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Cardinal Pell calls for ‘no doctrinal back-flips’ at next family synod

Cardinal George Pell (AP)

Looking ahead to the October 2015 world Synod of Bishops on the family, Cardinal George Pell has said that the task for Catholics “over the next 12 months” is to explain “the necessity of conversion, the nature of the Mass,” and “the purity of heart the Scriptures require of us to receive Holy Communion.”

The cardinal’s comments came days after the conclusion of the 2014 extraordinary synod on the family, which debated making it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

“We will be counterproductive if we have anger or hate in our hearts, if we lapse into sterile polemics against a surprisingly small number of Catholic opponents,” the cardinal wrote.

Cardinal Pell’s remarks came in a homily he had prepared for a celebration of Mass in the extraordinary form on October 24 at Rome’s Church of the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims.

The cardinal was unable to celebrate the liturgy, part of the Populus Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage to Rome for devotees of the traditional Latin Mass, on account of bronchitis. In an additional prepared text, he assured those present that his sickness was the only reason he was unable to attend.

In the cardinal’s absence, his personal secretary Father Mark Withoos celebrated the Mass and read the homily.

The “college of bishops and all synods work by consensus,” Cardinal Pell wrote. Before next October, Catholics have to work to build a consensus “out of the present divisions,” he wrote.

“Pastoral practice and teachings can only be change by consensus,” he wrote.

“Doctrine does develop, we understand truth more deeply, but there are no doctrinal back-flips in Catholic history,” the cardinal added. “The apostolic tradition announced first by Christ and founded in the Scriptures is the touchstone for truth and genuine pastoral practice.”

He continued: “We, and especially you young people, must live this in love, giving reason for your hope. This is a unique opportunity, which we must seize in God’s name.”

Cardinal Pell also wrote about the importance of the papacy in defending and developing doctrine.

“The role of the successor of St Peter has always been vital to Christian and Catholic life, especially as the touchstone of doctrinal fidelity and as a resolver of disputes, pastoral as well as doctrinal,” the cardinal wrote.

“The Church is not built on the rock of Peter’s faith,” he wrote, “but on Peter himself, despite his faults and failings.”

“Pope Francis is the 266th Pope and history has seen 37 false or anti-Popes,” he wrote. “The story of the Popes is stranger than fiction,” and today “we have one of the more unusual popes in history, enjoying almost unprecedented popularity. He is doing a marvelous job backing the financial reforms.”

Nichols

Meanwhile, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster asked Catholics to recognise the “real goodness” in the lives of many co-habiting couples and those who have divorced and civilly remarried.

He said the two-week Synod of Bishops on the family, which concluded at the Vatican on October 19, called the faithful “to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations” and to “see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives.”

“This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages,” Cardinal Nichols wrote in a pastoral letter read in churches of the Archdiocese of Westminster on October 25 and 26.

“These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness,” he wrote. “This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call.”

He also called upon Catholics not only to treat “people of a same-sex attraction” with respect but to also accept them “with compassion and sensitivity.”

Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, added that there was “no suggestion that the teaching of the Church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage’ or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change.”

Instead, the work of the synod focused on “the desire to strengthen and reinvigorate the pastoral practice of the Church,” he said.

His sentiments echoed comments he made on October 21 at a London press conference where he said he felt that the final synod document failed to adequately welcome homosexuals and people in “irregular” unions.

“I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person and we keep recognising and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person whatever their sexuality, whether they are cohabiting or in a second marriage,” he told journalists. “Their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the Holy Spirit.”