Cardinal DiNardo: The Church Needs to Do a Better Job Forming Faithful Families

The archbishop of Galveston-Houston told the Register that the 2015 synod of bishops has been marked by ‘conviviality,’ but not ‘harmony and consensus.’

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo outside the synod hall on Oct. 9.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo outside the synod hall on Oct. 9. (photo: CNA/Bohumil Petrik)

VATICAN CITY — For Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, the final report of the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family won’t be “an ideal document,” which is why he is glad that it “goes to the Holy Father,” who will make a decision on it.

In an Oct. 21 interview with the Register, the cardinal also said he was pleased that, whereas in the past synod fathers from developing countries might have been “reticent to talk,” they were “very unafraid” to do so during this meeting.

Cardinal DiNardo also spoke about the concerns over the methodology at the synod and the divorce-remarriage issue, noting that this year’s meeting has been one of “conviviality” but not one of “harmony and consensus.”


What will you take back to your diocese, and what are the issues that are particularly important to America?

The issues to my mind that are most important that came out of the synod are that almost everyone agreed that the forms of preparation that we do for marriage need to be invested with either greater energy, or we have to spend a longer period of time — what the Italian group has called, in some fashion — a remote, proximate and immediate preparation for marriage. There was already talk about this in Familiaris Consortio. I mean this is not something totally new, but it is maybe with more urgency. Some bishops have gone so far as to say, in their ability to compare things, that we need a kind of marriage catechumenate, that people have to come to grips with discipleship with Jesus Christ, as well as entering into this beautiful covenant of marriage.

So I think the entire reality around, given the cultures we live in today, of marriage preparation is important. That’s been said by everybody, even in countries like in Africa or in Asia, which may have different issues than the West, than developed countries have. That’s really significant. When you hear that coming from all over — and my group had like 15 different nations — you realize this is a pretty significant issue for everybody. I think that is good.

One of the other issues that I thought was good, certainly it was true before, but is very clear in this synod, is that the Church is universal, and some of the countries that in the past would have been reticent to talk are very, very unafraid to talk right now.


That’s a change for this synod?

Yeah, I’ve seen what we would like to call the developing world, in particular we see it in Africa, but we see it in other places, too. I think that’s great.


Do you see the African bishops upholding the tradition of the Church, in contrast to some in the West?

Well if, for them, if you look at that, and one of your problems is still polygamy, you’re not going to be really interested in issues related to divorce and remarriage. They are trying to really make stable what are in some ways beautiful traditions: traditional families, that families together help constitute what is a marriage. But they do not see the preoccupations maybe of some of those in the West as that significant.


The use of language has been very important, too, hasn’t it?

Yes, being welcoming. I think that comes from the Holy Father. If you’re going to accompany people, you have to welcome them.

The question I raise is: You have to welcome people and accompany them without losing any sense of the truth, what the faith teaches. And that can be tricky. There’s no question I think it’s sometimes a difficult issue.


Are you concerned at all the Church’s teaching can be weakened by changes in language? There was talk about doing away with the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”?

I think that’s a good distinction to make at times. If people are not living up to the truth of the faith or Jesus’ words, you want to be inviting, but in a kind way speak the truth. That means you have to first invite them. You are not going to at first sledgehammer them. A perfect example: I knew a couple, they went to see a priest, and he kind of threw them out. They were really furious. The parents got them to talk to me. So first of all, I basically asked them, “What’s happening in your lives? What’s your relationship to the Lord? Is there some reason why you want to come now?” The problem with this is that it takes time. Eventually, they get to the point. You know the priest probably did it the wrong way, but he made an important point: You’re living together; this is not right. So that’s the point of accompaniment.


There has been a lot of emphasis from the Holy Father and others on the Church as a mother, nurturing others, but a lot of talk from the outside of the synod has been that what people really want is a bit more fatherhood, and they want a bit more truth. Do you think there has got to be a bit more balance in the discussions?

Holding mother and teacher together is never easy. Ask any mother, and she’ll tell you. I think the same is true for the Church. Whenever the Holy Father might, out of his love for people, want to emphasize the accompaniment and mercy, as he does this, there’s going to be some elements, but what about the truth of things? And if you emphasize the truth of things, he’ll say you’re harsh; you’re intransigent.

So it is a question of: [What happens] as they’re using the word discernment, of prudence, good judgment? There’s no recipe for that. There’s simply good training. Part of this is a sideline of the training of priests and those of pastoral work. I would agree. Training is to form them, to my mind in the discipleship of faith themselves, is what this means. That’s going to be important if they are going to approach people.

