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February 19, 2014

Divorce, remarriage and annulment procedures: on track for discussion at fall bishops' synod -
Pastoral care of marriage -
Can the economy serve all?

In this edition:
1. Toward an economy for all.
2. Divorce, remarriage and 2014 synod.
3. Mercy and the Christian life.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Stereotyping the mentally ill.
b) Harsh words undermine community.
c) Is death penalty teaching accepted?
5. Pastoral care of marriage.
6. The art of marriage.

1. Toward an Economy Serving All

The experience of some six years of global economic crisis shows that attempts to achieve great gains for a few, "while ignoring the needs of very many, is no longer intelligent, productive or justifiable," Cardinal Peter Turkson said Feb. 6 in a speech at the London School of Economics.

"Some markets might now be up, but many people are still very down, and the crisis is making inequality worse," according to the cardinal. He is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

He pointed to a recent report from Oxfam, the international anti-poverty confederation, which indicated that nearly half the world's wealth is now owned by just 1 percent of the population."

It can be seen today, he proposed, that "while pursuing their proper goods, business, banking and finance have to effectively orient their core activities toward the common good, toward an inclusive economic growth." The economy needs to "recover its sense of responsibility for the welfare of all denizens of the global household," he said.

Cardinal Turkson explained that the church addresses the workings of the economy and financial systems out of a concern for the common good. He said, moreover, that "as church we believe it is our right and, even more, our most urgent duty to urge insistently that people be put first, and so to advocate for a reformed international and monetary system."

The economy, "to function properly," needs to accord primacy to "ethics over behavior," he said. Moreover, the political world needs to approach issues of the economy and finance in the context of serving the common good.

Individuals and communities "who are economic actors are also moral actors," Cardinal Turkson asserted. He said:

"The same point can be made in another way: All economic choices, whether as consumers, business leaders, bankers or policymakers, inescapably have a moral dimension."

He viewed the economy as "no more a morality-free zone than politics, civil society or the family." However, while he reiterated the pontifical council's belief that the common good on a global scale is harmed greatly by "the failings of the international financial and monetary systems," he also esteemed the vocation of those working in fields of business.

"Business people have the honor and responsibility to be co-creators with God in the continuing, unfolding work of creation," Cardinal Turkson commented. He noted that Pope Francis "affirms business as a vocation, 'a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life.'"

In his London speech, Cardinal Turkson suggested "that a new, inclusive and sustainable economy needs to be designed." However, he said, "such enormous innovation will not emerge spontaneously as the product of multiple pursuits of growth and profit. Instead, it demands visionary research -- research undertaken with the greatest competence and guided by a vision of the common good."

2. Divorce, Remarriage and the Synod

Cardinal Walter Kasper was set to address the Feb. 20-21 meeting of the College of Cardinals in Rome at the time this edition of the www.jknirp.com newsletter was posted. The meeting was to look ahead to the special assembly of the world Synod of Bishops next fall. I hope to report on the retired German cardinal's remarks in our next edition.

However, concerns of this cardinal in two areas prompt me to devote some attention to him now: his concerns related to divorce and remarriage, and his writing on mercy, a theme in the 2014 Lenten message of Pope Francis. Prior to his retirement, the cardinal headed the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Cardinal Kasper is well known for his longtime interest in finding a new pastoral approach to divorced Catholics who remarry without obtaining a church annulment of their first marriage. It is virtually certain this issue will be addressed by the fall 2014 synod assembly. Its theme is, "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization."

Among the many questions posed in the preparatory document that the Vatican Synod Secretariat issued for the upcoming special assembly, several directly concerned divorced-remarried people. For example, the document asked:

"What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the church concerning the sacraments of the Eucharist and of reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?"

"Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?"

In advance of the synod, the secretariat asked bishops around the world to consult people in their dioceses on many matters related to the church and the family, including the questions above. News reports on these consultations in various nations now are beginning to appear.

According to a Catholic News Service report Feb. 18, reports on such consultations both by the German and the Swiss bishops indicate that Catholics in their countries often believe the church is unmerciful to Catholics whose first marriages fail.

A just-released report by the bishops' conference of Japan on its presynod consultation states, "A simplified procedure for annulments is not only needed, it is essential." It adds:

"Especially in mission countries like Japan where Christians are few and where the civil code admits divorce, it can be very difficult to gain the cooperation of a non-Christian party in church proceedings. In some cases the church may even be accused of violating basic human rights, presenting more obstacles."

