VATICAN CITY — Administering the sacraments to remarried divorcees figured highly in the extraordinary consistory on the family last week, but no decisions were made on the issue, the Vatican said.

In a statement on the second day of the two-day meeting in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office director, said there were broad-ranging and detailed discussions, but “no decisions or pronouncements” were made on the issue.

Church teaching on this sensitive topic, which some fear may be altered during the Extraordinary Synods on the Family in October and in 2015, was addressed “from the perspective of canon law,” Father Lombardi said. He also said the cardinals spoke about the procedures for annulment “with a view to their improvement and simplification.”

“There was neither tension nor anxiety in relation to this matter,” Father Lombardi stressed, “but, rather, a positive approach characterized by discernment and a concerted search for the best way to combine fidelity to the words of Jesus with Divine Mercy and attention to specific situations, always with great sensitivity.”

He repeated that a single direction should not be expected of the consistory, but, rather, an encouraging introduction to the path of the October Synod on the Family, which, by working with this breadth of vision, will be able to advance the Church’s pastoral response to the heartfelt hopes held by many in this area.

The Feb. 20-21 gathering, attended by about 150 cardinals, began with an introduction from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, who pledged the support of the cardinal fathers “with a vision of faith and hope” in this “complex period in human history.”

During the consistory, the Pope and the College of Cardinals raised a special prayer for the many Christians suffering persecution. They also recalled the difficult situation in Ukraine and prayed that all violence would cease immediately and harmony and peace would be restored.


‘Fundamental Cell’ of Society

In his opening address, Pope Francis recalled that the family is the “fundamental cell” of society and a “reflection of the Triune God.” He said the consistory’s reflections should “always keep in mind the beauty of the family and of marriage, the greatness of this facet of human life, so simple and at the same time so rich, made up of joys and hopes, strife and suffering, like all of life.”

Furthermore, he said the intention was to “deepen the theology of the family and the pastoral ministry that we must undertake in these current conditions” and that the cardinal fathers would do so “without falling into the trap of ‘case studies,’ as this would inevitably lead to a lowering of the level of our work.”

Noting how the family is today “regarded with disdain and maltreated,” the Holy Father said it was important to recognize “how beautiful, true and good it is to form a family, to be a family today” and how “indispensable” it is for the life of the world and the future of humanity.

“We are asked to make evident God’s luminous plan on the family and to help married couples experience this with joy in their existence, accompanying them in many difficulties, with a pastoral ministry that is intelligent, courageous and full of love,” he said.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the keynote speech that occupied almost the entire first morning of the consistory, followed by questions and discussions that followed in the afternoon.

The text of the cardinal’s speech has not been published, as it was intended for use within the context of the meeting by participants only. But Father Lombardi stressed it was “in harmony” with the words spoken earlier by Pope Francis. He approached the issue of the family from “an extremely positive point of view” and underlined how the family can be seen as a “small domestic church” and a “privileged route to evangelization.”

Father Lombardi said the speech did not address all themes related to the family, nor did it anticipate the upcoming synod, but was “a form of ‘opening.’” It focused on the “rediscovery of the Gospel of the family” and covered the “structures of sin within the family,” as well as the family “in the Christian order of redemption.”

Cardinal Kasper also referred to the question of remarried divorcees, considering the theme “in depth and in a structured, nuanced fashion,” Father Lombardi said. The cardinal reiterated that in this area it is necessary “to bring together pastoral care with the inseparable duo of faith and the words of Jesus and an understanding of Divine Mercy.”

He also referred to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s work on this issue, when he asked if, beyond rigor and laxity, the sacrament of penance could perhaps offer the path to accommodating difficult situations. Cardinal Kasper also recalled Pope Francis’ address to the prelates of the Roman Rota at the beginning of this year, in which he spoke about the validity of marriage, when he affirmed that the legal and pastoral dimensions are not in opposition.

Father Lombardi said by emphasizing that the cardinal accorded great importance to the “law of gradualness” or the “advancement towards new forms in exploring in depth the mystery of redemption in Christ and in understanding the Gospel law of truth.”


John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

In the discussions that followed, the Vatican said cardinals approached the concept of the family according to a Christian anthropological perspective in the context of a secularized culture, which presents a different concept. But Father Lombardi said the reflections “did not take place in a climate of complaint, but, rather, of realism, observing the difficulty faced by Christianity in a culture that tends to go in another direction.”

John Paul II’s theology of the body was quoted on a number of occasions, as well as the encyclical Familiaris Consortio and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Preparation for marriage and matrimonial and family spirituality was also a focus for discussion. Throughout the entire consistory, 69 cardinals spoke on a broad range of themes regarding the family.

Father Lombardi said, “The assembly took place and concluded in an atmosphere of great serenity and satisfaction on the part of all those present for the breadth and depth of the presentations.”

In his concluding address, the Holy Father thanked those present and invited them to pray that the Lord accompanies the Church on this path during the first synod on the family as well as a second one in 2015.


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.