(originally published in La Civiltà Cattolica 2015 III 494-510 (Issue n.3966 – August 26, 2015 – ORIGINAL FULL TEXT IN ITALIAN HERE )

During the Extraordinary Synod on the family, that was held from October 5 to October 19, 2014, I had been struck by, among others, the intervention of Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna.  We had a discussion, after his intervention in the hall, during dinner with a common friend.  Then he spoke to me of his experience as a son of a family that that had lived a divorce.  His lucidity did not come from a merely intellectual reflection, but was the fruit of the lived experience.  Strolling under the colonnades of St Peter’s, he spoke to me about the oblivion regarding grandparents and aunts and uncles in the synodal talks.  The family, he said to me, it’s not only husband, wife, and children: it is a network of broad relationships, even composed of friends and not only of parents.  An eventual divorce affects the broad web of relationships, not only a couple’s life.  But it is also true that that web can hold up to the shock of the split and can sustain the weakest, the children for example.

We did not have to interrupt the conversation.  We pursued it in two successive encounters, after some months, in the office of Civiltà Cattolica.  One time even with his friend and fellow Dominican, Fr. Jean Miguel Garrigues, who I have also interviewed for our journal.[1]  And the conversation, in the end, continued also in Vienna, at the Kardinal König Haus.  The interview that follows is the fruit of these encounters, that at the end took the form of a unitary dialogue.  I asked the Cardinal for a reflection tied strictly to his experience as a pastor.  And it is this pastoral inspiration that gives body and breath to his words.

Eminence, what was, in your view, the intention of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod on the family?  There was talk of the joy of the family and the challenges of the family.

When Francis became pope, the theme of the successive Synod was already fixed by Pope Benedict: the general questions of Christian anthropology and bioethical questions.  During his first meeting with the Council of the Synod, Pope Francis immediately observed that it would be difficult to confront such questions outside of the framing based on the family and marriage, and, consequently, little by little the theme shifted, without disregarding the anthropological questions, but placing them in correlation with this original anthropology that is the Biblical teaching on man and woman, on their union, on their vocation and ond the great themes of marriage and the family.

But why return to a theme that St John Paul II had treated more or less exhaustively in the course of the 27 years of his pontificate?

I think that Pope Francis wanted, first of all, to encourage us—and he has repeated it many times—to look to the beauty and vital importance of marriage and family with the view of the Good Shepherd who was close to everyone.  He put into motion this synodos, this common journey, in which we are all called to observe the situation, not with a look from above, beginning from abstract ideas, but with the look of pastors who perceive today’s reality in a gospel spirit.  This look on the familiar and matrimonial reality is not, first of all, a critical look that underlines every lack, but a benevolent look, that sees how much good will and how many challenges exist, while in the midst of so much suffering.  Basically, we are asked for an act of faith: to bring ourselves close to the diverse crowd without fear of being touched.

In the convocation of the Synod, can we therefore read a desire for concreteness, for closeness…

Yes, the desire to look to concrete people in their joys and sufferings, in the sadness and anxiety of their daily life and to bring them to the Good News, discovering that they live the Gospel in the midst of so many pains, but also with so much generosity.  We must detach ourselves from our books and go into the midst of the crowd and let ourselves be touched by the life of the people.  To see them and know their situations, more or less unstable, beginning from deep desire written in the hearts of everyone.  It is the Ignation method: seeking the presence and action of God in the smallest details of daily life.  We are still distant from having realized this hope made by Pope Francis.  We haven’t even reached this dimension in the ecclesiastical discourse and in the discourse of the Synod.  We still speak too much with a language made up empty concepts.

According to some, however, the scope should be eminently doctrinal: others even fear for the doctrine.

