Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy (CNS photo/Robert Duncan)
The following appears as the foreword to the book
Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on
Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage, and Communion in the Church, which will be published by Ignatius Press
next month. The book is co-authored by Juan José Pérez-Soba, a priest of the
Diocese of Madrid and the director of international research in moral theology
at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in
Rome, and Stephan Kampowski, an associate professor of philosophical
anthropology at the John Paul II Institute in Rome.
book is important for many reasons. A courteous, informed, and rigorous
discussion, indeed debate, is needed especially for the coming months to defend
the Christian and Catholic tradition of monogamous, indissoluble
marriagefocusing on the central elements of the challenges facing marriage and
the family, rather than being distracted into a counterproductive and futile
search for short-term consolations.
health of an organization can be gauged by observing the amount of time and
energy devoted to the discussion of various topics. Healthy communities do not
spend most of their energies on peripheral issues, and unfortunately the number
of divorced and remarried Catholics who feel they should be allowed to receive
Holy Communion is very small indeed.
pressures for this change are centered mainly in some European churches, where
churchgoing is low and an increasing number of divorcees are choosing not to
remarry. The issue is seen by both friends and foes of the Catholic tradition
as a symbola prize in the clash between what remains of Christendom in Europe
and an aggressive neo-paganism. Every opponent of Christianity wants the Church
to capitulate on this issue.
sides in this discussion appeal to Christian criteria, and everyone is dismayed
by the amount of suffering caused to spouses and children by marriage breakups.
What help can and should the Catholic Church offer?
the primary task of the Church as providing lifeboats for those who have been
shipwrecked by divorce. And lifeboats should be available for all, especially
for those tragic innocent parties. But which way should the lifeboats be
headed? Toward the rocks or the marshes, or to a safe port, which can only be reached
with difficulty? Others see an even more important task for the Church in
providing leadership and good maps to diminish the number of shipwrecks. Both
tasks are necessary, but how are they best achieved?
Christian understanding of mercy is central when we are talking about marriage
and sexuality, forgiveness and Holy Communion, so not surprisingly, in this
excellent volume the essential links between mercy and fidelity, between truth
and grace in our Gospel teaching, are spelled out clearly and convincingly.
different from most forms of tolerance, which is one of the more praiseworthy
aspects of our pluralist societies. Some forms of tolerance define sin out of
existence, but adult freedoms and inevitable differences need not be founded on
a thoroughgoing relativism.
indissolubility of marriage is one of the rich truths of divine revelation. It
is no coincidence that monogamy and monotheism are found together in
Judeo-Christianity. Lifelong marriage is not simply a burden but a jewel, a
life-giving institution. When societies recognize this beauty and goodness,
they regularly protect it with effective disciplinary measures. They realize
that doctrine and pastoral practice cannot be contradictory, and that one
cannot maintain the indissolubility of marriage by allowing the “remarried” to
receive Holy Communion. Recognizing their inability to participate fully in the
Eucharist is undoubtedly a sacrifice for believers, an imperfect but real form
of sacrificial love.
and especially Catholicism constitute one historical reality, where the
apostolic tradition of faith and morals, prayer and worship, is maintained. The
doctrines of Christ are our cornerstone.
Jesus’ hard teaching that “what therefore God has joined together, let no man
put asunder” (Mt 19:6) follows not long after his insistence to Peter on the
necessity of forgiveness (see Mt 18:2135).
true that Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman who was threatened with
death by stoning, but he did not tell her to keep up her good work, to continue
unchanged in her ways. He told her to sin no more (see Jn 8:111).
insurmountable barrier for those advocating a new doctrinal and pastoral
discipline for the reception of Holy Communion is the almost complete unanimity
of two thousand years of Catholic history on this point. It is true that the
Orthodox have a long-standing but different tradition, forced on them
originally by their Byzantine emperors, but this has never been the Catholic
might claim that the penitential disciplines in the early centuries before the
Council of Nicaea were too fierce as they argued whether those guilty of
murder, adultery, or apostasy could be reconciled by the Church to their local
communities only onceor not at all. They always acknowledged that God could
forgive, even when the Church’s ability to readmit sinners to the community was
severity was the norm at a time when the Church was expanding in numbers,
despite persecution. It can no more be ignored than the teachings of the
Council of Trent or those of Saint John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI on
marriage can be ignored. Were the decisions that followed Henry VIII’s divorce
work contains some penetrating analyses of the cultural causes of family
disintegration in today’s pansexual culture. The point is well made that a
correct diagnosis is more important than ever in an epidemic!
claim is that divorce is the most important social revolution in modern times,
and, without doubt, the crisis of marriage mirrors the crisis of faith and
religious practice. Which is the chicken, and which is the egg?
as the long-standing intuition that a weakened faith means fewer children, I
think it highly likely that the decision to have no children, or very few,
itself results often in a serious weakening of faith. The influences run in
presently in a somewhat new situation, unparalleled since the days of the
Second Vatican Council, where an increasing range of moral options are being
canvassed publically, even by clerics. This brings benefits as an increased
number of the formerly disinterested begin to discuss Christian claims, but
pain and wounding are also inevitable.
in the tradition, such as the authors of this volume, should be commended when
they state their case calmly and charitably. We still have the best tunes.
need to work now to avoid a repetition of the aftermath of Humanae vitae in
1968. We should speak clearly, because the sooner the wounded, the lukewarm,
and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are
impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the
reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated.