• John Thavis

Courage, creativity urged as cardinals begin talks on family issues

Updated: Apr 16

Pope Francis this morning opened a two-day discussion of cardinals on the family, saying the church’s pastoral response to modern problems must be marked by intelligence, courage and love.


Here’s the key quote from the pope’s talk to about 150 cardinals gathered at the Vatican:


Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life. We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires.


May we do so thoughtfully and without falling into “casuistry”, because this would inevitably diminish the quality of our work. Today, the family is looked down upon and mistreated. We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today; and how indispensable the family is for the life of the world and for the future of humanity. We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family and to help spouses joyfully experience this plan in their lives, as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties, including with a pastoral approach that is intelligent, courageous and full of love.


That last phrase about a courageous and compassionate pastoral policy was added extemporaneously by the pope.


Briefing reporters afterward, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that in referring to “casuistry,” the pope meant that the cardinals should not “fragment” their discussion by focusing on particular situations over a more general vision.


Lombardi also summarized some key points made by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who delivered a two-hour-long address to introduce the themes of the discussion. Kasper spoke about the need to connect God’s design for the family in the order of creation to the reality of the family today. On one hand, the church has to be able to transmit the joy and the positive values of the family to society, and in this sense the family should be a privileged means of evangelizing, he said.


But the cardinal said the church also needs to look closely at the tensions faced by modern families, including alienation between men and women, and problems faced by women and mothers.


Cardinal Kasper said a key concept in their reflections on the family should be the “law of graduality,” which recognizes that people come to accept the church’s teachings in a process of spiritual growth and maturation. He noted that this does not mean “graduality of the law,” but it requires time and patient accompaniment.


The cardinal said the church’s pastoral task today was not simply to repeat: “The doctrine of the church is this,” but to return to the roots of the doctrine, which is the Gospel, and find creative pastoral approaches that respond to new problems.


Father Lombardi said Cardinal Kasper spoke about the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, citing the need to find a solution that took into account both pastoral compassion and church law. The cardinal indicated that a penitential period with the sacrament of Reconciliation was a possible path toward a solution for such difficult situations.


The cardinals’ discussion comes eight months ahead of a Synod of Bishops on the Family. Their meeting was closed-door, and there were no plans to publish Cardinal Kasper’s text, Lombardi said.

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