Many people, including the young, still value the instituion of marriage, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster has said.
In an address to the Catholic charity, Marriage Care, on the forthcoming Synod on Marriage and Family Life, Cardinal Nichols said: “There is perhaps a common assumption that the value and importance of marriage, even amongst Catholics, is no longer appreciated. Yet the working document (The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation: Instrumnetum Laboris) informs us that the responses to the consultation…’point out the significant fact that even in the face of very difficult situations, many people, especially the young, see a value in a stable, enduring relationship and express a real desire to marry and form a family.’
“The document also goes on to state that, ‘This desire to marry and form a family is a true sign of the times which should be seen as an opportunity for pastoral ministry.'”
Cardinal Nichols went on to say that the “opportunity for pastoral ministry” was a “key strategic priority” for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales.
Cardinal Nichols said that the way to deal with marriage failure was not to be condemnatory but merciful. He said: “Here, the results from the consultation in preparation for the Synod have reaffirmed Pope Francis’ desire not to avoid challenges. The reality of the critical situations which develop within marriages and families, their break-up and break down, the violence and abuse are clearly acknowledged.
“Marriage failures and the hurt and pain which accompany them, the psychological impact of those failures upon children and families are not changed by condemnation and blame but can be redeemed by mercy and open the way to reconciliation. In this the working document for the Synod is eloquent: ‘The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open, […] where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems’ (EG, 47). Real pastoral attention is urgently needed to care for these people and bring them healing so that they might continue their journey with the entire ecclesial community. The mercy of God does not provide a temporary cover-up of personal misdeeds, but rather radically opens lives to reconciliation which brings new trust and serenity through true inward renewal. The pastoral care of families, far from limiting itself to a legal point of view, has a mission to recall the great vocation of love to which each person is called and to help a person live up to the dignity of that calling.
“The importance of mercy as the path to reconciliation and forgiveness in human relationships and in relationships with the Church will be, I believe, an important and recurring theme in the reflections of the Extraordinary Synod.”
The cardinal said that Marriage Care, of which he is president, could play a “significant role” in supporting families, He continued: “It is important for this collaboration though, that the marriage preparation and the support for family relationships which Marriage Care provides is not only inspired by the teaching of the Catholic Church but is also faithful to it in all aspects.
“One reason for this is the rich and coherent vision of the human person which is made known in the person of Jesus Christ and proclaimed in the teaching of the Church. It is also the absence of that vision from much of our society which lies at the heart of the challenges we are facing and has resulted in the isolation and privatisation of much family life today.
“Without doubt, the results from the consultation in preparation for the Synod describe the very real pastoral situations in which many couples are living prior to making a commitment to each other in marriage. Notwithstanding therefore the contemporary reality of such relationships and situations in which many couples present themselves for marriage in the Catholic Church, the marriage preparation which we seek to give [must provide not only a strengthening of the human dimensions of the marriage relationship but also its faith dimension both in its inner nature as a reflection of the mystery of Christ and his Church, and in the family’s vocation of faithful and continuing witness to Christ in contemporary society.]”
He added: “The Church must also keep foremost in view that any renewal of its pastoral actions in support of the family should also give priority to the needs of children and to the vocation of parenting. Preparation for parenting and support for parents who often experience very great strain in bringing up their children are areas which need to be significantly strengthened within the Church. Again, the experience and history of Marriage Care in these areas have much to offer.”