Authoritarianism no longer a place in Church approach to families

Posted on: 13 July 2017

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn tells delegates at conference on family 

Authoritarianism no longer a place in Church approach to families – Cardinal Christoph Schönborn tells delegates at conference on family

More compassionate Church welcomed by delegates

The Cardinal chosen by Pope Francis to present his document on the family following two major Synods has told a conference in Limerick today that the new approach by the papacy is not one of authoritarianism when it comes to divorce or separation.

Speaking ahead of his address at today’s ‘Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family’ conference at Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said that despite all the distractions of society today, there is still a yearning for ‘family’.

The event is the first major conference to be held as part of the build up to the World Meeting of Families next year in Ireland, with Cardinal Schönborn giving the interpretation of Pope Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ document to a packed auditorium of over 300 attendees.

‘Amoris Laetitia’ has been celebrated as a more compassionate approach by Church to the complexities of family as they are today and not least how it approaches ‘irregular unions’.

Said Cardinal Schönborn:  “I find Amoris Laetitia is a fantastic instrument to reconsider separation and divorce and to give motives for patience to overcome crises. Pope Francis is very clear. He says it doesn’t help to come with an authoritarian obligation, you must stay together.

“No, he gives good reasons why you try the best to stay together and if you can’t then at least behave in a way that the damages for your children, for your surroundings and your family are as small as possible.

“Very often Church speech is very abstract. It’s ideal but sometimes idealistic. Pope Francis speaks so closely to reality and you feel that he knows what he is speaking about when he speaks about families in great poverty. You can feel that he speaks about what he has seen hundreds of times in his priestly and bishop’s life.”

Cardinal Schönborn said that rehabilitation of family is a priority today but so is rehabilitation of Church, adding that overcoming current crises will not happen unless the Church stands with victims.

“We need words of consolation. Many are discouraged because of the society becoming often hostile to the Church but also because of our own misbehaviour, mainly priests but also religious and others. This is a great burden. It’s a great burden that we cannot overcome unless we accept truth, even if it’s painful truth, and if we clearly stand on the side of the victims,” he said.

Conference organiser Fr. Eamonn Fitzgibbon, Director of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at MIC said:  “Cardinal Schönborn has kicked off a special year long journey for us in Ireland that leads to the World Meeting of Families next year when we hope we will have Pope Francis with us in person. Cardinal Schönborn, however, is of one mind with the Pope when it comes to one of the cornerstones of his papacy, the rehabilitation of family.

“The packed attendance we had, with people travelling from as far afield as Donegal, showed to us on the one hand the commitment there is to family but, on the other, the desire to hear from the very person selected by Pope Francis to present Amoris Laetitia.  They got an insight into a more compassionate Church, a Church that will be compassionate to the complexities of family rather than be confrontational, as it certainly was seen to be in the past. The fact that Cardinal Schönborn’s own parents divorced when he was young means that he has the empathy for those complexities; can relate to them and be related to. Pope Francis chose wisely not only in a theological sense but also in a real sense by picking Cardinal Schönborn for this key role.”

Delegate Gemma Mulligan from Tullaran, Co. Kilkenny said that there is a freshness to the new approach to family.  “All of us, if not in our own family, know somebody in a broken relationship, a broken marriage; situations where people feel they are no longer part of the Church or can’t be part of the Church. I think Amoris Laetitia gives them an opportunity to see that they are still part of this family and the Church is genuine in reaching out. I also feel it is very fresh, it’s a different voice than what we are used to hearing.

“He (Cardinal Schönborn) is wonderful to listen to and an excellent communicator. I really enjoyed listening to him. He has a wonderful warm face, like Pope Francis and a great sense of humour.  He really explained the text.  He kept saying to us that he could talk about it until midnight but would not do that to us.  But I would have listened to him until midnight.”

Said Rose O’Connor, Our Lady Help of Christians, Milford, Limerick:  “I was really inspired by the talk this afternoon. The thing I was left with was a great sense of hope for people that maybe are feeling a distance from the Church, feeling estranged because of their particular situations.  What I took from it is that there is an ideal that we all strive to but most of us, with the best will in the world, will fall short of that and what they are saying is there is compassion in the Church for those people.”