On Friday, the Vatican will publish Pope Francis’ summary document on the Synod on the Family — ‘Amoris laetitia’ (the Joy of Love).

Ahead of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation's release, and to gain a sense of what some bishops are thinking about the synod outside the anglosphere, here below is the full text of an interview that Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga gave last week to EWTN Germany’s Robert Rauhut.

During their discussion, Archbishop Hoser, a synod father at the two meetings, explains what the Church means by "sacramental marriage". He also discusses the debate over holy Communion for remarried divorcees, and speaks of a “pseudo-merciful” attitude in the Church today, deriving from a mentality of “political correctness” which avoids uncomfortable truths. "Correcting the sinner belongs to the good deeds for the soul," he says. "And that is not being practiced today."

Archbishop Hoser also discusses the Catholic understanding of marriage, the need for coherence in Church doctrine and pastoral practice, the lack of St. John Paul II’s teaching at the Synod, what Europeans can learn from Africa, “decentralization” of the Church, and the demand for a “new language” in the Church.


Your Excellency, beginning with a definition: what do we understand today as a “Sacramental Marriage” from a Catholic perspective? Until now, the understanding was clear, but not every participant in the Synod on the Family sees it so clearly today.

The Sacrament of Marriage is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. We see it in the perspective of a covenant. It is an exemplification and incarnation on the level of certain individuals of God’s covenant with His people and later of Jesus Christ with His Church. In St. Paul’s theology, it is clearly shown that the Sacrament of Marriage is - in a way - the image of this relationship, which binds Jesus Christ to the Church and the Church to Jesus Christ. It is a covenantal relationship, a relationship of love, and a relationship of mutual gift. Jesus Christ lives completely for and gives himself entirely to the Church; the Church gives herself wholly to Jesus Christ and lives for Him. In this “model,” the reality of the Sacrament of Marriage is reflected. We believe – just as with every other sacrament – that this sacrament is also instituted by God. It is a sacrament of the New Testament.

When Jesus Christ speaks twice of the essence of the marital sacrament, he refers to the grace of means that we have to return to God’s original plan in reference to human love. God’s original plan later became defaced in various ways primarily by the fall of man. Jesus spoke of the “hardness of the heart.” This led to a concession with respect to the radical demand, which is expressed in the sentence, “What God has joined together, let no human being separate.” Two should be in one body. Those are all aspects, which belong to the Sacrament of Marriage that became elevated to a sacrament in the new covenant. That means Christ, as “Guarantor of human love,” takes part in this marriage as a sign of his presence in the sacramental reality.

And from this, the principle of the indissolubility of marriage emerges, which is already given in “natural marriages.” For the indissolubility of marriage cannot merely be explained by juridical and canonical terms, but by a lifelong fidelity. If God is always faithful, then humanity should answer God with its fidelity, which man does not arrange. The human person has such a great significance in the eyes of God that the human person cannot be a “transient being.” The person cannot be something that initially binds itself to another and then abandons it. And this is because the person enters into its deepest intimacy and joins itself to its compliment. These are important arguments so that the relationship endures. Therefore, the Sacrament of Marriage has this such form and content in the Latin Church, as we have tried to demonstrate. The ministers and caretakers of the sacrament are the married couple themselves because they mutually present each other the “gift of their person.” That is the greatest kind of gift a person can give - herself. That prevails over all material gifts.

In catecheses, I like to point out that someone can give another person a flower, a bouquet, an expensive ring, a car, or a house, but above all such gifts is the gift of oneself to another. And that is the essence of marriage and covenant.

Did you perceive attempts to challenge the sacramentality of marriage during the Synod on the Family? And if so, what nature did these attempts take?

The sacramentality of marriage was not challenged and I have not perceived any such attempts.

However, such attempts were taken with respect to the consequences and effects of marriage. It is a very difficult problem to solve when a marital bond has loosened, a relationship between two people is torn and they separate and form new relationships, which are no longer sacramental and no longer have this character, this special grace, as in the sacrament... On a certain level, they try to rebuild what they lost. Nevertheless, they do so on the ruins of a sacramental marriage.

Can someone build a second happy marriage on the ruins of the first?

