Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela, is confident the Church’s teaching will be upheld after the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family and is hoping for clarity at its conclusion on Oct. 25.
The cardinal, one of the 11 confirmed signers of the Oct. 5 cardinals’ letter to Pope Francis that expressed concerns about the synod process and its potential outcome, shared his reflections on the synod so far in an Oct. 13 interview with the Register. He addressed the issue of devolving more authority to bishops’ conferences, the question of whether holy Communion for civilly remarried divorcees should be considered a matter of discipline or doctrine, and whether he would like to see the Holy Father issue a final, conclusive document at the end of the three-week meeting.
Your Eminence, how has the synod been going so far?
Things are going normally in a meeting where there are many people involved with different visions, feelings and sensibilities and so on. It’s going fine. There are bishops from many nationalities present.
I hope, I think, that the synod should give a very clear word about the greatness and goodness of Christian marriage and of the family to the world, especially to reconfirm Christian people and families in the truth, just like Our Lord told St. Peter: “Confirm your brothers in the faith.” That’s what the synod should do. I know the synod should do it because we cannot go against any of the revealed truths of the Church. We cannot go against the teaching of St. John Paul II, nor Benedict XVI. We can’t, of course, most of all, go against the teachings of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. So I think the synod will do a good job on that.
There are almost 280 synodal fathers who have been chosen, and also some of them chosen by the bishops in their countries or invited by the Holy Father, and they’re all men of God; they’re all people who want the best for the Church and for humankind. So I think we’re in a good way. Of course, there are discussions because these different sensibilities, theological or pastoral, are taken seriously. So people express their minds and opinion; it’s a normal situation. So I think we’re going on the right way.
This week and next week you will be discussing the third part of the instrumentum laboris, which covers the most controversial issues relating to marriage, the family and human sexuality. Are you hopeful about this part of the synod?
Yes, I think so, because as I said, there are almost 280 synod fathers who are all men of God and men of the Church who want the best for the Church and for Christian families; and, of course, there is no way the synod can go against the teaching of the Church. There is no way the synod will do that, no way the synod can forget St. John Paul II and his teaching in Familiaris Consortio. What we want to find is a way to help people in distress, in difficult situations to feel they belong in the Church, and we’ll do that without betraying or forgetting or throwing into the basket the teachings of the Church. We cannot do that; we won’t do it. It’s important to stress that.
Do you feel the Church’s doctrine is being valued at this synod, because at the last one, John Paul II was marginalized; he was hardly mentioned?
We’re mentioning John Paul II, and I think we should. He was a great teacher and great doctor of the Church, and, especially, he wrote a lot on family and life. The letter to the families, Familiaris Consortio, then Evangelium Vitae and so on — there were a lot of documents written by him that are very important to the Church, then and even now, and we are taking that into account.
What is your view of what’s being seen as two key issues raised at this year’s synod: changing the language in teaching and sharing the faith with others?
The Church has to teach the word of Christ, and the Church has to dialogue with the world. There is a great change in the world’s mentality and in the language, so we also have to find a language that helps us to be able to do our job of dialoguing with the world and showing the world the light of Christ. We cannot do that with a language that we used in the 19th century. We have to do that in the language of today. And we’ll do it keeping intact the message of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, about marriage and the family.
But there has been some talk at the synod about not using what has become considered “harsh” language, such as mention of sin, to somehow soften the language and, therefore, implicitly, change the content of teaching.
I think that, in our small group, we talked about that in a positive way. We have to remind the world and Christian families of the presence of sin as a possibility in human life, and we have to be aware of that. If someone says we cannot talk about sin, I think he’s wrong, because sin is a reality in our everyday life, and it would be absolutely absurd to deny it and pretend it doesn’t exist.
Recently, a synod father reportedly said it’s time to do away with “sin/sinner.”
Someone said that, but I don’t agree with it. There is that saying — we have to reject the sin, but as Jesus Christ, love the sinner. That is as true now as it was 2,000 years ago. Someone said that [we need to end that approach], but it’s his own opinion. There is a reality, and we have to deal with it. The great thing about Jesus Christ is that he overcame and achieved victory over sin. Soft talking is good, but we also to have clear and straight talk or talking.
Another controversial issue is about giving more authority to bishops’ conferences. What is your view about this?
