Cardinal Baldisseri's Comments in Context

As I reported earlier this week, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, recently gave an interview in which he said he wanted to bring the Church's teaching on marriage up to date. The interview was with the Belgian Christian weekly, Tertio.

I have now obtained the full translation of his remarks from the interview which I attach below. We are only allowed to reprint exerpts, but these are in any case the most relevant.

The content of the original report on the interview still stands: Cardinal Baldisseri says he wants to "update" St. John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on the meaning of marriage and the family, Familiaris Consortio, noting that it's now 33 years old. The cardinal doesn't say how he would like it changed; he naturally leaves that up to the Synod, but he says that in his opinion the Church "is not timeless, it lives amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today."

In a previous blog post, I mentioned how debate around the upcoming synod, in particular Cardinal Walter Kasper's speech on the family at February's consistory, has caused a great deal of concern among theologians and the faithful at large. What is preoccupying them most is that, while the Church's fundamental teaching on divorce and 'remarriage' cannot be changed, pastoral practice might be used as a means to get around it, thereby giving a perception Church teaching has been changed and so weakening her authority. A similar thing happened in the debates surrounding Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and many fear that being repeated.

Also in the interview, Cardinal Baldisseri discusses the questionnaire that was sent from his office to dioceses around the world to try and ascertain the "sense of the faithful" in this highly sensitive area. 


In the West, many expect that openness will arrive on sexual morality, including in the attitude towards re-married divorcees. Do you expect that there are changes, for example, in line with the speech of Cardinal Walter Kasper in the consistory of February (see Tertio number 742 of 3o / 4 /14)?

Cardinal Baldisseri: The questionnaire had many themes. Among them, the themes of sexual morality, but also the situation of real and those civilly re-married. During the consistory, Pope Francis asked Cardinal Kasper, who is a theologian to address the issue of family in view of the synod. There arose a debate as the Pope has asked for repeatedly.  That is synodality: . . . participation and open exchanges in all fields. 

We also wish to update the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, by Pope John Paul II from 1981.  That is the latest large document of the past thirty years on this issue. The Church is not timeless, it lives amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today. It is in the present that the message should be, with all respect for the integrity of whoever receives that message. We now have two synods to treat this complex theme of the family brought and I believe that the dynamics in two movements will enable us to more effectively respond to the expectations of the people.'

Already noteworthy was the wide consultation in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October. The response has been massive but how can that multitude of submitted answers – which may greatly differ from continent to continent and from country to country – be handled?

Cardinal Baldisseri: You are right that it is a major challenge for the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. However, we are working tirelessly and with determination. We also have the necessary technical support available. There is a specialized team that has made a synthesis of the responses to the questionnaire. That team has prepared a text that was submitted to the secretariat council on 24 February. Planning now provides for the submission of a final text during the month of May. This is the working paper, or Instrumentum Laboris, which is being circulated to participants in June for the Synod in October. Two synods are to be devoted to the family- the extraordinary one in 2014 and a regular one in 2015. I must say that this issue has drawn, from both Catholics and non-Catholics, immense attention that proves how important this theme is. It shows also that the Church needs to treat it with clarity and truthfulness

Was this survey a way of getting inside the feeling of the people of God, the sensus fidelium?

Cardinal Baldisseri: Let me say this right away: the idea to consult the base was greatly appreciated, but there is more: it helps us as well concretely to assess the actual situation of the people. We can make use of the reflections and suggestions to respond earnestly with adequate pastoral care. The shepherds of the flock and the responsible officers of various sectors can get in touch with the sense of faith of Christians, or in Latin sensus fidelium, which comes from the confession of their faith in the witness of their real life.

Translation thanks to Chris Gillibrand