09 October 2014, The Tablet

'Softer language doesn't mean softer teaching'

by Christopher Lamb in Rome

Two leading cardinals attending the synod on the family have said that while a change in language on church teaching on sexuality is necessary, it does not mark a shift in doctrine.

Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s Prefect of the Economy and close adviser to Pope Francis, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, made their remarks at the Rome launch of the Crux website at the North American College.

They were reflecting on the discussions at the Synod on the Family which is taking place at the Vatican and which they are both attending.

“Everybody wants to show God’s love and mercy but it also brings you to very difficult situations and as Christians we follow Jesus,” said Cardinal Pell. “I confess that I might have been tempted to hope that Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce; he wasn’t, and I’m speaking with him.”

He said some religious people use language that is “off the wavelength” adding “they might have a wonderful message but the way they are presenting it is not going to work in these situations.”

He went on: “Underneath that of course we’ve got to be intellectually coherent and consistent … Catholics are people who stand under the scriptures, we are people of tradition. But we believe in the development of doctrine, not in doctrinal back-flips.”

On Tuesday participants at the synod said the Church should stop using “harsh language” when discussing sexual matters such as “ living in sin”, “intrinsically disordered” and “contraceptive mentality”, and that too often the theology of marriage was “filtered through harsh language”.

For his part, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is attending the synod as a member of its Ordinary Council, said last night that the question of language had been a major part of discussions in the gathering’s opening days.

“It’s a question of the consistency of the Church’s truth, the immutability of the Church’s truth. But our burning desire is to find a language that can present it in a more gracious, compelling and cogent way.”

He gave the example of natural law – the notion that there are universal moral norms for human behaviour – as an area of church teaching that had little resonance with people.

Cardinal Dolan said: “We’ve kind of admitted that although the natural law is there, we count it, we can’t disregard it, it’s fundamental, the phrase itself doesn’t seem to have much sway in our contemporary society.”

But he stressed: “When we talk of some type of renewal and reform of our Catholic vocabulary they don’t mean to soften it to dilute the teaching... It’s not a code word for side stepping tough things, it’s more of a methodology.”

Both the cardinals stressed that bishops at the synod were acutely aware of the problems facing family life in their communities.

Cardinal Pell said he was struck “by the level of trouble” marriage and family is in across the world with very few societies demonstrating that the “trend is running in the direction of a strengthened family life.”

Meanwhile at the synod yesterday the question of the divorced and remarried was discussed. And official summary of the talks stated that there was desire of the Synod Fathers to “combine the objectivity of truth with mercy for the person and for his or her suffering. It is necessary to remember that many faithful find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own.”

Above: Cardinal Pell. Photo: CNS

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