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March 5, 2014

Journey into Lent -
Human slavery not confined to the past -
Reports released on presynod consultations -
The church and divorced-remarried Catholics

In this edition:
1. Catholics respond to presynod questions.
2. Accenting family-life realities.
3. Dublin's presynod consultation.
4. Cardinal Kasper: the divorced-remarried.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) When marital love fails.
b) Carry the Beatitudes into Lent.
c) Cardinal's habitat, not a royal court.
d) Thoughts on snow and changing seasons.
6. Human slavery, not confined to the past.

1. Catholics Respond to Presynod Questions

Last fall Pope Francis and the Vatican Synod Secretariat urged bishops around the world to take a set of 39 questions to Catholics in their regions on the theme of next October's special assembly of the world Synod of Bishops, "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization."

The Synod Secretariat wanted to consult Catholics on the sort of formation provided in the local church regarding "the church's teaching on family life" and whether this teaching is accepted fully or not. The secretariat asked: "Are there difficulties in putting [this teaching] into practice? If so, what are they?"

The secretariat also asked, for example, whether "the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman" is "commonly accepted" by Catholics, what is being done in the area of marriage preparation and whether questions related to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist are being raised by divorced people who remarry without receiving an annulment of a first marriage.

A large majority of bishops conferences, along with hundreds of other groups around the world, now have responded to the Synod Secretariat's questions. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod, recently said that these responses show "much suffering, especially by those who feel excluded or abandoned by the church because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond to the church's doctrine and discipline."

The cardinal said reports from bishops conferences indicate "the urgency of recognizing the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the church for various reasons."

Some reports, as you will see below, suggest, on the one hand, that Catholics tend to enter marriage with the hope of forming a lasting union; they welcome the church's support in meeting that goal. The reports often suggest, however, that many Catholics consider the church out of touch with the realities of family life, including a number of issues touching upon sexual morality.

2. Accenting Family-Life Realities

When he spoke Feb. 27 to pastoral council members in an urban deanery of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin commented on the consultation his archdiocese conducted as part of preparations for the upcoming special assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family. He said:

"A consultation on marriage and family life was carried out in the Archdiocese of Dublin in preparation for the forthcoming Synod of Bishops. The results are not very different from those which emerged in the same consultation process in various other European cities on such subjects as family planning, premarital cohabitation, the problems of the divorced and remarried, the attitude to same-sex relationships."

But the responses did "not come as a surprise," the archbishop added. "What should surprise us," he commented, "is the fact that we have not been developing a strong pastoral response to these questions over the years. We should not have had to wait for a questionnaire from Pope Francis to address these questions."

A report the German bishops' conference issued on these consultations concluded that "most of the baptized have an image of the church on the one hand that is family friendly in its attitude, while at the same time considering her sexual morality to be unrealistic."

The German report indicated, for example, that "most of the baptized enter into marriage in the expectation and hope of concluding a bond for life." Yet, it said, "the church's statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those who are divorced and remarried, and on birth control, by contrast, are virtually never accepted or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases."

The church in its pastoral care "needs to make greater efforts to accompany married couples as they move through their frequently differing circumstances and phases of life," the German report said. "Where the church is experienced in a role of lending strength and support, it is also very much appreciated," the report said.

In Japan, where Catholics constitute an extreme minority of the population, a report from the bishops conference on presynod consultations said that "in an age of equality for men and women in the family, many outside the church criticize the church as presenting out-of-date teachings, especially as regards pregnancy and childbirth."

The report added that "many Catholics do not differ from the common opinion in matters of divorce and remarriage as allowed in civil law, prenatal diagnosis, abortion, etc., and they criticize the church for its teaching on pregnancy and childbirth."

Japan's bishops said that "Japanese culture emphasizes societal expectations rather than abstract principles as guides to action. So, though in the West 'natural law' may seem 'natural,' in Japan it is perceived as abstract and out of touch." The report noted that "even among Catholics, many people are critical of the church's stance toward contraceptive methods such as condoms."

