God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Synod impressions

As expected the lines are drawn in the sand between hardliners and those giving space to the spirit, but there are also some voices not expected to be heard during the first days of the synod. In his opening statement as a the synod’s general relator, Cardinal Péter Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest told the assembly that it was impossible to allow divorced remarried to receive communion. Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Erdő said “integration of divorced and remarried persons in the life of the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist…In the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulties of certain civilly divorced and remarried persons, it is presently held that the fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be joined to the practical recognizing of the goodness of concrete situations that stand opposed and are therefore incompatible,” he said further and continued: “Indeed, between true and false, between good and evil, there is not a graduality, Even if some forms of living together bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not mean that they can be presented as good things.”
This opening statement triggered two interventions, one from the pope himself almost rebuking this opening remarks in stating that nobody is trying the change the dogmatic teaching of the church and that this synod is a pastoral gathering following the first such meeting and from Cardinal Marx. He pointed out that saying in the beginning that nothing can change would mean that the synod starts again where they have been two years ago.
So there is a clear indication that this Synod not starts from scratch again but is a continuation of the meeting two years ago. There is also a clear expectation of the majority that pastoral approaches and languages have to be developed and changed to be able to proclaim the gospel in our times.
Now it remains to be seen how the synod fathers go about it – there is a great variation of opinions from the so-called far right with Cardinals Sarah, Mueller or Napier trying to stop any possible development and those on the so-called left like Cardinal Marx and Kasper.
It remains a question how much the Synod acknowledges the advance in the last 100 years of knowledge of the human sexuality and incorporates it into the pastoral approaches. Especially when it comes to homosexuality and the fixation of the sexual act within the marriage there should be some movement if the church wants to remain relevant. Here we can also see the divide between Europe and Africa, where there is a clear line of disagreement visible how to approach the aforesaid topics. While there are differences in realities like polygamy or concepts like ubuntu the global village is growing closer together. Instead of  trying to keep the lid on teaching versus realities it would be great if the African bishops would contribute in making the teaching and pastoral work of the church more diverse from their own real traditions. The African church has more to offer than defending the old Platonist shaped Roman-European teaching.

I also noted the Canadian Archbishops Paul-Andre Durocher remarks to the Synod, where he proposed three courses of action for this Synod. He asked “that this Synod considers the possibility of granting to married men and women, well-trained and accompanied, permission to speak in homilies at Mass in order to show the link between the Word proclaimed and the lives of spouses and parents. That in order to recognize the equal capacity of women to assume decision-making positions in the Church, the Synod recommends the appointment of women to positions they are able to occupy in the Roman Curia and in our diocesan curia’s. Finally, concerning the permanent diaconate, that this Synod recommends the establishment of a process that could eventually open to women access to this order, which, as tradition says, is directed non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium  which means not to priesthood, but to ministry.

Even if many say that the topics discussed at the Synod are not really relevant for the daily life of people including Catholics – as they have made up their minds already long ago – it is amazing to see the interest in the Synod’s discussion. I interpret this as a yearning of the people of God for spiritual guidance, for meaning in life but in a way touching the lives instead of judging the lives all the time – with one word: mercy and the encouragement to live a life to the fullest. Add acknowledgement of modern sciences and their results and we will develop into a church which arrives finally in the 21st century making God’s love and commitment towards his creation touchable and to be experienced for the people of today.

 

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Networking, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gloves are off?