There has been talk about that, and we’ll see what fields will be possible. Of course, the moral teaching of the Church is the same here and everywhere. We cannot have moral teaching of the Church that is different for Europe, Africa, the Middle East or Latin America. The moral teaching of the Church is the same everywhere. The pastoral approach, say in Africa, where there is a custom of polygamy, has to be different from the Western world or in Asia. We’ll see how far we can go in having different pastoral approaches about family life. But moral teaching will always be the same anywhere in the world.
In the time between the synod last year and this year’s meeting, there has been some confusion about the Church’s teaching, in that everything appeared to be up for grabs. What do you say about this perception?
There has been that feeling, because when you discuss something, you start to think everything’s being changed. But I think all will be cleared up or clarified as the synod finishes its work. That’s why I started by saying I do hope and want the synod to give a very clear word on the Christian message or on the message on Christian marriage and family.
Does that mean the Pope must publish the final report or produce a post-synodal apostolic exhortation?
The final report usually is given to the Holy Father; and after a while, working with that input that the synod gives, he makes a teaching, makes a document. We don’t know if that’s going to be done this way, this time.
Would you like that for clarity’s sake?
That’s one way to do that. The synod doesn’t have teaching powers on its own; the synod is an instrument to help the Holy Father to teach the Church on a different matter or problem. So we’ll see how the Holy Father decides to do it. We’ll have to wait and see.
For instance, in 1980, the then-Holy Father, John Paul II, published Familiaris Consortio about one year later. It was a fantastic, wonderful document. That might be the same here, or it might be different, but we have to wait and see.
Among the other synod fathers, are they mostly asking for clarity at the end?
We are just waiting to see what the Holy Father wants. What was done before was what I just said: We worked on a given subject, we made propositions, wrote a document and gave it to the Holy Father. It’s up to the Holy Father to use that according to his good judgment. Last year, in the extraordinary session of the synod, there was a [final] document given out to the public. Will that be done this year? We don’t know; we’ll see. It’s not about what I want or don’t want. But of course, our work is very public, and we can all publish what we say.
How much is holy Communion to civilly remarried divorcees an issue of concern to you?
In Venezuela, I know many people who, unfortunately, have seen their marriages break up, and they have divorced and remarried, and they know they cannot receive holy Communion. They’re not crying for it: They understand; they’re humble. That’s a very good thing. They understand they cannot do it, because they know we have to receive the banquet of the Eucharist with a clean heart and in a state of grace. So they humbly recognize they’re in a difficult pastoral situation, and they don’t make any fuss or problem about it — most people anyway.
Is it an issue of doctrine or pastoral practice for you?
We cannot separate the teaching of the Church from the pastoral practice of the Church. Pastoral practice has to apply the teaching of the Church. Of course, it’s a problem for the Church because we want to help people to belong, and the Holy Father has stressed this point, that they belong in the Church. In Venezuela, people feel that they go to Mass, they participate as much as they can, and they pray, and they participate.
So what we have to do is to find a way to help people who may feel angry or disappointed to feel they do belong or in some way their situation can change. Of course, again, we cannot go against [the] teaching of the Church.
Hypothetically, if the synod, or, rather, the Holy Father, were to say certain bishops’ conferences can give holy Communion to remarried divorcees, per the Cardinal Kasper proposal or depending on individual cases, what would you say?
As I said before, it’s not a matter of pastoral practice; it’s a matter of moral teaching on human sexuality, family and marriage. It’s not just a matter of pastoral practice. I don’t think it can be done. What can be done is to help them. I don’t know in what way, to convert themselves, as has been the teaching of the Church in Familiaris Consortio? They decide to live like brother and sister, in continence, which has been the traditional teaching of the Church. We’ll see what happens, but it’s not just a matter of pastoral practice. The moral teaching of the Church is involved in this issue.
Are there any concluding reflections you’d like to add?
I’d just like to ask the Catholic people to trust God, to trust the Church, to trust the Holy Father, to trust the synod and to pray that it finds ways to promote the greatness, beauty, holiness and the strength of the family in our world today. The Catholic Church, with all the Christian churches, is about the only institution that is upholding the importance and the greatness of the family, of human beings; that’s why this synod is so important. Beyond the problem of giving the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried, the important thing is to strengthen the values of family life in the world today. This is the main thing. It’s amazing how many forces are trying to destroy the family.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.