A task for the church in Japan, according to the bishops' report, is "to supplement the pastoral care of people facing difficulties in their family life with a vision of the church's teachings about marriage and the family. Further, it is necessary to go beyond merely saying to men and women who do not follow church norms that they are separated from the community and actively provide them with opportunities to encounter the Christian community."

3. The Dublin Consultation

When he mentioned the presynod consultation that took place in the Dublin Archdiocese, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin pointed out that "there was a great deal of appreciation expressed that consultation was taking place." In his Feb. 27 speech to parish pastoral councils of an urban deanery, he said:

"One person responded, 'It's refreshing, even at this stage in my life, to be consulted about anything,' and another, 'It is the first time in my life that the church has ever consulted me about anything.'"

Archbishop Martin said that "the general response" heard in these consultations "was that the teaching on marriage and the family is poorly understood, and that it was poorly accepted and disconnected from real-life experience of families - and not by just younger people."

Many said the teaching on marriage and the family appears impractical "in relation to people's day-to-day struggles, being at best an unrealistic ideal," Archbishop Martin noted. The feeling seems to be that there is "a theory-practice gap."

Thus, "one reply noted, 'a lot of preaching and teaching does not relate to everyday life; it is above the head of struggling and hurt people.' Another replied, "Church teaching often appears theoretical and remote from an understanding of the real, lived experience of couples."

A "strong pattern" in responses that concerned divorced-remarried Catholics and couples who were cohabiting "was that there should be an attitude of openness and compassion, outreach and welcome to these people, with less judgment and more listening to their experience," the archbishop reported.

But what interested the archbishop in his address was what was said in the responses "about the church's pastoral care of marriage and the family, and what we should be doing in our parishes." Archbishop Martin said, "Many of the replies noted that there is little attempt at explaining the teaching. One person responded: 'I've been a Massgoer all my life, I am now 51 years, I have never heard a sermon on family.'"

It generally was thought by participants in the consultation "that there is very little, if any, formation on church teaching. Education was described as 'inadequate,' taking place mainly at Mass," according to the archbishop.

Much that was positive was heard in the consultations about "marriage preparation courses," Archbishop Martin said. "There were also references to the need for ongoing formation after marriage"; the thought was that this "practically does not exist."

He asked, "Where does one begin to respond?" Here he noted that "the most frequent comments were around strengthening the quality of the environment in the home." For, he said, "even in the changing culture around marriage and the family, there are values in the Christian teaching which are vital and must be fostered: loving care, kindness, forgiveness, security, unconditional love and an environment where people can grow and flourish."

Pastoral programs ought to look at "the real life situation" in which people find themselves and attempt "to arrive at a realistic yet balanced but also hope-filled understanding of what is happening and what is at stake," Archbishop Martin advised.

He cautioned, though, that "pastoral planning should not get bogged down in the mechanics of consultation" or focus on structures alone and thus "become an inward- looking church, possessed by our problems."

What is not needed, he suggested, is to get "caught up in pessimism and in a sort of fear of the fact that many do not understand and accept the message of Jesus." He said:

` "The answers to the consultation on marriage and the family could lead some to throw in the towel and go along with the culture of the moment, rather than courageously witness to that deeper sense of love and faithfulness which Christians are called to bring to that debate, because we believe in a God who is love and has always remained faithful to his people even in their darkest hours."

4. Cardinal Kasper: Divorced-Remarried Catholics

Cardinal Walter Kasper delivered a lengthy address to the Feb. 20-21 meeting of the College of Cardinals in Rome, a meeting that focused on the theme of next October's special assembly of the Synod of Bishops, "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization."

His address proposed that the church can find a way to support divorced Catholics who remarry without receiving an annulment of a first marriage. A way can be found, he thought, that represents neither "rigorism" nor "laxity" but does accent "conversion."

