Review: Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family

Editor’s Note: the following is a review of the recently published Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family – Essays from a Pastoral Standpoint, Edited by Winfried Aymans, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2015.

The eleven Cardinals who wrote these essays are united in their concern to preserve the constant teachings on family against erroneous proposals that surfaced for the Extraordinary Synod of last year. Here we are not only talking of the initiative of Walter Cardinal Kasper, but also of proposals to take a more positive view towards cohabitating couples, and proposals to adopt language that would undermine the teaching of the Church against the practice of homosexuality.

This valuable work underlines the need to communicate in a clear and precise way the teachings of the Church on marriage and family, especially given the growing difficulties in presenting this message to a secularized society that rejects the message of the Christ.

11cardinalsA second and far more concerning problem in presenting the Church’s teaching on marriage is the dissent that has surfaced within the Church on the nature of marriage as it was manifested in the Extraordinary Synod. In Eleven Cardinals John Cardinal Onaiyekan mentions how “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. This is what we saw during the 2014 synod.”

In this book, all of the contributors who consider the initiative of Walter Cardinal Kasper strongly reject it, showing that it is contrary to the constant teachings of the Church. Several Cardinals express their serious concern that that the pastoral practice of the Church has not always lived up to her constant teachings on family and marriage and they provide concrete examples. Joachim Cardinal Meisner underlines the low level of preparation that it is offered in Germany and that, “preaching about the truth, meaning, and sense of sexuality in Germany is practically nonexistent.” Cardinal Urosa points out how secularism has entered into the Church, manifesting itself, among other ways, in disrespectful attitudes toward the celebration of the liturgy, providing several examples of decay in the Church.

Some of the contributors consider the question of marriage preparation, distinguishing between a distant preparation that will teach or strengthen the faith of the future spouses, and the short-term preparation that would prepare them to receive the sacrament. All insist that it is necessary to introduce substantial improvements in the immediate preparation for marriage. Robert Cardinal Sarah additionally points out that marriage preparation must become an instruction in the faith, because very often one is dealing with couples that do not even know the most basic teachings of the faith. If an engaged couple does not accept the teachings of the faith on marriage, they cannot be admitted into the sacrament. This preparation should lead the couple to know and to be freely committed to practice the faith. Many underline the importance of a strong pastoral care during married life.

The contribution of Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna, is a very insightful work on “Mercy and Conversion.” He underlines well how Divine Mercy and man’s sinfulness meet: “The divine dimension of this encounter is called forgiveness; the human dimension is called conversion.” God takes the initiative with His death on the Cross and sets in motion the finite freedom of man, who has to respond with his repentance to receive mercy. Cardinal Caffara shows well that if forgiveness does not change the direction of man’s life, he does not convert, so “we cannot truly say that man has been forgiven.” He denounces contemporary grave distortions of Divine Mercy, like those who deny the need for conversion but still demand mercy. This has great relevance for those who are divorced and civilly remarried, cohabitating couples, or are living in homosexual situations. For a person living in any of those situations to receive mercy, he must give up the sinful condition in which he is living.

Baselios Cardinal Cleemis, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, in “Marriage and Family: A Covenant with God in His Church” provides an encouraging theological and pastoral perspective from the vantage point of his rite.

In “Without Rupture or Discontinuity”, Paul Joseph Cardinal Cordes presents a historical review, in which he clearly notes that the Church has never made exceptions to the fundamental principle of indissolubility of marriage. He denounces the contemporary attempt of deriving the content of dogma from human experience. This problem, he notes, presented itself during the discussions on the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World in the II Vatican Council. He shows how the New Testament commands the exclusivity and permanence of every marital bond, underlining how the early Christian community, “grasped the fact: Someone who breaks marital unity and enters a new union is not acting according to God’s will: he commits adultery.” This has remained an unequivocal, binding teaching of the Church.

I agree with the author that spiritual communion is a totally valuable practice, but I respectfully disagree with his opinion, shared by some fellow contributors, that divorced and civilly remarried persons can receive spiritual communion: rather, they are impeded because they are in an objective state of sin. They can express to the Lord their strong wish and longing to receive communion and this desire certainly would assist them to receive all the graces necessary for due repentance, but this desire should not be confused with spiritual communion.

Dominik Cardinal Duka, O.P., the Archbishop of Praga, in his essay “Reflections on the Family”, presents brief considerations of the current lack of fidelity to the commitments made in marriage and in religious life and shows that they are a form of betrayal.

Willem Jacobus Cardinal Ejik, Archbishop of Utrech, in his article “Can Divorced and Civilly Remarried Persons Receive Communion?” notes well how Scripture and tradition have ruled out communion in this case. After a good analysis of the Scriptural evidence he points out that that a second civil “marriage” is not, in the words of of Pius VII, another marriage, but is rather a form of structured and institutionalized adultery. He underlines how the solution

is not primarily in speculating about a possible nullity of marriage because of a faulty knowledge of the faith or a lack of faith per se on the part of those who contracted it. Nor should we seek the solution in a simplification of the procedure for declaring nullity of marriage or in a special penitential process aimed at creating the possibility of receiving Communion without putting an end to the adulterous relationship.

