Cardinal Maradiaga: ‘Pastoral Conversion’ Is Top Priority for Pope’s Family Synod
The Honduran cardinal said the bishops and Pope want to focus on how parishes and pastors form and nourish families, not on the question of communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.
by PETER JESSERER SMITH 06/04/2014
WASHINGTON — Speculation and expectation are building for the upcoming extraordinary synod of bishops that convenes this October to discuss the pastoral challenges to the family all over the world in the 21st century.
But according to Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegulcigalpa, Honduras, a member of Pope Francis’ council of eight cardinal advisers, the focus will be mainly on “pastoral conversion” in how the Church forms and nourishes marriage and families, and not the separate question of communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.
Cardinal Maradiaga sat down June 3 with journalists in Washington, where he shared his insights on the Pope’s vision for the upcoming synod on the family and what the faithful should expect from it.
The cardinal explained that Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate, identified that the “lack of family” is the “most important problem affecting the world nowadays.”
He added that the Pope opted to make three consultations with the world’s bishops: first, through an extraordinary consistory of the cardinals dedicated to the family.
“For two days we discussed the family,” he said.
The cardinal said these discussions will be followed up with the survey to bishops all around the world about the state of marriage and family in their dioceses. He said some bishops chose to consult with their people, others with their priests, and some with just themselves.
“But in general, the responses have been so many,” he said.
Cardinal Maradiaga said that most of the bishops’ conferences already have completed the questionnaire. The next two phases will proceed with the extraordinary synod in October “with all the presidents of the bishops’ conferences,” and then the ordinary synod in 2015 with Catholic bishops from around the globe.
Marriages That Might Be Invalid
He addressed some of the hype and speculation surrounding discussion of the synod, saying that “it is necessary to make some changes” in the Church’s pastoral care of families. He said the question of “giving or not giving Communion” to divorced and civilly remarried persons is “another subject, and it is not the most important.”
Instead, the “main concern” is the sacramental validity of many Catholic marriages in the first place.
“The doctrine is not going to change, because the indissolubility of marriage comes from Jesus,” he said. “The Word of God says what God has united men do not separate. That is clear. Of course, but [the question is] has God united some couples?”
“In other words is there a sacrament or not? This is the key,” he said.
The cardinal shared anecdotal evidence that in Honduras most of the unions attempted as Catholic marriages “were not sacraments.” He explained that many marriages involved forms of coercion that prevented one or both parties from giving their free consent to contract the sacrament.
“Many people went there because the father-in-law came with a pistol to the back: ‘If you do not marry my daughter that is pregnant now, I’ll kill you,’” he said. “We can’t talk of a sacrament there, because one of the conditions for a sacrament is freedom, freedom of choice.”
He added, “Many times it is not necessary to have the pistol at your back. Many times it is a moral pressure.” He gave the example of couples who feel badly after they conceived a child out of wedlock and who married subsequently because they felt it was the honorable or right thing to do. “But these are not the motivations for a sacrament,” he said. “A sacrament is quite a different thing.”
One solution in such cases of attempted but not valid sacramental unions is to “try to give more possibilities to the local tribunals” to address these cases. But reform of the annulment process has challenges to address.
“The way of the [declaration of nullity] process nowadays is complicated, and you need to question a series of witnesses,” he said. “Well, sometimes what can you do if the witnesses are already dead? Who can testify? Or some places where people are so poor that they cannot pay the cost of the tribunal?
“These are pastoral problems that have to be resolved,” he said. “But as I say before, these are not the most important things related to the family.”
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