In every divorce, in every separation, there is an element of injustice and guilt. It is tremendously difficult to determine the proportion of this injustice and the responsibility for what happened. It is often a shared responsibility. But what was missing there? Missing were the efforts to reconcile, to forgive, to agree, to turn around. That was certainly missing. And people went in the opposite direction. For a start, love must be just — that means not hurting anyone.

Justice is the basis of such a covenant that it is symmetric. It cannot be damaging to a person. A second thing I want to say is that it must be good, that what is called “charité” in French. It means this “good love;” for example, when we speak of a person who has died, “He was a good person; he loved me.” A third element that builds marital relationships is mercy: that means when I am aware of my spouse’s weaknesses, sins, and limits, which are distinguished and different from me and mine, I must accept that and tolerate these weaknesses and be able to forgive because I too have such weaknesses, sins and limits. Once again, this is about mutuality. It is, therefore, a mutual compassion in which we forgive each other’s sins, guilt, weaknesses and inadequacies. Then, the atmosphere is cleared up and we can go on our way. Without forgiving each other, there is no happy marriage! Marriage is not the idyllic honeymoon. It must give a resolve and a will to build a common house. Now there was the attempt to brush away the consequences of a broken marriage. People try to forget. They don’t work on what has happened. And for me, a very essential question in this discussion is: “If we call for Holy Communion for remarried divorcees, it is a question of whether forgiveness has been reached between this person and their abandoned spouse.” If forgiveness has not been reached, then God cannot forgive. We pray: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

And if there is no forgiveness here, then there is also a deprivation of admission to the Sacrament of Holy Communion because this communion is “not effective” since the communion with Jesus Christ – the participant and guarantor of the marital covenant - was also broken. Therefore, new relationships have an adulterous character. Objectively seen, they are an “adulterous marriage,” which Jesus clearly and expressis verbis said. These sentences were, however, not cited at the Synod on the Family. He said this twice, for example in the Gospel of Matthew in chapters 5 and 19. And we also find it very explicitly in the 10th chapter of Mark’s Gospel. It was not seen, it was not made aware. And this, in my opinion, was a tremendous shortcoming of the Synod on the Family.

How can it be that these key statements were missing?

You’re absolutely right, how can it be that these key statements were missing? Now there are already no reprimands in the Instrumentum Laboris. But today there is a mentality of “political correctness” and of false politeness in which one avoids what is uncomfortable and doesn’t point with the finger. We know that correcting the sinner belongs to the good deeds for the soul. And that is not being practiced today. The term “sin” appears egregiously seldom in the texts. The term, “mercy” will be used in any and all cases on every page and at every turn. The term “sin” is avoided in all debates.

Do you see a targeted action in this?

This is actually dictated by a “pseudo-merciful attitude.” One cannot practice mercy without reference to two other aspects: the first is justice. We spoke about it, where injustice happened. The other is truth. You have to realize in which situation one finds oneself. I myself am of the opinion that there is no possibility to allow remarried divorcés living a marital life to Holy Communion, so long as the spouse is still alive. All essential elements of the communion simply do not exist. The Communio with the spouse is broken and therefore this marital relationship contradicts the fundamental and exemplary covenant of Jesus Christ and the Church.

The evidence of Sacred Scripture as well as the teaching of the Church are clear in this respect. Nevertheless, this question is widely discussed in the German context. Would a change be an admission that, after 500 years, Martin Luther was indeed right when he called marriage a “worldly thing?”

We do not say that Martin Luther was right. The Catholic Church does not say this. It is not a matter of the secular rather of the sacred and sacramental.

That, however, was forgotten a bit, even by some Synod fathers.

It’s a curiously selective amnesia.

Some people see, in Germany certainly, a possibility prior to the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in the coming year that the Catholic Church and Protestantism can come closer together through a change?

That is certainly the case. Since many elements of the so-called conciliar renewal, including the liturgy, existed in a “protestantization” of the liturgy, an outgrowth of the Liturgy of the Word and a divestiture of the liturgy in the Catholic Church of many elements that were considered unnecessary and superfluous. And so the Mass was driven down to the minimum, which was never necessary. I know that at some Masses on Sundays in Germany, the Creed is not prayed because it is supposedly too long. The Gloria is also shortened because it is too long and so on. A sentence is simply sung and repeated and then that’s too long.

