Cardinal Baldisseri: ‘The Church Is Not an Abstraction’

**Cardinal Baldisseri: ‘The Church Is Not an Abstraction’ **

The secretary general of the upcoming Synod of Bishops explains his recent comments about Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on marriage.

by EDWARD PENTIN 05/28/2014

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the October Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family, caused controversy recently when he said in an interview that he wanted to bring Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on marriage, contained in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) up to date.

Some misinterpreted his comments to mean he was suggesting changing Church teaching. Noting that the document is more than 30 years old, he said: “The Church is not timeless, it lives amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today.” The interview appeared in the Belgian Christian weekly, Tertio.

In this May 20 email interview with the Register, the Italian cardinal explains what he meant by his comments, addresses concerns that the synod may appear to intend to change the Church’s teaching on Communion for civilly divorced and remarried Catholics, and is asked why John Paul II’s teachings on marriage and family have been noticeably absent in some key debates by synod leaders.

You said that the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family needs to be “updated.” What did you mean by this?

In the sense that St. John XXIII intended [the word “updated”], for the Second Vatican Council. This means that the theme of the family, after over 30 years since the document “Familiaris Consortio,” must be looked at in a global sense, considering the often uncommon anthropological and social situations today.

The Church is not an abstraction; it is a human and divine reality that moves through history. The Church’s mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ, who is a Person, the Son of God made man. The message is addressed to real people and is transmitted through the word and testimony of people who have believed in him, and who in virtue of different roles and charisms, they become missionaries in the world.

Some are concerned that the synod will make it seem as if the Church’s teaching has changed when that is not the case. Is this concern justified, in your opinion?

The Church’s teaching is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which everyone can read. The Church’s magisterium exists, which ensures the integrity and authenticity of the faith. There is also theological research and that of other ecclesiastical disciplines that help to deepen the knowledge of the truths of faith, confessed by the faithful and guaranteed by the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

The magisterium has the task of certifying fidelity to the “deposit of faith,” entrusted to the Pope and to the bishops. So the next synod moves along this line of doctrinal certainty towards pastoral care suited to the times.

What will be your exact role in the synod and how much influence will you have on its apostolic exhortation?

The document that will be released by the synod will be the result of the study and reflection of the synod fathers on the themes established by the instrumentum laboris [working document]. The secretary general has the task of monitoring the progress of the event. In the presence of the Holy Father will be the president delegates who, in turn, will direct the sessions and congregations, and a relator general with a special secretary who is in charge of collating the issues and helping with the drafting of the document, which must have the consensus of the members of the assembly, and which will then be consigned to the hands of the Holy Father who will use it as he deems appropriate.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the general secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference, recently said the synod should discuss issues related to abortion, homosexuality, etc. without any taboo. Do you agree with this?

In this regard, I would like to say that the topics that will be discussed in the assembly of the synod of next October are those indicated in the questionnaire. The theme of life and, therefore, also of abortion, euthanasia and others, as well as issues that affect the family in its social, economic and political aspects, shall be handled in the second stage. And this will be done with all freedom and clarity.

Some people have noted a reluctance among some of those closely connected with the synod to apply the teachings of St. John Paul II on the family. Why is this in your opinion?

The teaching of the Church has the secular dynamic of a journey, as on the road to Emmaus. Jesus stands at the side of the disciples, accompanies them and nourishes them with sacred Scripture and the Eucharistic bread as they go along.

Each person, in various stages of life, roles and charisms, brings his contribution, and if we accept this perspective, which is often emphasized by Pope Francis, there is room for everyone to join in and work in the pursuit of truth and the practice of love.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Card. Baldisseri brings up the two upcoming Synods in this interview, though I’m not sure what he means here:

“In this regard, I would like to say that the topics that will be discussed in the assembly of the synod of next October are those indicated in the questionnaire. The theme of life and, therefore, also of abortion, euthanasia and others, as well as issues that affect the family in its social, economic and political aspects, shall be handled in the second stage.”

Does anyone know what the relationship between the two Synods will be? Is it that the first one will be general discussion and the second one will be specifics, or will different topics be discussed at each of them? Anyone know?

I found the interview subtly disturbing. I seem to detect a “we have to change with the times” tone here.

Bravo Cardinal Baldisseri!!! The Church needs to be in a continuous cycle of virtuous renewal.