The challenge that Pope Francis launches at us is to believe that, equipped with this courage that comes from this simple closeness, from the daily reality of the people, we do not alienate ourselves from doctrine.  We do not risk diluting its clarity walking with the people, because we ourselves are called to walk in faith.  Doctrine is not in the first place, a series of enunciated abstracts, but the light of the word of God demonstrated by an apostolic witness at the heart of the Church and in the hearts of believers who journey in the world today.  The clarity of the light of faith and of its doctrinal development in every person is not in contradiction with the journey that God fulfills with us ourselves, who are often distant from living the Gospel in a full way.

What then are the challenges that the Ordinary Synod with have to confront?

They can identify different neuralgic points to which it would be damaging not to give due weight.  The first that comes to my mind is to take recognition of the historic and social dimensions as family.  Too often we theologians and bishops, pastors and custodians of the doctrine forget that human life takes place in conditions imposed by a society: psychological, social, economic, political conditions in a historic picture.  This so far is lacking in the Synod.  And the thing is surprising compared to the enormous evolutions that I identify in the course of the 70 years of my own life.  How can you forget that in the course of history marriage was not accessible to all?  During some centuries, perhaps for thousands, marriage was not what the bible tells us of man and woman.  For a great number of people marriage was simply impossible, due to social conditions.  We think only of the slaves.  We think of so many professions for which marriage was inaccessible economically, it is excluded ex professo (bt profession).  In the countryside, as of three generations ago, there were servants, farmers who did not marry because they didn’t have the means to pay the dowry.  Our blessed Austrian that we love so much, Franz Jägerstätter, a martyr of Nazism, beatified by Benedict XVI, was the illegitimate son of a servant who could never have been able to marry if a farmer had not had pity on her and had not taken her in marriage, adopting the boy.  In the baptismal registries of the eighth century in Vienna, around half of the children were illegitimate, children of all the servants of the bourgeois houses who could not marry because they did not have the means.  We think of the situations, even actual, of the poor countries.  I have been left a bit scandalized by the fact that at the Synod we speak very abstractly about marriage.  Few among us have spoken of the real conditions of young people who want to get married.  We lament of this somewhat universal reality of the de facto unions of the many young people and not so young without getting married civilly and even less religiously; we are here deploring this phenomenon, instead of asking ourselves: “What is changed in the conditions of life?”

You are a pastor.  You are the archbishop of Vienna.  What happens today in Austria?

In Austria the young people who live together—and they are the great majority—are disadvantaged by the tax authorities, if they marry.  Furthermore, their work situation is very often precarious, and it is difficult to find a stable and lasting job as happened for my generation.  How can we expect that they can build a home, start family in these conditions?  We rediscover a social condition that was very frequent in the past century, in which many were excluded from marriage simply for their situation.  I do not say that what is happening is a good, but we must have an attentive and compassionate view on the reality.  You easily risk pointing the finger at hedonism and the individualism of our society.  It is challenging to observe these realities with care.

I sense that your speech is marked by a trust in the goodness of people, despite everything.

We must witness to a profound trust in man and woman, children of God, beloved by God, and a profound trust in marriage and the family, a vital cell of society.  It has struck me very much to sense this positive fiber in Pope Francis.  For example, when he reminded us during the Synod: “But you have never spoken about grandparents”.  And it is true: our discourse is often so formal!  He has spoken many times of his famous grandmother who had so marked his life!  He invites us to see this reality of the family with love and with basic trust.

Forgive me the personal reference, but your own experience is marked by the divorce of your parents.

Yes, I come from a family of divorced parents.  My father is remarried.  My grandparents were already divorced.  So I got to know the situation very soon of patchwork.  I practically grew up in this reality that is the reality of so many people today.  But, I have also had the experience of the radical goodness of the family.  Despite all the crises, all the ideologies that we must denounce and call clearly by name, despite all this, marriage and family remain the fundamental cell of human life in society.

Personally I sensed in the Synod the lack of two elements: attention to the children and consideration of the family as a broad network of relationships (that include the grandparents, the grandchildren, aunts and uncles…).  It seems to me that the Synod has had present the monoculture family made up of a husband, a wife, children and has considered the situations from the point of view of the spouses.  Do you not think that looking at it from the point of view of the children and considering families with bonds that they are able to create would allow you to consider things in a different manner, more complete?