In 1993, when he was a diocesan bishop in Germany, the now-Cardinal Kasper and two other bishops issued instructions allowing priests to give Communion to divorced, civilly remarried Catholics who were convinced their first marriages were invalid, even if they had not received annulments. The Vatican doctrinal congregation rejected the policy and called for its withdrawal.

There is no way to know precisely how the upcoming synod assembly might address the issue of divorce and remarriage. It is becoming clearer and clearer, though, that the issue will be openly discussed during its sessions.

3. Mercy and Christian Life

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the 81-year-old theologian discussed in the report above, is particularly famous today for his writing on the importance of mercy in Christian life. This is particularly so because Pope Francis, in his very first Sunday Angelus address, spoke admiringly of a book the cardinal wrote titled "Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life." The book is expected to appear this spring in English, published by Paulist Press.

Pope Francis said the cardinal's book "has done me so much good." He added:

"Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy -- that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: It changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient."

The book includes a chapter on the exercise of mercy in the church. Catholic News Service reported that the book asks whether current practices -- including those related to divorced, remarried Catholics -- are effective reflections of mercy as one of the principal traits of God.

"It is time to speak of God, to testify and think about God," Cardinal Kasper said in a March 2009 speech at Benedictine-run St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. Theology, he commented, "can only have relevance if it steadfastly maintains its own identity, that is, as speaking of God in a distinctive and at the same time in an engaging manner."

Otherwise, "theology and the church will be relegated to the role of ethical or moral institutions which in the end no one wants to listen to," the cardinal warned. But if theology "speaks in a new and fresh way of the living, liberating God who is love, then it will render a service to life, freedom, justice, solidarity and love; then it can serve the dignity of humanity and the truth of reality, and open up perspectives of hope" everywhere.

Divine love and mercy are central to the 2014 Lenten message by Pope Francis. "What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of [Christ's] love," the pope wrote.

"The poverty of Christ that enriches us," the pope explained, "is his taking flesh and bearing our weaknesses and sins as an expression of God's infinite mercy to us." And "the Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of [the] message of mercy and hope," the pope added.

Pope Francis wrote, "It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness." He urged that Lent "find the whole church ready to bear witness to . . . the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Combating Stereotypes of Mental Illness: "Persons with mental illness are more often victims than perpetrators of violent acts. . . . While a small percentage of individuals with very severe and untreated mental illness may be at an elevated risk of violence, especially when substance abuse is involved, this risk diminishes significantly with medication and treatment. Still, fear of violence and the unspeakably tragic examples of mass shooting by untreated, mentally ill individuals perpetuate a stigma that threatens public support for continued movement toward a community-based model of treatment. . . . It is our duty and the duty of every pastor, every chaplain, every religious education director and Catholic school principal and all others in positions of church leadership at every level to welcome with openness and affection those men, women and children who are afflicted with any form of mental illness and to integrate them into the life of the church to the fullest extent possible. Furthermore, all Catholics are called to be welcoming of this population in their churches, schools and communities. . . . We note our solidarity and our spiritual closeness with victims and families of victims of violence committed by all persons, especially persons with mental illness. As painful as such incidents are, they are magnified even more by the realization that had the offenders received effective ongoing treatment prior to the violent acts, many of these tragedies may well have been avoided. We must continue the important efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of mentally ill individuals and all individuals prone to violence. At the same time, we must focus ever more attention on the care and treatment of such individuals. Treatment does work." (Excerpted from the Feb. 4 statement of the bishops of New York state on the needs of mentally ill persons)

Harsh Words, Arrogance Oppose Spirit of Community: "Being a Catholic today involves being part of a community where prayer and care belong together, where faith and love embrace, where in the Eucharist we are brought together in one by the Holy Spirit. . . . At times there is in our society a harshness and an arrogance and a relentless sense of vindictiveness, both in deeds such as in violence, but also in speech and in public debate. The truth will never be ascertained through harsh words regarding others. As Christians we must speak the truth of the Gospel, but always in the language of the Gospel and with the tone of the Gospel. . . . The church must be a place where all men and women can feel welcome and where no one feels that their own way is the sole privileged way of the church. Jesus speaks to all of us with the same tenderness. God never created anyone whom he does not love. All of us belong together." (From a Feb. 8 homily by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, marking the Feb. 11 World Day of the Sick)