One problem that is widespread in German cultural circles is the objectivity of the Sacrament of Marriage as a God-gifted reality, which depicts no “matter of disposal,” with which people can do as they please. What then are the consequences of challenging the objectivity of the Sacrament of Marriage?

Today, that is, above all, a conflict between objectivity, objectivism, and subjectivism. Pope John Paul II wrote a while ago the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor – “The Splendor of Truth.”

Objective truth is the verification, the test, and the reference point for subjective truth. Therefore, objectivism and objectivity are extremely important. Please note that this objectivity today is required in the hard sciences and in the natural sciences, in physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics and so on. On the other hand, this objectivity completely forfeited its existential ground in the human sciences. And therefore the latter is situated today in a poor condition. Further, what really is objective – the existence of a human nature – is being denied.

Today, the existence of human nature is denied. If we doubt that human nature is something objective, we have no common denominator for all of mankind.

The consequence would be relativism.

Very clearly, the consequence is relativism and the diversion of personal opinion, which must enter into negotiations with one another over and over again.

So searching for a consensus, as at the Synod on the Family, for example, where a vote is taken on the truth?

Consensus today is the mechanism of negotiation. People sit together so long as one does not reach a consensus through negotiations. That is also a departure from the objective truth. The Pope has, however, clearly underlined that the Synod is not a parliament. The truth will not be defined by votes. The synodality of the Church does not only exist cum Petro but also sub Petro. He has the final word. If the final document of the Synod does not bear the Pope’s signature, then it is not a document of the Church’s teaching office, rather only an opinion of the Synod.

But the Synod should already have a result, right?

We all are waiting for the Holy Father to decide on certain things.

Let’s return once again to the question on objectivity, which is also bound with conscience. Conscience is the last standard, right?

Conscience is always the last standard of each action that possesses a moral character. We orient ourselves by conscience. But what is conscience? Conscience is a moral judgment that points out what is good and what is bad. But there is a condition. It must be a rightly formed conscience; it must be a just conscience. It must have reference to objectivity.

In the context of the pre-synodal and synodal discussions, there are also Synod fathers who challenge that there are such things as an “intrinsece malum,” an “intrinsically evil action?”

That is their opinion. That is not the teaching of the Church. It is clear, however, certainly those would agree that, for example, theft is something intrinsically evil. They certainly do not want to be robbed. Murder is also such a thing, [the] violation of some innocent person. There are a large number of situations where one does not challenge this. It is only questioned when it is comfortable for one.

Let’s return again to the question on objectivity. If we talk about objective God-given realities, directly with respect to the Sacrament of Marriage, then nobody can change this, not a bishop or even the Pope, right?

He can’t change it. And we are aware of this. The concern at the Synod is to ensure that there are no controversies between the doctrine and the pastoral praxis, so that the pastoral practice does not contradict the doctrine. They must be harmonized. Absolutely. Our pastoral praxis must be derived from the doctrine, from what we believe, from what the official teaching of the Church is, and from our faith.

Is that connected to the awareness that the truth can then not be decided by a vote?

The principle is very simple: the truth is discovered, not created. The point is: the discovery of truth. Of course there are votes in advisory committees. They are like directional signs and speedometers. If the majority is not in agreement about something, they must work further on the question in order to reach an approbation because some things are understood falsely or are not clear, etc. Of course there should be unanimity in the questions on faith and morality. In the praxis of administration and in canonical practice, there can be differences. There are different liturgies, different traditions and so on. Those are the things that are debatable, that can be changed. That which concerns faith and morality must be unconditionally accepted. The integral faith lies therein.

Nevertheless, can something dubious or false be rubber-stamped through consensus?

I want to underline that the Holy Father is the guarantor. He is also the guarantor of the unity of the Church. And he must not succumb to the appeal of a majority decision, if he perceives that this does not concur with the Depositum fidei.

One of the Synod fathers has however underlined that if something were to be underlined, it wouldn’t change and many would begin to ask themselves: why, then, was it underlined?