During the Synod, our interventions were somewhat exclusively focalized on the structure of man—woman—baby.  I recalled—and others took it up and it ended up entered into the final document of the Synod—that when two people are married religiously or begin a life as a couple, there are at least two families involved.  It is the elementary given, daily, at times marked by difficulties, of every marriage.  The family is the first social network in society.

Maybe our view on marriage is so abstract that we forget that for centuries and for thousands marriage was first of all an alliance between two families.

At the Synod, this situation in Africa was seriously addressed, where often traditional marriage is still made between the two families.  But, in general, our conception marriage of two isolated people who will form a couple is in any case very abstract.  Behind a meeting of a boy and girl that should result in a wedding exists a whole network of relationships, there are two families involved.  The Church must have a strong word to sustain this network of families, which builds the fundamental fabric of the entire society.

What view and what attitudes to take, in your judgment, towards the couple that lives in an irregular situation?

At the last Synod, I proposed a reading key that aroused many discussions and was still recorded in the Relatio post disceptationem, that is no longer present in the final document, Relatio Synodi.  It was an analogy with the ecclesiological reading key given by Lumen gentium, the constitution on the Church in its article 8.  The question in question is: “Where do you find Christ’s Church?  Where is it concretely embodied?  Does the Church of Jesus Christ exist, as he wanted it and founded it?”  The Council answered this with the famous affirmation: “The only Church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church”, subsistit in Ecclesia catholica.  It is not a pure and simple identification, as if it says that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church.  The Council affirmed: “it subsists in the Catholic Church” united to the Pope and the legitimate bishops.  The Council adds this phrase which has become key: “Although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure, these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling towards catholic unity.” The other confessions, the other Churches, the other religions are not simply nothing.  The Vatican excludes an ecclesiology of all or nothing.  Everything is realized in the Catholic Church, that there are elements of truth and sanctification even in the other Churches, and even in the other religions.  These elements are elements of the Church of Christ, and by their nature they tend toward catholic unity and of the human kind, towards which the Church herself tends, anticipation, as it were, of the great plan of God, which is the unique family of God, humanity, in this key justifies this approach of the Council, by which it does not consider first what is missing in the other Churches, Christian communities, or religions, but what of the positive that exists.  It captures the semina Verbi (“the seeds of the Word”), as if to say the seeds of the Word, elements of truth and sanctification.

In what way can this intuition, in your view, apply to the family?  Do you think that there are elements of sanctification and truth, that is positive elements, in the imperfect forms of marriages and families?  In these forms, the explicit sacramental matrimonial alliance is missing.  But, this apparently does not impede what elements there are that are almost promises of this alliance: faithfulness, attention to one another, the will to make a family.  This is not everything but it is already something.  Is it possible to recognize in them “seeds” of the truth on the family, that pastors can help to make grow and mature?

I have simply proposed to apply this ecclesiological reading key to the reality of the Sacrament of Matrimony.  Because marriage is the Church in the small, the ecclesiola, the family as the small Church, but it seems legitimate to me to establish an analogy and to say that the Sacrament of Matrimony is realized fully there where justly there is a sacrament between a man and a woman living in faith etc.  But, that does not prevent that, outside of this full realization of the Sacrament of Matrimony, there are elements of matrimony that are signals of expectation, positive elements.

For example, we consider civil marriage.

Yes, we consider it something more than a simple de facto union.  Why?  It is a simple civil contract that from this strictly ecclesial point of view has no meaning.  But, we recognize that in a civil marriage a greater commitment exists, therefore a greater alliance, than a simple de facto union.  The two commit before society, humankind, and themselves, in a more explicit alliance, legally anchored with sanctions, obligations, duties, rights…  The Church considers that it is a step beyond compared to simply living together.  A greater closeness to sacramental marriage exists in this case.  Like a promise, a signal of expectation.  Instead of saying all that it lacks, we can even draw close to this reality, noting what of the positive exists in this love that is stabilized.