I agree, although his statements have been kind of all over the place. The first one was very worrying:

"The questionnaire had many themes. Among them, the themes of sexual morality, but also the situation of real and those civilly re-married. During the consistory, Pope Francis asked Cardinal Kasper, who is a theologian to address the issue of family in view of the synod. There arose a debate as the Pope has asked for repeatedly. That is synodality: . . . participation and open exchanges in all fields.

We also wish to update the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, by Pope John Paul II from 1981. That is the latest large document of the past thirty years on this issue. The Church is not timeless, it lives amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today. It is in the present that the message should be, with all respect for the integrity of whoever receives that message. We now have two synods to treat this complex theme of the family brought and I believe that the dynamics in two movements will enable us to more effectively respond to the expectations of the people.’

Although he followed that up with a much stronger statement:

"“Regarding the possibility for the synod of bishops of changing the doctrine of the Church,” Cardinal Baldisseri said, “I underscore that the First Vatican Council’s document ‘Dei Filius’ affirmed that ‘understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding.’”

The cardinal then continued: “And I also remind you that John XXIII said in the inaugural speech of the Second Vatican Council [The address is called “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia”, which I quote on this blog pretty often.] that ‘authentic doctrine … should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.’"

I see this new statement of his as subtly positive. At least he seems to infer that doctrine is safe.

Changing doctrine was never on the table. The Church was, is, and will always uphold the indissolubility of marriage, rendering divorce and remarriage a grave sin. No modification to this teaching is planned.

On the other hand, Interpretation and pastoral practice are different matters, which is why Cardinal Baldiserri speaks of evolving presentation. Going forward, the big question will be the scope of adultery in the case of remarriage. Is the adultery perpetual without total commitment to abstinence, or is there a possibility of condemning the initial adultery, issuing penance, and then blessing the following marriage to keep the sinner (and his/her new family, if applicable) on a path toward holiness?

That’s a tough issue, and it’s one that some leaders in the Church (from the very top) want to explore.

The example you give would most definitely be changing the doctrine. You can’t say marriage is indissoluable, then turn around and issue a penance that renders the first marriage dissoluable.

What if a person married their same sex partner? Would that sin be perpetual, or could we condemn the initial sin, issue a penance, then the relationship is fine?

What about ongoing contraception? Is that perpetual, or could we condemn the initial sin, issue a penance, then its ok to keep on contracepting?

Etc, etc

Well of course it’s a perpetual act. Nobody pretends that ongoing exclusive adultery–by which I mean someone leaves his spouse and pretends to have another–or relationships in general, are not perpetual, that they’re just some sort of magic action at the beginning and then are just completely passive from that point on. Relationships are active and necessarily require active input every day. How can a relationship ever possibly not be a perpetual thing?

How can sexual, exclusive adultery not be perpetually sinful? If you confess, “I’ve sinned by having sex with someone who is not really my spouse and who cannot be my spouse [assuming the first marriage is valid],” then how can you possibly be contrite if you don’t firmly resolve not to have sex with this person anymore? It just. does. not. compute.

I read a similar interview on News.Va website which is the official Vatican News Network with Cardinal Baldissiri. What really made me uncomfortable was his reference to Natural Law:

“The difficulties that arise in relation to natural law can be overcome through more attentive reference to the biblical world, to its language and narrative forms, and to the proposal to thematise and deepen the biblically-inspired concept of the ‘order of creation’, like the possibility of reinterpreting ‘natural law’ in a more existentially meaningful way.” ‘reinterpreting’ bolded out by me.

Huh? Reinterpreting natural law? I’m confused. I am really no good at posting articles but you can reference the quote at www.News.Va I guess I’m a tad nervous about this whole Synod. Kind of reminds me how some of them’ misinterpreted’ Vat ll.:eek: We all know how that all worked out.

Nothing wrong there. IMO natural law can often be seen as an arbitrary set of rules, rather than the foundation of our actions involving the giving of ourself.

An arbitrary set of rules? How so? Does not natural law mirror God’s law? How can that be arbitrary?

I’m not saying that it is arbitrary, only that it can be perceived by some as arbitrary.

E.g hypothetical scenario:

Nonpracticing Catholic: why is the Church against contraception?

Practicing Catholic: it’s contrary to natural law

NpC: whatever.

When you tie natural law into your relationship with Christ and you realize that it is essential for a total giving of yourself for Christ, it becomes a lot more relevant for most people on an existential level, IMO.

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