios Cardinal Cleemis shows, in the Catholic Church in India — unlike in the countries in the West — marriage and the family are still regarded as being very important for the Church. Practically, this means that bishops and priests take much interest in wedding celebrations, and it is not seldom that ten or more priests will be present at a wedding liturgy, together with the local bishop.
Cleemis describes how a European guest observed this generous presence of the clergy at the wedding he attended and thus asked a priest why this is the case.
Cleemis says: “One of our priests gave him this answer: ‘In our Church, marriage is a great, joyful event for all concerned, including the Church, and a very decisive event for the couple and their families. We share our joy with them’.”
This strong support which the family receives here is a wonderful sustaining grace for the families, in order that they may overcome possible difficulties and formidable future challenges.

God’s Will And Marriage

John Cardinal Onaiyekan has much good to say about our properly facing the actual threats to our faith in the modern world. With a more acute look from a distance upon the dominant elements of 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 [already] taken.”
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 this African cardinal, who sees that marriage is seen in a “completely different way from what humanity has been used to.” He continues:
“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.”
The African cardinal sees that these forces are now “invading our Church,” as well, even from “high up in the ecclesiastical realm.”
We close this short synopsis of the voices of the Eleven Cardinals with a quote from Robert Cardinal Sarah who describes the terrible consequences of the modern spirit upon the most vulnerable ones, the unborn children: “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.”
This book contains many fresh and encouraging insights that come from much pastoral experience, and which, when put together, could help the entire Catholic Church more wisely in her struggle for the defense of marriage and the family. These insights would also help families to find ways of receiving healing and trustworthy support without thereby undermining Christ’s teaching on marriage and the family.
It is to be hoped that a message will come out of the upcoming synod that clearly and unequivocally strengthens large families and loyal marriages according to God’s will.

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