The quality of the look at the situations that have objective shortcomings will be important for the Synod.

We must look at the numerous situations of cohabitation not only from the point of view of what is missing, but also from the point of view of that which is already promise, what is already present.  Moreover, the Council adds that, although there is real holiness in the Church, nevertheless she is made up of sinners, and moves ahead along the path of conversion (L G 8).  She always has need of purification.  A Catholic cannot be put on a higher rung with respect to others.  There are saints in all the Christian Churches, and even in other religions.  Jesus said of the pagans, to a woman, and two of Rome and official: “I have not found a faith like this in Israel”.  A true faith, that Jesus found outside of the chosen people.

If we apply this to marriage, the gap is not between those who have a sacramental marriage—and they are, so to say, in order—and all the rest of humanity, that lives in the tiring imperfect realizations of what should be the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Those who have the grace and the joy of being able to live in sacramental marriage in faith, in humility and in mutual forgiveness, in the trust of God who acts daily in our life, know to view and to discern in a couple, in a de facto union, in cohabitants, the elements of true heroism, of true love, of a true mutual gift.  Even if we must say: “There is not yet a full reality of the sacrament”.  But, who are we to judge that in them elements of truth and sanctification do not exist?  The Church is a people that God attracts to himself and into whom all are called.  The role of the Church is to accompany everyone in a growth, in a journey.  As pastors, we experience this joy of being in journey, among the believers, but also among many non-believers.

We realize that, on one side, it is necessary and it is right to have objective criteria, we need it, but on the other side, these criteria do not exhaust the whole of reality….

I give a very simple example that regards a man and woman.  Their first marriage was civil, because he was already divorced, and they have therefore married civilly.  This marriage was a failure and they are separated.  The woman has a second marriage, the husband was not married religiously and she was only married civilly.  They have thus been able to celebrate sacramental marriage.  Objectively it is justifiable, it is correct.  But, what would’ve happened if the first husband of the woman had not been divorced?  If the first marriage was religious, that went on to failure for many reasons, and ultimately led to a second union, this would be irregular.  This should make us docile to objective order, but attentive to the complexities of life.  There are cases in which only in a second, or even in a third union, the people truly discover faith.  I know a person who experienced at a very young age a first religious marriage, but apparently without faith.  This was a failure, to which then followed a second and even a third civil marriage.  Only then, for the first time, this person discovered faith and became a believer.  Therefore, it is not in setting aside the objective criteria, but in accompaniment, I must stay the side this person in his or her journey.

Then, what to do in these circumstances?

The objective criteria tell us that in a certain person still bound by sacramental marriage will not be able to participate in a full way in the sacramental life of the Church.  Subjectively, he or she lives this situation as a conversion, as a true discovery in their own life, to the point that you could say, in some way—in a different way, but analogous to the Pauline privilege—that for the good of the faith you can make a step that goes beyond what objectively the rule would say.  I think that we find ourselves in front of an element that will have great importance in the next Synod.  I do not hide, in this regard, that I was shocked as to how a way of arguing purely formalistic wields the ax of intrinsece malum (intrinsically evil).[2]

It is touching on a very important point.  Could you elaborate?  What is the problem bound to what is defined “intrinsece malum”?