He focused particularly on those divorced-remarried Catholics who long to receive the sacraments of penance and Communion. He suggested that "those sincerely interested in the sacraments" represent "probably the smaller segment of the divorced and remarried." Cardinal Kasper is a widely known German theologian who authored a book on mercy that Pope Francis said he found very helpful. The cardinal, a retired official of the Roman Curia, formerly headed the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

His speech undoubtedly foreshadows the discussion of this important pastoral issue that is sure to take place during the upcoming special synod assembly, a discussion likely to be characterized by intense debate.

Pope Francis said in an interview published March 5 that he welcomed the "intense discussion" that took place during the February College of Cardinals' meeting where Cardinal Kasper spoke. "Fraternal and open confrontations foster the growth of theological and pastoral thought," he commented. He said, "I'm not afraid of this; on the contrary, I seek it."

The new interview with Pope Francis appeared in Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily. The newspaper's editor-in-chief, Ferruccio de Bortoli, conducted the interview.

The text of Cardinal Kasper's address was not released by the Vatican. Nonetheless, it soon became public, obtained by Il Foglio, an Italian newspaper. On March 1, an English translation of parts of the speech was posted on a website created by Sandro Magister, an Italian Catholic journalist.

In the speech, Cardinal Kasper acknowledged that "the question of the marriages of divorced and remarried persons is a complex and thorny problem." In these situations the church "cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Jesus," the cardinal said.

"The indissolubility of sacramental marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage during the lifetime of the other partner is part of the tradition of the church's binding faith," he stated.

The question, therefore, is how the church can pair "fidelity" with the "mercy of God" in "pastoral action concerning the divorced who are remarried in a civil ceremony."

Cardinal Kasper outlined several conditions in the lives of divorced-remarried people that may be relevant in the church's response to whether they receive the sacraments. He put it this way, ending his list of conditions with a question:

"A divorced and remarried person: 1) If he repents of his failure in the first marriage; 2) if he has clarified the obligations of the first marriage, if it is definitively ruled out that he could turn back; 3) if he cannot abandon without further harm the responsibilities taken on with the new civil marriage; 4) if however he is doing the best he can to live out the possibilities of the second marriage on the basis of the faith and to raise his children in the faith; 5) if he has a desire for the sacraments as a source of strength in his situation, should we or can we deny him, after a period of time in a new direction, of 'metanoia,' the sacrament of penance and then of Communion?"

There are some, Cardinal Kasper said, who "maintain that nonparticipation in Communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament." However, he continued, "the question that is posed in response is: Is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others? Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?"

A concern for the children of divorced-remarried Catholics also appeared in Cardinal Kasper's address. He said:

"When the children of the divorced and remarried do not see their parents approach the sacraments, they too usually fail to find their way to confession and Communion. Should we not take into account the fact that we will also lose the next generation and perhaps the one after it too? Our long-established practice, is it not showing itself to be counterproductive?"

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

When Love Fails in Marriage: "How beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is." [Yet,] how much love and what great closeness we should also have for our brothers and sisters who, in their lives, have had the misfortune of a failed love." (Pope Francis in a homily Feb. 28 during the morning Mass at his residence.)

Journeying Into Lent: "Jesus is really describing himself in the Beatitudes. In assuming our human condition, Jesus made himself poor for our sake. . . . He wept for sin and death, and was merciful to sinners. He was meek and pure in heart. He made himself hungry and thirsty for justice and our salvation. . . . The Beatitudes show us the face of Jesus. And his face should be like a mirror in which we see ourselves. . . . The Beatitudes are what a child of God looks like. Beatitude means 'blessedness' -- perfect happiness. So the Beatitudes are the summary of the path of Christ. . . . In his Beatitudes Jesus turns the world's expectations inside out and upside down. The challenge for us is to have the courage to believe him. . . . Let's try to use this Lent to help us deepen the attitudes and actions of the Beatitudes in our lives. Our fasting can help make us poor in spirit. Our almsgiving can help us to hunger and thirst for justice, to be peacemakers. Our penance can help us mourn our sins and be merciful to others. Our prayer can help us to become meek and willing to suffer for the sake of God." (From the Feb. 28 column by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez in The Tidings, the newspaper of the archdiocese)

A Cardinal's New Habitat, Not a Royal Court: "A cardinal -- I say this especially to you -- enters the church of Rome, my brothers, not a royal court. May all of us avoid, and help others to avoid, habits and ways of acting typical of a court: intrigue, gossip, cliques, favoritism and partiality. May our language be that of the Gospel: 'Yes when we mean yes; no when we mean no'; may our attitudes be those of the Beatitudes and our way be that of holiness." (Excerpted from the Feb. 23 homily of Pope Francis during a Mass with new cardinals received one day earlier into the College of Cardinals.)

