VATICAN CITY — Amid continuing concerns that the upcoming synod on the family in October will modify Church teaching on marriage, the family and human sexuality, clergy, lay individuals and groups are increasingly trying to make their voices heard through public statements and sending open letters and petitions to Pope Francis.
One of the most vocal has been Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Order of Malta. Asked in a Feb. 8 television interview with the French channel France 2 what he would do if Pope Francis insisted on allowing holy Communion for remarried divorcees, the cardinal replied: “I will resist. I cannot do anything else. There is no doubt that this is a difficult time — this is clear; this is clear.”
He clarified his remarks in a Feb. 9 interview with Catholic News Agency, saying he was “responding to a hypothetical situation.”
“I simply affirmed that it is always my sacred duty to defend the truth of the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding marriage,” Cardinal Burke said. “No authority can absolve me from that responsibility, and, therefore, if any authority, even the highest authority, were to deny that truth or act contrary to it, I would be obliged to resist, in fidelity to my responsibility before God.”
He also quoted a cardinal who had written to him regretting that some cardinals “have not had the courage” to oppose some of the proposals put forward at last year’s synod. “This is not good. This is not synodality, because it is necessary to say all those things that, in the Lord, it is felt that must be said,” Cardinal Burke quoted the cardinal as saying.
In response to bishops calling for wide input “at all levels” in preparation for the assembly at the Vatican in October, large numbers of Catholics have signed a “filial appeal” asking Pope Francis to address the current state of confusion regarding Church doctrine.
The appeal asks the Holy Father to reaffirm “categorically the Catholic teaching that divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics cannot receive holy Communion and that homosexual unions are contrary to divine and natural law.”
The petition, organized by Filiale Supplica, an Italian-based group of “concerned lay Catholic leaders and pro-family organizations” from around the world, had received more than 72,000 signatures on Feb. 5 and been signed by prominent Catholic figures such as Cardinal Burke, Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, who is a former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Liturgy, and former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Text of the Appeal
In the text of the appeal to be sent to the Pope, the signatories stress that, in the face of “a decades-long sexual revolution promoted by an alliance of powerful organizations, political forces and the mass media,” Catholic teaching on the Sixth Commandment that forbids adultery “shines like a beacon in the face of this ominous ideological objective.”
But they note “with anguish” that, for millions of faithful Catholics, the beacon “seems to have dimmed” because of the “onslaught of lifestyles spread by anti-Christian lobbies.” The resulting confusion, they said, has led to “a breach” that has opened within the Church, which would “accept adultery by permitting divorced-and-then-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive holy Communion” and “virtually accept homosexual unions” when such practices are “categorically condemned as being contrary to divine and natural law.”
For this reason, the signatories are hoping a word from the Pope would “clarify the growing confusion amongst the faithful,” prevent Christ’s teaching from being “watered down” and “dispel the darkness looming over our children’s future, should that beacon no longer light their way.”
“Holy Father, we implore you to say this word,” say the signatories, who also include Virginia Coda Nunziante, president of Italy’s March for Life, Austin Ruse, the head of C-Fam (the Center for Family and Human Rights), and Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute. “We do so with a heart devoted to all that you are and represent. We do so with the certainty that your word will never disassociate pastoral practice from the teaching bequeathed by Jesus Christ and his vicars — as this would only add to the confusion.”
Asked why he put his name to the petition, Royal told the Register: “I don’t usually sign public appeals, but the confusion that is starting to grow about Church teaching on marriage and all things sexual cannot be ignored.”
He added, “These questions are just too crucial to everyday human life, let alone holiness. This letter gently and sincerely asks the Holy Father for a clarification.”
Royal explained that, in view of Pope Francis’ own admission that he sometimes is misunderstood, “it’s not a bad idea for him to issue some sort of clarification before the political campaigns to influence the October 2015 synod get into full swing.”
One of the latest appeals has come from Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga, Poland, who has said the Church has “betrayed” Pope St. John Paul II’s vision of the family through pastoral-practice proposals presented at last year’s synod.
He told the Polish news agency KAI on Feb. 4 that it is a “false assumption” to consider such topics as the “positive aspects” of same-sex unions, cohabitation by unmarried couples or allowing Communion for remarried divorcees because the Church’s acceptance of these circumstances would assume “God’s mercy without justice.” Instead, he said, “It is necessary to premise that, in marriage and family life, justice must be guaranteed.”
Archbishop Hoser urged a re-reading of John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio.
The disquiet among many Catholics comes on the heels of comments made last month by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, organizer of the Synod of Bishops. At a Rome conference on the synod, the general secretary of the synod seemed to suggest that “dogma has its own evolution.”
Expanding on that statement, which many Catholics found troubling, Cardinal Baldisseri said, “We want to discuss things, but not in order to call things into doubt, but, rather, to view it in a new context and with a new awareness.”
He also publicly revealed for the first time that Pope Francis had seen the controversial interim document during last year’s synod before it was sent out.
The document caused consternation among many of the synod fathers, leading Church figures and many Catholics when it proposed new pastoral practices for remarried divorcees, same-sex couples and those cohabiting.
Asked how the Vatican is responding to these concerns and whether they will be heeded, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, told the Register that anyone who has “any request or proposal on the synod can naturally submit it.”
He added that the obvious place to address the concerns is the Synod Secretariat, “which certainly reports to the Pope and acts on his behalf,” and which, in accordance with its synodal duties, is obliged to “integrate suggestions and impulses that come from the community of the Church.”
Father Lombardi also said, “There will also be the World Meeting of Families, which is not part of the synodal process in the strict sense, but enriches the context and reflections,” he said.
The Vatican spokesman reassured the faithful that the Pope “often speaks on the themes of the family” and cited his recent addresses in the Philippines and elsewhere as well as his Wednesday audience catecheses.
He further highlighted that the Pope has often spoken about “correct spiritual attitudes and listening and trusting in the Holy Spirit,” especially during his speech at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family last October.
With this in mind, Father Lombardi invited all those anxious about the synod to listen to the Pope “seriously and with willingness,” as, then, they will “probably find several answers to the concerns of which they speak.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.