15 May 2014, The Tablet

Church 'is behind the times and needs to support failed marriages'

Catholics in England and Wales have called on the bishops of England and Wales to find ways to support marriages that have broken down and to stop being “behind the times.”

They have done so in responses to a questionnaire issued in the lead up to this year’s family synod in Rome, according to Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

The cardinal told a press conference on 9 May that during last week’s bishops’ conference meeting in Leeds members had discussed Catholics’ responses to the questionnaire. He said that he had been struck by one response that stated: “The Church needs to uphold marriage but create space for where it fails.” He said this “captures the heart” of how the Church must respond during the synod process.

Cardinal Nichols revealed that one respondent had said the Church is “behind the times” in its teaching while another advised the hierarchy: “Don’t judge, teach”.

He added: “This is an appeal to us to accompany people very sensitively. That spells out very clearly that we are all on a continuing journey and we need teachers.”

Catholics in England and Wales were asked for their thoughts in a survey which included questions on communion for divorced and remarried persons, same-sex couples and teaching on contraception, although the findings remain unpublished.

The first of the two synods will take place in Rome in October and bishops will analyse the responses to the survey. The second, due to take place in October 2015, will seek to establish guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family. The cardinal warned that it would not be “a speedy process about one or two key issues”.

A spokesman said the bishops wanted to establish better pastoral care for people who fail to follow church teaching in their lives.

He said that the bishops had discussed communion for divorced and remarried people, but were reluctant to impose a general solution to individual situations.

Cardinal Nichols also revealed more about what was discussed during a consistory on the family that he attended in February when he received his red hat. He said that church leaders from around the world spoke of the need to help Catholics feel accepted, rather than punished for their failures, with many calling for the marriage annulment procedure to be made more available and transparent.

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