Remembering Snow; Pondering the Changing Seasons: "When our little corner of the world is clamped shut with this hard, white lid, it leads to all kinds of soul-searching questions, the most common being, 'Why exactly do we live here?' At the same time, we understand and embrace the beauty of nature's rhythm, that continuous cycle of dormancy and explosion with all the intermediate steps that punctuate a year. The turning of the seasons somehow dictates the deepest mysteries of life because nothing ever stays the same for long, and rebirth always follows death. While we can't be too euphoric about spring and summer with all its vibrancy and life, so too we can't be fatalistic about fall and winter. They are all part of an ongoing story that is retold again and again." (From "Nature's Rhythm," an article by Benedictine Father Timothy Backous appearing in the current, winter edition of Abbey Banner, published online by St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.)

6. Human Slavery, Not Confined to the Past

When most people think of human slavery, they think "in the past tense" about "a problem humanity solved a long time ago," Capuchin Father David Couturier observes in an article in the winter 2014 edition of CMSM Forum, published online by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. "The reality, however, is different," he writes.

"Human slavery today is a larger and more complex problem than ever before, interwoven as it is with the very mechanisms of our postmodern society and economics," Father Couturier says. He points in particular to consumerism, with its built-in desire to accumulate goods at the lowest possible prices and its capacity to foster human trafficking.

Father Couturier is a visiting professor of pastoral planning and church management at the Graduate Theological Foundation in Indiana, and teaches at St. Bonaventure University in New York and the Pontifical Antonianum University in Rome.

Human slavery is very much in the news right now. The film titled "12 Years a Slave" received an Oscar for best picture in 2013 during the Academy Awards presentations March 2. In the film, plantation slaves in the U.S. South are treated in violent, dehumanizing ways that fail entirely to recognize their human dignity.

"We have been lulled into thinking that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed into law 150 years ago, eradicated human slavery from these shores," Father Couturier writes. "We have been trained to interpret human slavery as . . . the product of a cruel and unenlightened age now surpassed."

But, the priest says, "that perception could not be further from the truth. Human slavery touches us every day and taints many of the products we use day in and day out."

He notes that "the Polaris Project, a leading organization fighting against human trafficking and modern-day slavery, estimates that there are more individuals in slavery today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries." It estimates "there are 27 million people in modern-day slavery across the world. There are more than 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor around the world."

Father Couturier points out that "human trafficking is the second most profitable form of transnational crime in the world, after the sale of drugs." It is "more profitable even than the sale of arms," he adds.

Father Couturier believes the "sad fact is that, without knowing it and certainly without wanting it, we are all implicated in the dynamic of human trafficking, simply because we are consumers, because we shop in a world that wants to ship cheap goods freely and indiscriminately across the globe."

He writes that "the trafficking enterprise today utilizes our most respected and frequented companies to make human exploitation almost invisible. It hides inexpressible human cruelty behind our most popular logos, making it hard for us to believe how our huge multibillion dollar retail chains could ever sink to using human slaves to make our shirts, assemble our toys and shine our laptops."

A "clear and convincing message" needs to be sent "that we do not want slave-tainted goods and products in our homes or on our dinner tables," Father Couturier states. He encourages people to ask, "How willing am I to work with others to eradicate slave labor from my home and dinner table?"

He calls human trafficking "a sin against the luxurious abundance and infinite goodness of God, demonstrated first and foremost on the face of every human being and then in every nook and cranny of God's wondrous creation."