21 October 2014, The Tablet

Nichols says synod is opening pathways

The synod on the family has sounded a “trumpet call” for marriage while adopting a new pastoral tone and language that sees the good in unions that fall short of Church teaching, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said this week.

The cardinal, who held a press conference in London after his return from Rome, said that during the synod he had developed his understanding of how divorced and remarried could undergo a penitential path. This in turn could lead them being re-admitted to the sacraments.

The synod’s final report did not include language in a document issued half way through the gathering which said there were “seeds of the Word” in cohabiting couples and those divorced and remarried while praising elements of same-sex relationships. 

The final document, which the cardinal stressed was a work in progress, also failed to gain a two-thirds majority from the synod fathers on welcoming gay people and allowing the divorced and remarried to receive the sacraments. But while the cardinal said he was disappointed the document had not gone further in relation to gay Catholics he said it was a powerful affirmation of marriage.   

He said the next synod – to take place in October 2015 – needed to continue to see the “goodness in every person, whatever their sexuality, whether they’re cohabiting or in a second marriage, [that] their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the work of the Holy Spirit.”

In many ways he said this is the “practice of priests” but it was “important that it is reflected at this kind of level at the Church.”

Before going to the synod Cardinal Nichols said any change in the latter would require “quite a radical rethink” on Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage or on the reception of Holy Communion.

But he said that “something that was opened up in me” when he examined various proposals on penitential pathways for the remarried. These included individuals exploring with a spiritual director the breakdown of their marriage and the impact it might have had on their children.

The cardinal said out of all the synods he had attended none had been as “vigorous and as open and as direct as this.”

“I do think there is a tone and language being developed but more importantly there was a profound sense of common purpose,” he said. “I think the leadership of the Pope gets us beyond argument and gets us into a profound acknowledgement of the sincerity of every opinion being expressed.”

Meanwhile, he said that one of the strongest voices at the synod were a number of African bishops who condemned western organisations for making abortion and contraception a condition of aid.

“The word they used was ‘blackmail’ and another phrase was ‘they use our poverty against us.’ One bishop stood and said ‘keep the money, we’d rather have our pro-life values than this,” he said adding that he would raise their concerns with Cafod.

Cardinal Nichols added that the synod was a “first movement” of music and there would now be a period of listening before the 2015 gathering. The final synod document will be distributed to bishops’ conferences as guidelines for the next meeting.  

Above: Cardinal Nichols speaks to Pope Francis. Photo: CBCEW

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