The Synod on the Family will not change Church teaching or provide a “categorical” answer to communion for divorced and remarried but instead try to find new pastoral approaches to couples in such a position, Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said.
Speaking on the eve of the start of the ordinary synod, which was opened by Pope Francis yesterday, the cardinal said the Church needed to rediscover ways of expressing God’s mercy and learn from the witness of families.
“There is not going to be any doctrinal change. There is not going to be a notion that indissolubility of a valid sacramental Catholic marriage as something that we can park at one side and move on,” he told The Tablet.
“Those ground rules are very clear. The Church is not going to say that a same-sex civil partnership which has been given the title marriage in civil law is now the equivalent of a marriage between a man and a woman and is consecrated by God.”
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But he stressed: “The challenge of the synod is to develop in the Church a fresh repertoire of good pastoral accompaniment. I grew up with this definition of the Church: the Catholic Church is the Church of sinners. That meant none of us were in any other position other than needing the grace of God.”
He added that it “is no surprise” that Pope Francis established the Jubilee Year of Mercy, due to start on 8 December, as the likely context in which the conclusions of the family synod will be released.
Cardinal Nichols is representing the Church of England and Wales at the synod, which runs until 25 October, and is joined by the Bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, who is in charge of the bishops’ conference marriage and family life department.
He stressed that he and Bishop Doyle will bring to the synod the feedback received from Catholics in England and Wales, many of which has called for a shift in the Church’s approach to divorced and remarried and gays.
“This is not a meeting of male celibates, this is a meeting of shepherds appointed by Christ to care for his people. And we try to bring everything that we’ve heard into this synod,” he said.
The process for the coming synod will include more time for small groups - the circoli minori - and speeches from participants limited to three minutes.
Cardinal Nichols says that Francis wants the synod not to see the family as a problem (PA)
Cardinal Nichols, who has attended a number of synods in the past, said the process will avoid the current synod being simply a “re-run” of last year and include a greater voice for married people and lay women.
“In every group there will be people who are married and therefore there’ll be women, and it’s much easier for those voices to be heard in small groups then it is in the aula [the synod hall],” he said. “In the small groups you engage with each other. And I think it will be vigorous and I think it will be creative as well.
On the question of divorced and remarried catholics he said “there will be no categorical answer” on whether they can receive communion.
“What we are looking for is the art of accompaniment. You can’t predict that, you can’t generalise that,” he said. “[We are] not talking about a hop, skip and a jump back to the altar rails, we are talking about the healing of deep wounds.”
Pope Francis, the cardinal explained, wants the synod not to see the family as a problem and seek to find solutions but see where its struggles are and how to offer support.
As an example Cardinal Nichols re-iterated his criticism of the government’s policy of refusing to allow the non-EU partner of a British citizen to come and live in the country.
“There’s very little allowance made for the priority of family relationships in our migration policies. I think the British government maintains what I can only consider a quite disgraceful stance on marriages of British citizens to non-EU nationals, where case after case has come to me where the non-EU partner of a British citizen may not come and live in Britain. And it’s a total disregard for the importance of marriage and family life.”
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