Pope indicates desire for Church rethink on key marriage issues

Church Synod to meet soon to discuss contraception, same-sex marriage and annulment

Pope Francis  with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner during an   audience at the Vatican today. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

Pope Francis with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner during an audience at the Vatican today. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters


In what looks suspiciously like a pre-Synod manoeuvre, Pope Francis this weekend has twice indicated he wants the Catholic Church to seriously reassess key teaching with regard to marriage.

With the Synod, the closest thing the Catholic Church ever gets to a parliament, due to meet in two weeks’ time to discuss a range of “family” related matters including contraception, same-sex marriage and marriage annulment, two very different bodies of church opinion, usually of the Red Hat variety, have become increasingly voluble in recent days.

Throwing his own, very heavy, hat into the ring, the Pope today said: “Faced with so many pastoral requirements, faced with the requests of men and women, we run the risk of becoming afraid and of turning in on ourselves in a fearful and defensive manner...

“This fear leads to the temptation to be self-satisfied and to clericalism, to codify the faith in rules and instructions just as was done by the Pharisees, the scribes and the doctors of law in Jesus’ time...It is not the pope’s job to offer a full and detailed assessment of contemporary reality but he invites all the Church to grasp the signs of the times...”

The pope obviously does not say it, but there seems little doubt but that his words are in reference to the current very public theological skirmish between two sets of cardinals, particularly with regard to the indissolubility of (church) marriage and, by extension, to the ban on divorcees and remarried receiving the sacrament of communion.

On the very eve of the Synod, which begins on October 5th, five senior Church figures, including Australian Cardinal George Pell and German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Prefect of the Congregation For The Doctrine of The Faith, will launch a book, Remaining With Christ’s Truth, which among other things suggests that certain tenets of Catholic teaching are not up for grabs.

In particular, it lays heavy emphasis on Christ’s teaching when he says: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” - Matthew 19,6.

To some extent, the book is seen as a reply to a call launched by German Cardinal Walter Kasper last February when, with the full approval of the pope, he appeared to call for some way in which the divorced and remarried might be permitted to receive communion. For this to happen, of course, the process of church marriage annulments would need to be reconsidered, say critics, arguing that any easing of this teaching would lead to a type of “Catholic Divorce”.

Critically, the Pope appeared to add further fuel to this pre-Synod debate this afternoon when he announced the creation of a Special Commission For The Study of The Reform of The Matrimonial Processes in Canon Law.

Curiously, the pope’s words this weekend follow hard on the heels of an interview given to the daily Il Mattino newspaper by Cardinal Kasper who said: “They [the Cardinals opposed to change] want ideological warfare at the next Synod. The doctrine of the Church is open, but they want a crystalline truth. When they attack me, their real target is not me but rather the pope himself...”

The pope’s statements this weekend follow on a significant gesture last weekend when he married some 20 couples in the Basilica of St Peter’s. The point here is that among those married by the pope were people who had had children out of wedlock, others who had divorced and others again who had had their marriages annulled.