The solution is rather to teach the faith more adequately and clearly than we have in the last half-century, including a twofold proposal for priests who prepare couples for marriage:

1. Every couple who present themselves for the sacrament of matrimony must receive thorough preparation, consisting of at least five or as many as ten meetings, which are to provide a clear and effective explanation of the central truths of the Church’s doctrine, especially those truths regarding marriage and sexuality.

2. Whenever couples present themselves for a marriage in the Church, one should have the courage to ask them explicitly whether they accept the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. When the answer is uncertain or negative, it is necessary to dissuade them from marrying in the Church and, in their own interests, (the Church has) to be more selective in admitting such couples to the sacrament of matrimony.

Joachim Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop emeritus of Cologne, in “Marriage Preparation – The Challenges of Today,” notes how marriage preparation should not be, “limited to a few months before the wedding. It essentially begins with the education of young children.” With regards to short term preparation he underlines two basic points. First, he notes the relation between love and fruitfulness as it was taught by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. Couples should be taught Natural Family Planning to act in accordance with responsible parenthood. Second, he argues that the external signs of love should correspond to spiritual love if they want to be genuine because the only legitimate place for sexual communion is marriage.

John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria in “Marriage in Our Contemporary World – Pastoral Observations from an African Perspective,” makes a very interesting presentation of the pastoral challenges that face the Church in Africa. It is very encouraging how he presents the foremost value of offspring in African culture.

Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, Archbishop emeritus of Madrid, presents “Witness to the Truth of the Gospel of the Family – An Urgent Pastoral Challenge for the Church to Set Out on the Journey of Third Millennium.” He describes many contemporary challenges of our times with a sense of hope because of the constant yearning that we find in the young for the truth on marriage and family. Considering by the attack on natural law in the Instrumentum Laboris of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, he underlines that, “Nothing is more existentially necessary or more historically urgent than to return to an acknowledgment of the natural law that founds, supports, and orders marriage, above and beyond any historical constellation of factors.”

Camillo Cardinal Ruini, Vicar General emeritus of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome, presents “The Gospel of the Family in the Secularized West,” showing a degree of openness to consider a revision of the process of declaration of nullity of marriages. At the same time he warns, however: “It is very important, however, that any change of procedure must not become a pretext for granting in a surreptitious manner what in reality would be divorces: hypocrisy of this nature would bring great harm to the whole Church.” He considers in a very precise way the question of the requirement of faith to contract marriage. He concludes that a baptized person that does not have faith cannot contract a valid sacramental marriage.

Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, presents a very thought-provoking study in “Marriage Preparation in a Secularized World.”

He presents well the major themes of marital life. He starts with the notion of “freedom and self-giving forever.” Marriage leads to a choice that is properly prepared through Christ’s guidance and has to be renewed daily. Arguing strongly that one should accept the biological and spiritual reality of one’s sexual identity, Cardinal Sarah says this should lead us to see both the difference and the complementarity between man and woman that the Western world wants to deny. In considering a couple’s movement from celibacy to marriage, he shows how they must balance their mutual love with the love of their respective families, but giving priority to their love.

Cardinal Sarah reminds us of the forgotten truth that to love another requires loving oneself first. He shows how communication is at the service of communion, noting wisely that we have to listen with the heart. Dealing with professional life, domestic life, and personal life, he shows how these three lives have to be kept in balance and preserved, emphasizing personal life as a time for prayer and personal growth. He makes very balanced comments about the work of married women outside the home. In a section entitled “Body and Sexuality,” he presents a well-founded explanation to live the engagement period in continence and recommends instruction on Natural Family Planning.

In his section on the sacramental order, Cardinal Sarah shows that a fervent and consistent witness of Christian couples and parish communities is essential. To cure the lack of faith, he argues further, we need to put the Cross back at the center: suffering in union with Christ is a dimension of Christian marriage. We should always remember that Jesus does not load us with a burden that is too heavy to carry. The engaged couple has to share prayer and the sacraments in their preparation for married life, which is a path to holiness.

Jorge L. Cardinal Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela, in “Christian Marriage – The Reality and Pastoral Care,” presents a good summary of the teachings of the Church on marriage, underlining the importance of proclaiming the faith in an integral way with joyful enthusiasm. He encourages us: “We must not allow ourselves to be contaminated by secularism and should forget about trying to be modern in a world that is anti-religious.”

As we prepare ourselves for the coming Synod on the Family, I would strongly suggest reading and meditating upon many of the valuable insights of this book, which together clarify many contemporary issues. Hopefully many of the members of the synod will benefit from the contributions of this book as well.

Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro is the director of Human Life International's office in Rome. He was ordained a priest for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York on Nov. 14, 1987. From the beginning of his priestly ministry, Monsignor Barreiro was involved in the Pro-Life and Traditional Latin Mass apostolates. He received his licentiate and doctorate degree in Systematic Theology from the University of the Holy Cross, in Rome, Italy. For a period of time in the 1990s, Msgr. Barreiro served in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Since September 1998, Msgr. Barreiro has been the Executive Director of the Rome office of Human Life International. In Rome, he started an apostolate with priests and seminarians from all over the world who are studying in the Eternal City. Msgr. Barreiro has published hundreds of articles on theological and life issues, and historical subjects in popular and scholarly publications. He was appointed a Chaplain of His Holiness on March 26, 2004.
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