In practice it excludes any reference to the argument of convenience that, per St Thomas, is always a way of expressing prudence.  There is a neither utilitarianism nor an easy pragmatism, the way to express a sense of rightness, convenience, harmony.  On the question of divorce, this argumentative feature was systematically excluded by our intransigent moralists.  If never included, intrinsece malum suppresses the discussion on the circumstances and on the situations of the complex definition of life.  A human act is never simple, and the risk is to “glue” in a false manner the true articulation among the object, circumstance, and the end, that instead should be read in the light of freedom and attraction to the good.  It reduces the free act to the physical act in such a way that the clarity of the logic suppresses any moral discussion and every circumstance.  The paradox is that being focalized on the intrinsece malum all the wealth is lost, you might almost say the beauty of the moral articulation, that resolves inevitably in annihilation.  The analysis of the morality of situations not only is rendered univocal, it also remains cut off from a global view on the dramatic consequences of divorce: the economic, pedagogical, psychological facts etc.  This is true for everything that touches on the themes of marriage and family.  The obsession on the intrinsece malum has so impoverished the debate that we are deprived from a large range of arguments in favor of uniqueness, of indissolubility, openness to new life, of the human foundation of the doctrine of the Church.  We have lost the taste for a discourse on these human realities.  One of the hinge elements of the Synod is the reality of the Christian family, not from an exclusive point of view, but inclusive.  The Christian family is a grace, a gift of God.  It is a mission, and by its nature—its lived in a Christian way—is something to welcome.  I remember a proposal for a pilgrimage for families in which the organizers wanted to exclusively invite those who practice natural family planning.  During a meeting of the Episcopal Conference we ask them how they would do it: “Do you select only those who practice it at 100%, at n %?  How do you do it?” from these expressions a bit caricaturized you realize that, if the Christian family lives by this optic, it inevitably becomes sectarian.  A world apart.  If it seeks security, it is not Christian, it centers only on itself!

Some want to have objective criteria to be able to regularly allow people who live in an irregular union to participate in a sacramental life of the Church.  Some synodal fathers have made reference to the need for pastoral discernment.  Talk is also a penitential practice in relation to divorced and remarried couples who asked for access to the sacraments.

If there was a valid sacramental marriage, a second union remains an irregular union.  Instead, the whole dimension of spiritual and pastoral accompaniment exists for people who journey in a situation of irregularity, where it will be necessary to discern between all or nothing.  You cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one, but paths of healing, of deepening exist, paths in which the law is lived step by step.  There are even situations in which the priest, the accompanier, that knows the people in the internal forum, can come to say: “Your situation is such for which, in conscience, in your conscience and in my conscience as pastor, I see your place in a sacramental life of the Church.”

How do you avoid arbitrate situations?

Pope Francis has said to us Austrian Bishops what he has also said too many others: “You accompany.  Your accompany”.  I have proposed for the archdiocese a journey of accompaniment for people who are in irregular matrimonial situations to get out of this problem spread by the mass media and that has become a type of test for the pontificate of Pope Francis: “Will it be at the end merciful towards those who live in irregular situations?”  They expect general solutions while the attitude of the Good Shepherd is, first of all, that of accompanying people who live a divorce and a new marriage in their personal situations.  The first point on which I went to focus are the wounds and the suffering.  First of all, you need to observe before judging.  But, above all, when we speak of mercy, I always remember that the first mercy to ask for is not that of the Church, it is the mercy towards our own children.  I always formulate this question: “Did you weigh the burden of this failure, the weight of your conflict on the backs of you children?  Were your children held hostage by your conflict?  Because, if you say that the Church is without mercy towards your new union, you need to first ask what is your mercy towards your children.  Very often the children are carrying the weight of your conflict and of your failure for their entire life.”

And then, there is the situation of the abandoned spouse, besides that of the children.

It speaks very little of these people so numerous, who remain alone after divorce, remain apart and suffer from  loneliness by the abandonment of their spouse.  Is there a special attention for these people in the Church?  Does she seek to follow them, to accompany them?  But there are other questions: have the remarried divorced made a sufficient effort of reconciliation with the spouse that left for a new union?  Or have they entered into the new union with all the weight of the rancor, maybe even with their hatred for the spouse that abandoned them?  And finally, the more delicate question which no one can answer in their place: how is your conscience before God?  You promised mutual fidelity for your whole life, you have experienced a failure….  What does this say to your conscience?  I do not say it to push you towards a feeling of guilt, but the question remains.  I have promised something that I could not maintain.  Faithfulness is a great value.  I could not maintain what I had promised, or we have not been able to maintain it mutually.