The Church has her teachings, her truths of faith, which underlie an inner development, but not an essential change. Vincent of Lerins emphasized this in reference to a child. A child has a few essential elements. It grows, but its essential body plan does not change. Little hands – big hands; little arms – big arms. Likewise, the dogmatic development persists that we always discover more definitive things, but they do not change. There are prayers from the Middle Ages in which belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception was known long before the Church solemnly proclaimed this dogma. This points strictly to the dogmatic development and not to say that Mary did not conceive immaculately, in other words, was free from original sin.

When you look back at Instrumentum Laboris, to what extent could this document have formed the basis for the final report?

As a basis? As raw material. An Instrumentum Laboris is premature; a document that has little electricity. It is compiled from different fragments like a mosaic. There are many repetitions. There are many imprecise terms. It is often a “basket of propositions” from different views, which requires systematizing and synthesizing that takes place in the small language groups. And then all the “modes” [proposed changes] went to the commission, which then synthesized them all again. And through this filtration, the document matures.

Some Synod fathers announced that the majority possessed a decisive opinion on the discussed questions. How did you observe this?

You can criticize the Synod outright for being euro-centrically shaped. At the Synod, we had people from the whole world here. But of course, the dimension of prayer plays an important role. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.

You spoke of the missing connection to certain but very important words of Jesus Christ to the Synod’s discussed questions. What other shortcomings have you observed?

In my opinion - and I will always emphasize this - it is missing the awareness and appreciation of Pope John Paul II’s teaching. The Holy Father Francis described him as the “Pope of the family.” Indeed when we take Instrumentum Laboris and the exhortation Familiaris Consortio seriously, then we also contend that it’s a matter of two different qualities. They’re incomparable! In Familiaris Consortio, there is clarity, logic, and a great connection to Sacred Scripture. In the Instrumentum Laboris, Sacred Scripture is quoted sparingly. Also with reference to the teaching and pastoral care of the Church, Familiaris Consortio by far surpasses Instrumentum Laboris.

That corresponds in this respect to one of the reports of the language groups that Sacred Scripture should not be fundamentalistically interpreted. Therefore, so few references to scripture are found in Instrumentum Laboris, right?

That is possible. Indeed the hermeneutics of Sacred Scripture fall under the Church’s responsibility. The Church interprets Sacred Scripture and therein subsists Tradition. And the Church has interpreted Sacred Scripture for over 2,000 years.

Now, the “Pope of the Family” has been forgotten...

That is correct. The same goes for Pope Paul VI. His Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, was a point that ignited the post-conciliar crisis. And that led to a systematic contestation of Church teaching. In this regard, there was, then among others, talk of the “anti-Roman sentiment” of the Germans.

The same circles convey, however, the picture in public opinion that the Church actually had begun with the Second Vatican Council.

I advise those to look once at the footnotes of the Vatican II documents. The documents always have regard for the past, the time before the Council. How often, for example, was Pope Pius XII quoted? He often referenced the questions of modernity. He spoke often on marriage and the family. And he was also a kind of pioneer in questions on bioethics.

A unique experience of yours is your time in Africa, right?

Yes, I was active in Africa for 21 years.

What can Europeans and the people of western civilization learn from Africans?

African culture is a culture of family. The family is this society’s first good. And therefore, the traditional family is very much strengthened through the teaching of the Gospel because it strengthens these intuitions on marriage and family, which were always there. In many African countries, monogamous marriage exists. Polygamy was implemented for a certain time by wealthy people for economic reasons. So there were, for example, different estates, which were dispersed, and there was a need for women who had the task of caring about these dispersed estates in which they were present. I worked in central African countries, which are monogamous. I often stressed that we should abandon the European perspective in order to consider the perspectives of our brothers in Africa and other continents. I want to give an example: Orphaned children in Europe often land in special establishments for them. In Africa, they are mostly received and raised by large families.

What is your defining experience with respect to Africa?

I would say the experience that this plan of the family exists in humanity. Marriage, which is the oldest societal institution in the history of mankind, reveals itself over and over and replicates itself again and again. In this sense, marriage perpetually exists. In Africa, you can observe that more clearly because there, similar to Asia, the traditional family exists even stronger. The cosmopolitan, postmodern and globalized culture begins to gnaw away at and erode this tradition and awareness. And there is the danger that what we experience in Europe will be transferred elsewhere. The individual is there thanks strongly to its family; otherwise, the individual person could not survive there. Individualism doesn’t really exist there in the same form as it does with us.