I’ve found that, in my archdiocese, our priests in my area are good with people who approach them. They try hard. Now, we have to make sure that when that happens that we get these young couples to realize, you know, the cross is always going to be there. You can’t deny the cross. There are groups of people who go to churches where it has always an upbeat, positive message: You know if you follow the Lord you’re going to be successful. I’ve told my people in sermons in homilies that it’s just not true. You know it’s just not true. Because the centerpiece of the Christian message is the beauty and mercy of the cross. And the cross is an invitation to follow. That requires sometimes discipline, sorrow, toughness. I think we need that, too. But a priest has to be a decent enough judge of character to be able to know when to push, when to step back and say, “All right; let’s see where you’ve been.” I hate to be involved and say I’m going to take sides. I want to be on both sides of this. Because I think the truth is very important.


Do you think the crisis of fatherhood in the West demands the priest be a bit more assertive?

With some people, sure, that would be necessary, where there is an absence, as it were, of the notion of fatherhood. I also find that we find in some of our families and some of our parents that they are so overly protective with the kids at all times, at every step of the way. The child never learns. Sometimes you have to make your little choices. You may learn the hard way. A parent has to accompany you and say this is wrong. And then on the other hand, we have the absentee [parent]. Well, that’s very hard for young people.

I’ll use this example, not because I want to go back and dwell on second marriage and remarriage and all, but I had a person see me. I don’t know if it was about a year and a half, two years ago. He was 12 years old, and his sister was about 13 or 14 when his parents separated and divorced and remarried. Each parent had another child I think. Just to give the background: This was 24 or 25 years ago.

He was 12 years old. Everyone was telling him this is not your fault, but you’ll have to grow up now. He said: “I tried, but there was a problem there. I shouldn’t have had to. I was only 12 years old.” And now his parents were trying to be the kind that were remarried and re-approach the Church and receive the sacraments. He was pretty negative about it.

But I think he was pretty angry with both sets of parents. You know now that he’s in his late 30s. It was in effect, and I’m not saying he’s right in saying this, “Now, I’m going to be a child.” You were supposed to be an adult then, and you weren’t. You made a child try to grow up. His life was pretty traumatized by it, and he didn’t realize until he got older.

People who deal with the issues of the divorced and remarried need to realize there’s a whole grid of relationships that are affected by this. It’s much more difficult. The Church’s stand with the Lord Jesus on the sacramentality of marriage, it’s irrefutable, is pretty important.


Do you think that proposals to allow divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive holy Communion are going to be put to bed in this synod?

My real answer, and I’m not trying to hedge the question, is that I don’t know. I don’t know. Certainly there are large numbers of people in the synod who would not be favorable. There are very strong voices who are favorable, and I’m not sure where it will all lead. All this goes to the Holy Father, and who knows what he might do?

It’s one of those hot-button issues, so it gets all of the discussion; and some of the other things don’t. At the same time, it’s an issue for which, at this point, if people ask me what’s going to happen, I can’t say; I just don’t know.


Do you think good can come from this, in that it’s underlining the importance of the sacrament and how to receive it with minimum requirement?

Yes, I put it to people that I’m not favorable to this. So people come to me and say I’m intransigent, and I say: No, I just think it’s something if we say it’s indissoluble; then it has to be exclusive, and the Church does provide. Even now the Pope has been very generous in opening up and streamlining further the annulments process, so it’s not as though there aren’t some remedies. And the remedy, even of spiritual communion, which Pope Benedict had put forward. I don’t think those who say that if you can do that you can go to Communion physically. I don’t necessarily follow that.

There are degrees of our communion in the Church, and I think we want to respect them. It sounds so legalistic, and I don’t mean it to be legal. The sacramentality of marriage says something about the sacramentality of the Church. That’s my real preoccupation, it really is.


It’s also important to stress how, if receiving holy Communion without those requirements, you heap condemnation on yourself.

Yes, you cannot — in Paul, 1 Corinthians; it’s already mentioned that in the most ancient Church it wasn’t just a blind invitation to receive the Eucharist. It involves the reception of the Body, Blood of Our Lord, and I believe in that. It also involves an understanding of who you are in the Church. … We are in a time when the Church, as a good mother and teacher, is opening up and wants to accompany people, and so we do have some newness in the Church. At the same time, you cannot walk away from what I call the great Tradition — with a capital T — of the faith, which is what Jesus’ words are. Paul… never said, “It’s something I invented.” I think that’s pretty important myself.


On the question of clarity: There has been a lot of talk about the confusion that this synod process has engendered. Are you confident or hopeful that the Pope will issue a clarification?