These questions open a path of penitence and reconciliation, otherwise they would not make sense….

All this can and should prepare a path of humility and not to see the question of access to the sacramental life of the Church solely under the perspective of a need, but rather as an invitation to a journey of conversion that can open new dimensions of encounter with the Lord rich in mercy.  We need to always see that which is of the positive even in the most difficult situations, in the situations of misery.  Often you find in the family patchwork examples of surprising generosity.  I know I am scandalizing someone saying this….  But, you can always learn something from people who objectively live in irregular situations.  Pope Francis wants to educate us to this.

Can you talk to me about some of your pastoral experience?  Are there particular situations that come to mind and that seem significant?

I have an unforgettable memory of the time in which I was a student at Saulchoir, among the Dominicans at Paris.  I was not yet a priest.  Under the bridge of the Seine lived a homeless couple.  She was a prostitute, I don’t know what he had done in life.  Certainly, they were not married, nor did they frequent the Church, but every time that I passed by their I said to myself: “My God, they help each other to journey in such a hard life.”  And, when I saw the gestures of tenderness between them, I said to myself: “My God, it is useful that these two poor people help each other, what a great thing!”  God is present in this poverty, in this tenderness.  We need to get out of this much limited perspective of access to the sacraments for irregular situations.  The question is: “Where is God in their life?  And, in what way can I as a pastor discern the presence of God in their life?  And how can they help me to better discern the work of God in a life?”  We must know how to read the word of God in actu (in reality) between the lines of life and not only between the lines of rare manuscripts!

For the mercy of God, are there unrecoverable situations to the point that the Church can only definitively exclude access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the Eucharist?

Certainly, situations of self-exclusion can exist.  When Jesus says: “But you were not willing”.  In front of this, in a certain way, God is disarmed, because he has given us freedom.  And, the Church must recognize and accept the freedom to say no.  It is difficult to want to reconcile at all cost situations of complex life with a full participation in the life of the Church.  This will never prevent either hope, or prayer, and will always be an invitation to entrust such a situation to God’s providence, that can continually offer instruments of salvation.  The door is never closed.

Among the various things, they are asked to make marriage a union between persons of the same sex.  How do you find the words for a realistic and evangelical accompaniment in the journey of faith for people with a homosexual orientation?

You can and you must respect the decision of creating a union with the person of the same sex, to seek the instruments in the civil law to protect their coexistence and their situation with laws that assure this protection.  But, if we are asked, if you demand that the Church says this is a marriage, well we must say: non possumus (we cannot).  It is not a discrimination of people: distinction does not mean to discriminate.  This does not absolutely prevent having a great respect, a friendship, or a collaboration with couples who live this type of union, and, above all, to not despise them.  No one is obligated it to accept this doctrine, but you cannot expect that the Church does not teach it.

Have you encountered situations of homosexual persons who have questioned it?

Yes, for example, I know homosexual person who has lived a series of experiences for years, not with the person in particular or in a coexistence, but frequent experiences with different people.  Now he has found a stable relationship.  It is an improvement,if only on a human level, no longer passing from one relationship to another, but he is stabilized in a relationship that is not based only on sexuality.  He shares his life, they share joys and suffering, there is help for each other.  We must recognize that this person has made an important step, for their own good and the good of others, even if, certainly, it is not a situation that the Church can consider as regular.  Judgment on these sexual acts as such is necessary, but the Church must not look first into the bedroom, but into the dining room! It is necessary to accompany.

Ultimately, how do we set ourselves in a correct manner, that is evangelical, in the face of these challenges?

