VATICAN CITY — In a wide-ranging interview, Australia’s leading prelate affirmed his alliance with Pope Francis and also stressed that, in a universal Church, doctrine does not change from one country to the next.
“You cannot have two people in the same situation with the same dispositions [where] one goes to Communion, and it [is] a sacrilege, and in the country next door, it is a cause of grace,” said Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican secretariat for the economy, in an exclusive interview with CNA.
“‘Catholic’ means ‘universal,’ not ‘continental,’” he said.
Although the former archbishop of Sydney did not mention the German bishops’ conference by name in Saturday’s interview, some members of that conference have stated they would pursue their own pastoral approaches regarding marriage and the family, regardless of what the synod decides.
Speaking on his perceptions of the synod on the family, which has just entered its third and final week, the cardinal also put to rest claims that he is at odds with Pope Francis.
The Pope is “a very good listener,” he said, adding that the two are on the same page when it comes to the protection of doctrine at the synod.
“One of my concerns is for doctrine, and the Pope has said the doctrine will not be touched. I am not a rebel or an opponent of the Pope,” Cardinal Pell said.
The Australian prelate gave a good-humored response to the media buzz surrounding the letter to Pope Francis, a version of which was leaked Oct. 12, in which 13 cardinals allegedly expressed their concerns over the new synod procedures.
“I think one of the reasons was that there was not much excitement in the first week, and the press wanted some excitement,” he said, suggesting that the controversy surrounding the letter had been overblown.
He explained that it is not unusual for a cardinal to write letters to the Pope, adding that he did not believe any of the 13 signatories were responsible for releasing the letter to the press.
The full transcript of Cardinal Pell’s interview with CNA is below:
What is your evaluation of this synod at the beginning of the third week?
I think that we have worked hard at the synod. We have made substantial progress. We are about to vote on the third part of the document. On the first two parts, on the overwhelming majority of issues, there was a very strong consensus.
Are you still concerned about the methodology and about the commission in charge of writing the document?
No, I think our concerns have been substantially addressed: The Holy Father said doctrine will not be touched; there will be a final document; we will vote on that document paragraph by paragraph. And the Holy Father said there will be no manipulation.
With regard to the voting: It will be just paragraph by paragraph, or will it also be for the full document?
I’m not quite sure. Now, I think just paragraph by paragraph.
Turning to the letter signed by 13 cardinals: Why do you think that this letter has created so many negative reactions?
I think one of the reasons was that there was not much excitement in the first week, and the press wanted some excitement.
A big part of the cardinal`s duty is to write letters to the Pope. I’ve written quite a few letters to the popes over the years. Why was it leaked? I do not know. None of the 13 signatories leaked it, I’m quite sure.
You have been described by some as being opposed to the Pope? Is this the case?
Certainly not. I work very closely with the Pope. I help look after the finances. I’m a member of the C9 [council of nine cardinals that advises the Pope].
The Pope has asked for free discussion. He’s a very good listener. You can make your case to him, and he will listen. And the Pope lines up with me; one of my concerns is for doctrine, and the Pope has said the doctrine will not be touched. I am not a rebel or an opponent of the Pope.
Would you say there is an atmosphere of freedom in the synod?
Yes, of course. Yes. People are able to speak what is in their minds and are doing that.
We have the A group in English. We have a very good atmosphere, complete freedom to speak. We vote. There are clear divisions once in a while. But it’s a mature, adult, Christian community and conversation.
Coming as you do from the “peripheries” of Oceania — specifically Australia — what are your expectations of the synod?
Whether it is the periphery of the world depends on where you start. We think our part of the world is the center; and perhaps in South America you do also.
What do I expect? What I would like is a list of the best practices; examples from all around the world of strategies and practices that help the Church. For example, in the Syro-Malabar [Catholic] Church, so much of their family life over the years is celebrated with prayers in the family.
Also, I think we need some clear teaching from the synod, and then hopefully from the Holy Father, because there is some measure of confusion, and we want to be clear about mercy and truth that lie at the heart of the Christian moral teaching and Christian sacramental teaching, which have to be at the heart of family life.
What were your thoughts after hearing what the Pope said [Saturday] morning?
I think the Pope said very little that was new. It was the 50th anniversary of the synod. We often emphasize the deficiencies of the synod, but the synod is a wonderful invention. Universality of the Church is on view with diversity of pastoral approaches. It was wonderful to hear the witness of the testimonies from the [laypersons]. They were much more interesting, I think, than we bishops were. So I think the synod has basically been going well.
There is this controversial issue of Communion for divorced and remarried or not, but what is important is to emphasize that doctrine is one; there are many theologies. So you cannot say that in Germany they will believe in the Divinity of Christ and in Poland they will say Christ is not Divine. You cannot have two people in the same situation with the same dispositions [where] one goes to Communion, and it [is] a sacrilege, and in the country next door, it is a cause of grace.
Cardinal Arinze said you cannot nationalize right and wrong. We have one creed, one baptismal formula, one faith. One God, one faith, one baptism. “Catholic” means “universal,” not “continental.” We are not ruled by synods. We are led by individual bishops and led by the Holy Father, and the Holy Father [Saturday] morning emphasized the central role of the Successor of Peter. He emphasized, too, that he is the authentic guarantee of the tradition. We only can live and work within the tradition, the essentials of the tradition.