What do you see as the biggest asset of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body?

Pope John Paul II took up a thought of Pope Paul VI that biology, the body, its structure and function are part of the human person. One cannot approach the body instrumentally. The body expresses the human person. And the body has a spousal meaning, which means for this love, which gives itself, the personal gift and giving to another person. In this giving, the body participates.

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who is a good expert on the “Theology of the Body,” summarized this nicely during the Synod. He spoke of three essential elements in marriage and family: biology – including the body; Eros, erotic love; and Agape, which is the self-giving love, the love grounded in God, the all-embracing love. This has no erotic foundation; for example, the love of one’s homeland or the love of parents for their children. They have no erotic character, but they are love. And that is Agape, which mutually gives itself as gift. And that underlies the “Theology of the Body.” That forms the richness of humanity, which is composed of these different elements. These thoughts are also unfolded in Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

If we get ourselves into the writings of – among others – Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, then are the so-called controversial questions, such as Holy Communion for remarried divorcés or also the recognition of same-sex partnerships, actually finally resolved?

In my opinion, yes. There’s nothing to discuss here. With regard to same-sex partnerships, I want to point out that they don’t go under the definition of “marriage” and “family.” They have nothing to do with marriage and family. Per definitionem, marriage and then family is a relationship between a man and a woman capable of procreating between themselves, not thanks to a third party. And this definition does not exist in homosexual relationships. It is a matter of another question. The existence of people with these inclinations and the pastoral approach to care for them – that is a question. It is a complicated issue. What is homosexuality? Where does it come from? What is its genesis? What are its manifestations? In this context, people can say that Catholicism not only dignifies and treasures human sexuality, but actually overvalues those sexualities that are banalized today. Few people spoke about this at the Synod. The sexual act concerns the deepest levels of human intimacy. Secondly, the sexual act communicates love, the self-gift to another person and the formation of one body. Therefore, it cannot be banalized. And also think about the “matrimonium ratum and consummantum.” So long as this does not happen, the marriage can be dissolved. The sexual act brings about the relationship’s continuity and the duty to the relationship’s permanence. That is its tremendous meaning... like a vow.

Language, however, plays an important role. Today we hear frequently that the Church should adjust her language to the world and use a purely positive language. But does that not weaken the faith? Is it not ultimately a “new truth” and a “new church?”

So it is. I think that it’s good if that principle applies to the Church that we speak in the language of the listener and not of the speaker. That is a part of the basis of missionary communication. I like to point to the appearances of Mary. The Mother of God spoke often in the vernacular. She oriented herself in her speech to the terms and the language of those to whom she spoke. And that is the basis for good linguistic communication. Postmodernism today, however, demands constant semantic games, changes or shifts in meanings, and the expansion or constriction of meanings. These are matters of the constant language game. This is associated with the development of media. It is a sophism. The purity of language and clear definitions should be for us Catholics a commitment. It is connected with honoring the truth, the “splendor of truth,” “the light of truth.”  

A final question: Some see a way to a solution through “decentralizing,” even the Holy Father has spoken about it. What do you make of it?

It’s not about the decentralization of the doctrine on faith, rather it’s about a decentralization in the solution to local problems. The doctrine must be one and the Holy Father is the guarantor of doctrinal unity. Even St. Paul fought for the unity of the doctrine when he made it clear that faith comes from Jesus Christ. Some people certainly try to understand this differently as if they can try on doctrine like shoes. Of course, God gives people freedom. And in freedom, the person can sin. The Church advises people to do certain procedures, but she may not force people to do them. I want to talk about another important issue: a change in the Sacrament of Marriage would likewise affect all of the other sacraments. The sacraments are a unified, cohesive sacramental organism of the Church. One sacrament leads from itself to another, and they supplement each other. We cannot disrupt these relationships, this equilibrium. The whole Church is a sacrament of salvation; the Church has “seven-fingered hands.” The unity of the Church is an exalted good.

Translated from the German by Richard Andrew Krema.