VATICAN CITY — Cardinal George Pell gave encouraging messages to pro-life leaders on Saturday, upholding the Church’s established teachings on marriage and the family and stating his belief that the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family will “massively endorse” Tradition.
Addressing the Rome Life Forum, the prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy spoke on the topic of parents as the best educators of children.
He pointed out an irony in contemporary society, which we realize better than we did 50 years ago: If we violate the laws of physical nature, mankind must reap the negative consequences. But he added that we find “almost no public acknowledgement” of the harmful human consequences that follow “if we violate the natural moral order.”
Cardinal Pell wondered if we aren’t “digging our own graves” by “removing the laws which defend the ideal of exclusive, lifelong marriage.”
He began his talk by appealing to those working in the pro-life field to live out Christian virtues in ways that non-Christians can admire. This is a “very significant challenge,” as sometimes pro-life activists “don’t always achieve it,” being “extremely congenial to ourselves but off-putting to those outside.”
The cardinal then underlined the crucial importance of the family and flagged plenty of “anecdotal evidence” of the effects of marital breakdown on children.
He cited findings from 2009 showing that children from broken families are two to three times more likely to suffer from social pathologies and that children of religious couples are more likely to leave the religious tradition of their childhood if their parents divorce.
He highlighted the widespread use of pornography and its related addictions, saying that many marriages are destroyed by such vice.
Connected with this, he recalled the catastrophic effect of the contraceptive pill on society and, quoting author and ethicist Mary Eberstadt, said it has brought societal changes greater than the communist revolution. He also remembered how Blessed Paul VI foretold the radical and unfortunate consequences of contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth).
The dictatorship of relativism and changes in moral teaching have also played their role in a demographic collapse, he continued, observing how very few pilgrims visiting the Vatican seem to have more than two children.
Having more children, Cardinal Pell said, means a greater likelihood of handing on the faith to the next generation, as it forces parents to be unselfish. By contrast, children in small, nuclear families may be “too isolated from the hurly-burly of life.”
Words of Hope
But in words of hope, the former archbishop of Sydney said it was worth recalling that the pagan Roman Empire was much more disordered than today’s Western culture, and yet Christianity “spread steadily in those hostile climes,” when there were no churches or established charitable agencies.
“Grace works through nature,” Cardinal Pell said. “God doesn’t intervene unilaterally; God intervenes through us.”
Families need to be centers of Christian virtue, pray often and show regular service and the ability to forgive, he added. They need to provide what the early Christians provided “and more,” he said.
Cardinal Pell reiterated there can be no holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and stressed that no parent should forget the importance of “fidelity to the core teachings of the Church.”
He also recalled how, in the early Church, adulterers were shunned in public, even after they had repented. Mercy, he said, needs “tough disciplines and penitential processes,” although he said he was inclined to feel that the early Church’s approach was “too tough.” The Church “shouldn’t go back to very stiff disciplines,” he said in a question-and-answer session following his speech. “We defend values sociologically.”
The cardinal alluded to the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, who once said in support of holy Communion for remarried divorcees that, “after the shipwreck of sin, the shipwrecked person should not have a second boat at his or her disposal, but, rather, a life raft” in the form of the sacrament of Communion.
“More important than a lifeboat,” Cardinal Pell said, it is necessary to guide the faithful so “they’re not shipwrecked and don’t need a lifeboat.”
“We defend what we value through the [Church] law,” he said. “To deny that will increase the decline, and we will slide into the wrong direction.”
Asked about whether he agrees we are now in the “Fourth Great Crisis of the Church,” Cardinal Pell noted that today’s crisis is “quite different” than the Reformation, because, then, both sides agreed on the importance of Christ and God.
“Now, the tension is between godlessness and the Godly,” he said. “The tension is between those who believe growth comes from starting with Gospel teaching and those who believe it comes from adaptation to the modern world.”
“The second option brings death,” he continued. “No doubt, we have a challenge on our hands.”
Turning to the synod on the family, he reaffirmed that St. John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and the family “will not be abrogated because it is based on the teaching of Christ.” And Christ’s and St. Paul’s teachings on holy Communion for remarried divorcees are “very explicit.”
“The synod will massively endorse Tradition,” he said, while “certainly wanting to help people to be compassionate.” He said he didn’t anticipate “any deviation at all” from St. John Paul II’s teachings.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.