Church doctrine on family can develop, papal advisor says

Church doctrine on family can develop, papal advisor says

   Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez

When Pope Francis called for frank and open talk at the Synod of Bishops, he was encouraging bishops to speak up “without fear that Cardinal Mueller will come after you,” one of the pope’s closest associates said today.

The humorous aside – well, I think it was humorous – came from Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, who is reputedly one of the pope’s top theological advisors.

Archbishop Fernandez was addressing reporters on the synod’s third day, and he said the pope’s call for an honest exchange was necessary if the assembly wanted to be productive.

The reference to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller prompted chuckles in the press room. Mueller, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, has been among those sharply criticizing a proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper that the synod find a way for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

Fernandez also addressed what has become a common refrain at the synod – that the assembly had no intention of changing doctrine, but simply looking at pastoral practices.

“When it’s said that this is a ‘pastoral’ synod, it doesn’t at all mean that one cannot deepen the doctrine,” he said. “We need to develop the doctrine on the family much more. If we came here only to repeat what we’ve always said, the church wouldn't grow.”

He pointed to the issue of slavery, which was accepted in past centuries by the church, as an example of where teaching changed “because there was a development in doctrine – and that continues to happen.” You can't say doctrine developed in the past, but no longer does, he added.

Fernandez said the synod needs to proceed by looking not only at the truths of its faith, which should be defended, but also at the pastoral realities, which can sometimes be messy.

As pastors, he said, bishops need to reach out and help people even when they do not fully accept church teaching – when “perfection is not possible,” as Pope Francis put it in his document Evangelii Gaudium.

Archbishop Fernandez is said to have worked closely with Pope Francis on that document, and his briefing in the press room today certainly seemed to reflect the pope’s point of view.

7 comments (Add your own)

1. Patsy Koenig wrote:
They need not fear Cardinal Mueller. They need to fear Almighty God.

Wed, October 8, 2014 @ 11:37 AM

2. Peter wrote:
But what, then, of Esau, compared to the literally "pastoral practice" of Jacob and the scent of his sheep(skin)? "And he came near (to Isaac), and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment". . .(Gen 27:27).

Wed, October 8, 2014 @ 12:23 PM

3. je wrote:
Excellent comment !

Wed, October 8, 2014 @ 1:02 PM

4. Deacon Peter Trahan wrote:
The Church's position on slavery was not doctrine, it was errant support of a social mistake. The Church also changed it's position about the solar system after the confrontation with Galileo. The Church's position prior to that and after was in neither case doctrine. This would be a more accurate comparison to slavery. How a man of the Church could use "doctrine" to arbitrarily label any Church position is beyond me. And this is one of the Pope's top theological advisors?

Wed, October 8, 2014 @ 1:48 PM

5. Dr J.A.C. MacLeod wrote:
This sounds a bit harsh to me. Surely he is making the point for theologically discerning ears that in many and various ways the Church and Her teaching 'evolves' over the centuries (consider the writings of J.H. Newman and P.Teilhard de Chardin). A moment's reflection by a thoughtful person shows us that, say, the papacy of today is not 'quite' the same as the papacy of the first two centuries; shows us, say, that the dogmatic statements on Our Lady's immaculate conception are hard to find explicit in the Scriptures. The Church DOES develop over the centuries as She see things more clearly under the Holy Spirit and the teaching authority of Her magisterium.

Wed, October 8, 2014 @ 5:24 PM

6. Sam wrote:
His comments about slavery are misleading. The church never supported racial slavery of the kind that we typically think of as slavery. In Latin, there is only one word to indicate both slavery and being a servant. (servitus). This leads to a lot of confusion and I think this guy needs to get his facts straight. The church has always opposed Unjust title slavery. The only kind it allowed is where a person has been justly deprived of their freedom, such as from incarceration, being a prisoner of war, being an indentured servant etc.

Wed, October 8, 2014 @ 7:42 PM

7. Gerard Mpls. wrote:
Responding to Deacon Peter Trahan and others who fear change: Does the average lay Catholic really know or care whether something is a "doctrine" or a "discipline" or even "errant support?" I hear these distinctions all the time and It seems like theological semantics at play. Pope Francis warned of those who partake in theological "tea time." Could we possibly rise above all of this and look to the Spirit to guide us through these Synod discussions—through the challenges of modern times? Too many noses are lodged in the cracks of dusty old man-made tomes. With God, all is possible. Walk up to that which you fear and you go free!

Thu, October 9, 2014 @ 3:33 AM

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