THE CHURCH must show mercy in the context of more complex family arrangements in Ireland today, Pope Francis’ lead cardinal has said in Limerick.
Speaking at a conference in Mary Immaculate College, Christoph Schönborn said the Church must listen to couples in all relationships in a way it hasn’t before.
The Archbishop of Vienna, who is the son of a divorced couple, was chosen by Pope Francis to present Amoris Laetitia, following the two Synods on the family.
“Ireland is synonymous with family, a country that traditionally has had family at its core,” he said.
“But like most western nations, in particular, family in Ireland has complexities that it didn’t have heretofore. Second unions, divorce, same-sex unions; these are all part of a new narrative around the family in Ireland.
“So there is a lot of change and the Church must show mercy in the context of that change; it must be willing to meet families where they are today.
Amoris Laetitia, he said, means the ‘joy of love’ and is an invitation that excludes no one, without exception.
While it does not herald doctrinal change, he said, it most definitely encourages greater discernment on the part of the Church when it comes to sensitivities around family today.
The event in Limerick was 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. Conference organiser Fr. Eamonn Fitzgibbon, director of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at MIC, said those who attended “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.”
Rose O’Connor, Our Lady Help of Christians, of Milford in Limerick, said she was “really inspired” by the talk. “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.”
Cardinal Schönborn said the church had now “learned a lot” from its mistakes, and that he and others were committed “to stand very clearly for truth. The truth will set you free.” He said church and society together must “speak out about what was so long hidden and covered (up)”.