Well, I think what the Holy Father will do … I think we have to go back to our dioceses and be clear on the teaching. No matter what, you know, even if we tend to be more — and again I’m quoting ­— merciful or more traditional, whatever you are, you have to show the big picture. If I’m going to say I don’t favor this, I have to tell people.

I still want to accompany people who have been divorced and remarried. There are ways in which some of this, not all, can be ameliorated for you, in terms of Church life. You have to do a whole picture. I think that I’m going to start out very positively. There are large numbers of very faithfully living families in the sacrament of marriage in my local Church in my country, in other countries [too] and want to salute them. Want to tell them: “We are with you.” I also want to say there are families that are hurting and all. We want to tell them, “We are with you, too.”

To my people, I already told them that I was not favorable to an expansion, as it were, of the reception of holy Communion to those who have been civilly remarried, I mean divorced and remarried civilly, without the benefit of an annulment or some form of it. A marriage, to my mind, is something public. That’s what I’m trying to show.

There are people who have written me and agree with me and love it, and there other people who have written me and think that I’m a troglodyte. Hey, that’s what happens. You can’t get angry. You have to try to keep explaining as best as you can.


So ,overall, are you hopeful that the synod will bear good fruit?

I think it will bear fruit, at least, even, in the areas where there is concord. If we can go back home in the conferences, dioceses, whatever, and put some renewed emphasis on the long-term engagement of discipleship, in what the sacrament of marriage is as a vocation and a call to holiness, yeah, I think that’s great. And I mean, that’s my real thinking: that we have to [have more] catechesis, allowing more families who are good [to] be of help to families struggling and training people for marriage.

We’ve already done this in my diocese. Couple-to-couple formation for those who are engaged is one of the best ways to teach and form a couple that is getting married. It’s far better than any coursework you might do. But that family who’s training them has to be themselves well-formed. We do some work on that in our diocese. But the couple-to-couple experience has usually been proven for the engaged to be very good.

Then, what we aren’t good at in most of the churches is the follow-up after they are married. We are discovering and finding out that the first five to eight years of marriage are tough. Frequently, these couples are on their own. That’s probably not good. We’ve got to find ways when they move in to invite them to the parish right away. And you’ve got to stick with them and find ways in which you can support them in their married life. I think if we’ve heard this from one, we’ve heard this, you know, from 75 bishops or experts, or even families saying: You’ve got to get to them once they are married. It’s probably a weakness.


A lot of people have said the crisis isn’t a crisis of marriage or family so much as a crisis of faith. What do you say about that?

I mean, one could say at any given time, Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Luke: “When the Son of Man comes, will he ever find faith on earth?” It takes various forms in different times and different cultures.

To my mind, questions of difficulties in faith are always an issue, either because of the media, because of a certain outbreak of kinds of modernity that see people as just isolated individuals. … Modernity has not always been kind to, what I could call, the body of Christ as a corporate body living out the faith. So, therefore, I can see people saying that, but as far as people coming to faith who are staying in the faith, that’s more of a perennial issue, maybe, than we’d like to admit. And wouldn’t that have to be true? The message of Jesus is very — and we are used to hearing it — very radical, the invitation to faith and growth to conversion. It’s grace that helps do it.

Of course, it’d be the only way, but our cooperation with grace is sometimes difficult. Flannery O’Connor, whom I love, said in some of her letters — people would ask her about the faith, back then in the Church, she would be more stringent, she says: “Wait a minute, grace has to cut before it can heal, and we don’t like that.”

And I think that’s true, and it’s true with everybody. It’s not just true with married people. It’s true with priests; it’s true with bishops. So grace has to cut before it can heal. Most of the time we aren’t happy with that, so we try to find another way, which isn’t the way of God’s grace and mercy.


What are your brief reflections on the Pope’s speech of last week regarding decentralization?

I think some decentralization can always be good, but the centrifugal forces of the Church are much more intense right now than the centripetal ones. So we have to be conscious of some practices of the Church, which I don’t want to see happening regionally, like divorce and remarriage. There are other issues that can be handled more at the local and regional level. I’m happy to see some of that happening. But this particular issue I would not want to see handled just regionally.

Some people have thought it might be wiser to give a little more freedom to bishops in terms of liturgy; the liturgy’s very precious, we have to be careful. Some things, yes, can be done probably more regionally, but I’m not convinced yet the translation should be handled just regionally. A review by Rome is pretty helpful whenever you’re dealing with texts. Liturgical texts are very important.


Are they any other reflections you’d like to make?

I think the synod is a great experience. I want to express my great appreciation for so many families and married couples, even some of them in difficulty, who strive valiantly to live the Christian faith in a culture that doesn’t always appreciate them and occasionally even sneers at them.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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