South African Cardinal: ‘My Greatest Worry Is Unrealistic Expectations’

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier rejects the ‘media-driven false hope’ that Pope Francis intends to overturn key Church teachings related to marriage.

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa
Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa (photo: Twitter/CardinalNapier)

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, is a member of the ordinary council of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that begins on Sunday and lasts until Oct. 19.

In this interview with the Register, the cardinal discusses his hopes, concerns and expectations for the meeting that will discuss the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”


What are your hopes and fears for this synod?

Let me begin with my fears. Perhaps “worries” is a better word. My greatest worry is unrealistic expectations, one of which is the media-driven false hope that Pope Francis is going to overturn, single-handedly, a most serious section of Church teaching to satisfy the demands of the modern world.

That’s unrealistic, for a number of reasons. Pope Francis has shown himself to be a team player who takes collegiality seriously. So the most realistic expectation is that this extraordinary synod is going to be more about setting out the problems around marriage and family, rather than determining solutions. In setting out the problems, I can see the synod already indicating directions to be explored.


What are the major crises facing marriage and the family that you would most like to see debated and addressed?

Firstly, Catholic marriage or the sacrament of marriage. Far too many Catholics lack adequate knowledge, understanding and appreciation of what makes marriage between baptized Christians become the sacrament of matrimony — namely, that this union between a baptized man and a baptized woman is their personal means of salvation; that they administer the saving grace of Jesus Christ to each other so that, in effect, each is the means for the other to get to heaven.

Secondly, the first major consequence of this lack of knowledge, understanding and appreciation is the almost universal resistance to proper preparation. This is evidenced by the fact that the parish office is the last port of call when arrangements are being made.

Lastly, total ignorance or disregard for Church teaching on freedom to marry; on fidelity and exclusivity of the marriage bond and openness to life as absolute prerequisites for valid sacramental marriage; on what makes natural family planning an acceptable way of spacing children; on why, in the Church’s eyes, contraception and abortion are the chief destroyers of marriages.


What are your main wishes and expectations?

That the synod will indicate as clearly and practically as possible the back-to-basics path for the Catholic community, those basics being the well-prepared Catholic married couple, the well-organized Catholic family, the neighborhood faith-sharing group and a well-integrated parish community. Some of the above are wishes; others fervent desires. What I expect is far less, namely, the clear naming of the major issues that the universal Church identifies as areas of major concern and how local Churches can go about addressing them.


Are there any people you would like to have seen included as participants but have not been?

My only wish would be that there are no pressure groups pushing their own agendas, but, rather, those seeking the will of God through humble listening, prayerful reflection and determined commitment to what the Church was instituted to be: the bearer of Christ’s message summed up in his opening exhortation: “Repent, and believe the Good News!”


What is your fervent prayer for this synod?

That every Catholic and person of goodwill prays daily for the synod to be guided by the Holy Spirit and the wise counsel of the seniors in age, in wisdom and in faith.