Interview on Catholics and Capital Punishment Teaching: Question -- "Do you see any signs that the church's teaching on the death penalty is becoming more accepted by Catholics or is it still a hard teaching to accept?" Response of Archbishop Gregory Aymond -- "My impression is that there are more people who are open to discussing it and to changing their views than I have seen in the past. When I have given talks on pro-life activities, I mention that the legalization of abortion is a fundamental violation of human life. Once the taking of an innocent child from the womb is legalized -- and spoken about in popular ways --- it enables us to disregard human life in many other ways such as the death penalty, euthanasia, assisted suicide and human trafficking. It opens all of that up." (From an interview with Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans published this February by the Clarion Herald newspaper of New Orleans)

5. Pastoral Care of Marriage

As the years of their marriage unfold, couples need to learn how to love and care for each other, Pope Francis suggested when he spoke to 10,000 engaged couples Feb. 14 in St. Peter's Square. In his Valentine's Day remarks, he uniquely adapted the Lord's Prayer to the needs of couples.

"In the Our Father prayer we say, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'" But "married couples may also learn to pray, 'Give us this day our daily love,' teach us to love each other, to care for each other," the pope proposed.

Pope Francis responded to concerns raised by many engaged couples: whether it is possible for a marriage to last forever, for example, and the "art" of married life. He also asked what "love" means.

Could love be "a mere emotion, a psychophysical state? Certainly, if it is just this, it cannot provide the foundation for building something solid," the pope said. However, if love "is a relationship, then it is a growing reality, and we can also say, by way of example, that it is built in the same way that we build a house. And we build a house together, not alone!"

Yes, the pope affirmed, a lasting marriage remains possible. But "'forever' is not simply a question of duration," he said. "A marriage does not succeed just because it lasts; its quality is also important. To stay together and to know how to love each other forever is the challenge Christian married couples face!"

Pope Francis encouraged the engaged couples he addressed not to build their marriages "on the shifting sands of emotions." The family is born of a "project of love that wishes to grow, as one builds a house that becomes the locus of affection, help, hope and support," he said.

6. The Art of Marriage

Pope Francis emphasized in his Valentine's Day remarks that living together in marriage is "an art, a patient, beautiful and fascinating journey" that "can be summarized in three words: 'please,' 'thank you' and 'sorry.'" The media latched onto these words, and they were repeated everywhere I turned, even though this was not the first time the pope used them. But this time people noticed!

Please: The word "please" expresses "a kind request to be able to enter into the life of someone else with respect and care," the pope said. He insisted that "true love does not impose itself with hardness and aggression."

This word, "please," is an expression of courtesy, he added. He recalled that "St. Francis said that 'courtesy is the sister of charity, it extinguishes hatred and kindles love.'" In the world and in families today, violence and arrogance are common, the pope observed. There is thus "a need for far more courtesy."

Thank you: Pope Francis accented the importance of gratitude in his remarks to the engaged couples in St. Peter's Square. "Do we know how to say thank you?" He said:

"In your relationship and in your future as married couples, it is important to keep alive your awareness that the other person is a gift from God, and we should always give thanks for gifts from God. … It is not merely a kind word to use with strangers in order to be polite. It is necessary to know how to say thank you, to journey ahead together."

Sorry: "In our lives we make many errors, many mistakes. We all do," Pope Francis said. He expressed concern that "in general, we are all ready to accuse others and to justify ourselves." But that, he cautioned, "is an instinct that lies at the origins of many disasters."

He said to the couples, "Let us learn to recognize our mistakes and to apologize." In that way "the Christian family grows," he continued.

"We are all aware that the perfect family does not exist, nor does the perfect husband, nor the perfect wife," the pope clarified. "We exist, and we are sinners," he said. But Jesus "teaches us a secret: Never let a day go by without asking forgiveness or without restoring peace to your home."

Underscoring this point, the pope added, "If we learn to apologize and to forgive each other, the marriage will last and will move on."

In October, speaking to an international pilgrimage of families at the Vatican, Pope Francis used the same three words (please, thank you, sorry), applying them to marriage and all family life. Here is an excerpt from that speech, discussing the three "essential" words:

"We say please so as not to be forceful in family life: 'May I please do this? Would you be happy if I did this?' We do this with a language that seeks agreement.

"We say thank you, thank you for love! But be honest with me, how many times do you say thank you to your wife, and you to your husband? How many days go by without uttering this word, 'thanks'!

"And the last word: 'sorry.' We all make mistakes, and on occasion someone gets offended in the marriage, in the family, and sometimes -- I say -- plates are smashed, harsh words are spoken, but please listen to my advice: Don't ever let the sun set without reconciling.

"Peace is made each day in the family: 'Please forgive me,' and then you start over."