Pope Benedict XVI embraces Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy, in this June 26, 2012 photo. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
the Consistory last month, the Holy Father asked Cardinal Walter Kasper
to address the assembled cardinals about contemporary challenges in
pastoral care to the family, as part of the preparations for the
Extraordinary Synod on that theme scheduled for October 2014. Despite
the original understanding that this lengthy talk would remain
confidential, plans were quickly made to publish it in German as a book,
and several passages from it containing controversial proposals and
open-ended speculation have circulated widely in both the Catholic and
the secular media.
One suggestion in particular, that the Church
might one day allow divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Holy
Communion, prompted responses by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Raymond
Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, emphasizing that not even
the Pope has the authority to redefine the sacraments.
after the Consistory, the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Carlo
Caffarra, granted a 4,250-word interview to the Italian daily newspaper Il Foglio, in which he addresses the themes of marriage, family, the teaching of Humanae Vitae,
repentance and mercy. Although at times critical of recent statements
by other Catholic prelates, the main purpose of the interview was to
examine those themes from the perspective of Catholic teaching as
explained in the conciliar documents and in the subsequent Magisterium
of the Church.
Several excerpts from Cardinal Caffarra’s March 2014 interview follow in English translation.
[The Apostolic Letter] Familiaris Consortio
by John Paul II [written after the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family]
is caught in the crossfire. Some say that it is the foundation for the
Gospel of the family, and others claim that it is obsolete. Is an
updating of that document in the realm of possibility?
Cardinal Caffarra: If you mean gender controversies and so-called homosexual marriage, it is true that at the time of Familiaris Consortio
there was no talk about that. But it did speak at length about all the
other problems, especially about the divorced-and-remarried. I am an
eyewitness of this, because I was one of the consultors of the 1980
It is not true to say that Familiaris Consortio originated in an historical context completely different from today’s. Having clarified that, I say that first of all FC
taught us a method by which questions about marriage and family must be
addressed. Using this method is connected with a doctrine that remains
an indispensable point of reference. What method? When Jesus was asked
on what conditions divorce was permissible, “liceity” or permissibility
as such was not discussed at that time. Jesus does not go into the
problematic casuistry from which the question originated, but instead
points out the direction in which one must look in order to understand
what marriage is, and consequently the truth about its indissolubility.
It was as if Jesus had said: “Look: you have to get beyond this
casuistic logic and look in a different direction, toward the
Beginning.” In other words: you must look to the place where man and
woman come into existence in the full truth of their being man and
woman, called to become one flesh. In one catechesis, John Paul II says:
“When the man is confronted for the first time with the woman, then the
human person emerges in the dimension of the mutual gift; the
expression of that gift (which is also the expression of his existence
as a person) is the human body in all the original truth of its
masculinity and femininity.” This is the method of Familiaris Consortio.
What is the deeper, relevant meaning of Familiaris Consortio?
Cardinal Caffarra:Familiaris Consortio
affirms that the Church has a supernatural sense of the faith, which
does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful.
The Church, in following Christ, seeks the truth, which does not always
coincide with majority opinion. She listens to conscience and not to
power. And in doing so she defends the poor and the despised. The Church
can also appreciate sociological research and statistics, when they
prove helpful in understanding the historical context. Such research
alone and in itself, however, must not be considered an expression of
the sensus fidelium (FC 5). I spoke about the truth of
marriage. I would like to explain that this expression does not
designate an ideal norm of marriage. It designates what God in his
creative act inscribed in the person of man and of woman. Christ says
that before considering particular cases, it is necessary to know what
we are talking about. We are not talking about a norm that may or may not allow exceptions, about an ideal to strive for. We are talking about what marriage and family are. Through this method Familiaris Consortio
identifies what marriage and family are.... Within this perspective the
Apostolic Exhortation identifies the deeper meaning of marital
indissolubility (see FC 20). Familiaris Consortio therefore was
a grandiose doctrinal development, made possible also by the series of
catecheses by John Paul II on human love [later published as The Theology of the Body].
In the first of these catecheses, on September 3, 1979, John Paul II
says that he intends to accompany remotely, so to speak, the preparatory
work of the Synod that was to be held the following year. He did so not
by addressing directly the themes of the General Assembly, but by
calling attention to their deep roots. It is as though he had said, “I,
John Paul II, want to help the Synod Fathers. How? By taking them back
to the roots of these questions. And from this return to the roots was
born the major teaching on marriage and the family given to the Church
by Familiaris Consortio. And it did not ignore the concrete
problems. It spoke about divorce, cohabitation, the problem of admitting
the divorced-and-remarried to the Eucharist. Therefore the image of a Familiaris Consortio
that belongs to the past, that has nothing to say to the present, is a
caricature. Or else a remark made by persons who have not read it.
... Is there a lack of pastoral care to families?
It is lacking. We pastors are very seriously to blame for reducing
everything to premarital instruction. But what about the emotional
education of adolescents and young people? How many pastors still talk
about chastity? There has been an almost total silence on the subject
for years, as far as I can tell. Look at the follow-up of young couples:
we should ask ourselves whether we have truly proclaimed the Gospel of
marriage, whether we have proclaimed it as Jesus asked. And then, why do
we not ask ourselves why young people no longer marry? It is not always
for economic reasons, as people usually say....
Has the way in
which marriage and the family have been “evolving” been a positive
development for human persons, for their relations and for society, or
have they marked a decline of persons and of their relations that can
have devastating effects on civilization as a whole? The Synod cannot
avoid this question....
There is talk about the
possibility of readmitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to the
Eucharist. One of the solutions proposed by Cardinal Kasper has to do
with a period of penance that would lead to full [sacramental]
Cardinal Caffarra: Those who
suggest this hypothetical situation have so far not answered one very
simple question: what about the first ratified and consummated marriage?
If the Church admits [such people] to the Eucharist, she must however
render a judgment about the legitimacy of the second union. That is only
logical. But thenas I askedwhat about the first marriage? ... The
popes have always taught that ... the Pope has no authority over [i.e.
cannot dispense from] a ratified and consummated marriage. The proposed
solution leads one to think that the first marriage remains, but there
is also a second form of life together that the Church legitimizes.
Therefore there is such a thing as extramarital human sexuality that the
Church considers legitimate. But that negates the central pillar of the
Church’s teaching on sexuality. At that point someone might wonder:
then why not approve cohabitation? Or relations between homosexuals? The
fundamental question is therefore simple: what about the first
marriage? But no one answers it. John Paul II said in 2000 in an address
to the Roman Rota that “It is quite clear then that the non-extension
of the Roman Pontiff’s power to ratified and consummated sacramental
marriages is taught by the Church’s Magisterium as a doctrine to be held
definitively, even if it has not been solemnly declared by a defining
act.” This is a technical formula... meaning that on this subject
discussion among theologians and doubt among the faithful are no longer
(Translated from Italian by Michael J. Miller)