Pope Benedict has demonstrated in a magnificent way in his teaching that the Christian life is not in the first cue a morale, but a friendship, an encounter, a person.  In this encounter, we learn how to behave.  If we say that Jesus is our teacher, it means that we learn that journey of the Christian life from him directly.  It is not catalog of abstract doctrines or backpack full of heavy stones that we must carry, but it is a living relationship.  In life and in the Christian practice of sequela Christi (following Christ) this Christian journey demonstrates its rightness and its fruits of joy.  Christ has promised us that on this journey “the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and you will remember all that I had said to you” (Jn 14: 26).  All the doctrine of the Church acquires meaning only within a living relationship with Jesus, a friendship with him and a docility with respect to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Here is the strength of Pope Francis’ gestures.  I believe that he truly lives the charism of the Jesuits and St Ignatius, that of being available before the movement of the Holy Spirit.  And also, the classic doctrine of St Thomas on the new law, the law of Christ, that is not an exterior law, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men and women.  Certainly, we also have the need for exterior teaching, but because it is a living reality, it must pass through the heart.  When we observe a lived Christian marriage, we perceive the meaning of marriage; it is seeing Mother Theresa in action, in her gestures, that we understand what it means to allow to the poor.  Life teaches us the doctrine, much more than doctrine does not teach us life.

The Synod has known debates and tensions on the reconciliation between doctrine and mercy, between doctrine and pastoral practice.  How do we unite the two dimensions?

Here we touch the heart of our synodal method.  The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Good Shepherd.  In an attitude of a faith, an opposition between “doctrine” and “pastoral practice” does not exist.  Doctrine is not an abstract enunciation without ties with “what the Holy Spirit says to the Church” (Rev 2: 7).  Pastoral practice is not a degraded, even pragmatic, realization of the doctrine.  Doctrine is the teaching of the “Good Shepherd”, who manifests in his person the true path of life, a teaching given by a Church that walking goes to encounter all those who are in expectation of a Good News, an expectation sometimes kept secretly in the heart.  Pastoral practice is the doctrine of salvation in actu (in practice).  The word of life for the world from the “Good Teacher”.  An involution between these two dimensions of the word of God exists, of which the Church is the bearer.  Pastoral practice without doctrine is none other than “a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).  Doctrine is for the first thing the Good News: “God so loved the world as to give his Son so that whoever believed in him has eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  It is the announcement of the fundamental truth of the faith.  God has used mercy.  And, everything that the Church teaches is this message, which she translates in following into complementary doctrine, in a true hierarchy of truth as much dogmatic as moral.  We must continually return to the kerygma, to what is essential and what gives meaning to the whole of our doctrinal corpus, in particular moral teaching.

It requires being pastors…..

Pope Francis calls each one of us pastors to a true pastoral conversion.  In the final discourse of the Synod, he well summarized what he meant when he said that the experience of the Synod is an experience of Church, of one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church and composed of sinners, needy of her mercy.  It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with the prostitutes and the publicans.  The Pope perfectly expresses the balance that must characterize this pastoral conversion.  At the end of his discourse, all spontaneously stood up and there was a unanimous and intense applause.  Everyone had the perception that it was the Pope, Peter, speaking.


We closed our conversation both convinced that the Ordinary Synod dedicated to the vocation and the mission in the Church and the contemporary world will be a further stage with a broader journey that requires the lucidity of the spirit, fruit of experience, and not solely of the concept.  “It is about a journey of human beings”, the Cardinal says to me.  “Alongside the consolations there are also other moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations.  We are all called to a spiritual discernment”.


[1]A. Spadaro, «“Church of the pure” or “composite fish trap ”? Interview with Jean-Miguel Garrigues O.P.», in Civ. Catt. 2015 II 493-510 in the baptismal registries
[2] By “intrinsically evil act” (“intrinsece malum”) it means the action was moral connotation is such for which in no case will it ever change from a negative to a positive.  Therefore it is treated as an act considered always morally evil, independently from the ulterior intentions of the one who acts and of the circumstances.

(translated by Reyanna Rice)


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