The clock is ticking and the preparations for the synod of the bishops to discuss family and marriage matters are in full swing. Some churches publish their findings on the questionnaire, others treat it as a sort of highly secretly exercise. Some parts of the hierarchy asked frankly those called the laity, others compiled answers without elaborating on the ways how they did it. In Germany it seems that the topic is highly contested. Cardinal Marx from Munich made it very clear that in the question of divorced and remarried couples, the church must be able to consider all their options. This was in answer to soon-top-be Cardinal Mueller in Rome, who insisted already upfront that nothing can be changed at all. Only to be reprimanded by an South American Cleric in the same rank that there is more to it than just dogmatic insistence. The Diocese of Freiburg published a guideline for the possibility in some instances for a blessing of a second marriage and communion for those who are divorced and remarried. Which obviously drew flag from Mueller in Rome again, who insisted that people living in a second marriage are living in sin and therefore are excluded from Holy Communion.
Such debates are not new – I remember that  then Bishop of Rottenburg – Stuttgart and now Cardinal Kasper, then Bishop and now Cardinal Karl Lehmann from Mainz as well as Archbishop Oscar Saier from Freiburg published a letter to the faithful on the 10th of July 1993 declaring that in case of a remarried divorce, the priest must find out in a talk “whether that, what is right in general, also applies for the situation of the couple concerned”. It’s the simple question of oikonomia, one of the acknowledged traditions of the Orthodox church through all ages till today which is in principle also recognized in the Roman-Catholic Church, but not for marriage cases. Oikonomia means that there is a law (like the marriage is for ever) but it acknowledges that humans can fail and for the greater good of the people involved and because of the unconditional love of God to be experienced through the church, there is a solution to start anew without denying the general rule.  The Orthodox church requires a time of penance and acknowledgement of failure before allowing the new marriage. And I think it’s right so: Couples tend to think that love never ends when they get married and it is for most horrible to experience failure and the ceasing of love. There is need for a time of reflection, soul-searching before restarting life again. So saying that there is only the Roman Catholic alternative of being faithful to the letter of the law is cheating the people of alternatives which have proven their value through 2000 years without compromising faith. In 1993 the reaction of then head of the department for doctrine, Cardinal Ratzinger was sharp and direct: He found the Bishops being unfaithful and in opposition to the teaching of the church and that was end of the story. Thanks God times have changed and at least it is allowed in church now to think again – at least in most parts of it.

Bishop Ackermann from Trier, one of the younger bishops in Germany made his standpoint quite clear in a series of interviews. After the German Bishops Conference published parts of the finding of the laity for the synod, the Bishop was asked about sex before marriage, contraception, same-sex marriage and the question of divorce and remarriage. He stated that not every sexual act before marriage can be considered a great sin, the question of distinguishing between “artificial contraception” and ‘natural contraception” is in his opinion artificial itself. Even on the question of same-sex partnerships he clearly stated that there is no way of conducting a marriage as understood by the church, but he admitted that he would not refuse to  bless a same-sex couple, if they would come up for a blessing in one of the services dedicated to couples and their love ending with a personalized blessing for each couple. I guess it is a sensitive answer, it shows that there is acknowledgement of love between to people independent from their sexual orientation, but it makes at the same time clear, that there is a difference how church and theology defines marriage and the state defines it. Same sex partnerships are not a marriage in a sacramental way as understood by the church – I often think if the church would put all the energy it takes to fight the state on same-sex partnerships instead would put into supporting marriage and family life in parishes it would surely look better on this side.  Church and state are different entities with different definitions of certain aspects of life which indeed can be lived next to each other without fighting. I read once a quote from Cardinal Napier which stated that civil partnerships have nothing to do with the church. Right so, if that is the case don’t fight them. But I also have to admit that I still don’t like the word “same-sex marriage” – same rights yes, but create another word, less burdened with a long tradition leading, yes asking for debates dividing people unnecessarily.

Following the internet debates on all those topics it seems that the gloves are off and all parties concerned are anxious to get their message through. It shows how divided the church is on that topic and that in the last 30 years the rift was covered up through tough measures against anybody even asking the right questions. Academic theologians were to scared to research freely as they had to fear not to get into teaching with the blessing of the official church. Doctrine was everything – but times have changed and as a bishop in South Africa put it: “We are allowed to think again and to debate questions without fear”. This is indeed a step in the right direction and I only hope that all this debate ends up not with winners and losers but with the unconditional love of God being personalized in those leading the church so that everybody can see and experience that faith is an assistance to life and not a constant headache.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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