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British religious leaders to address Vatican marriage conference

Lord Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain (PA photo)

Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops NT Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali are to attend an interreligious conference at the Vatican dedicated to traditional marriage.

A month after closing a Synod of Bishops on the family stirred by controversy over divorce, same-sex unions and other non-marital relationships, Pope Francis will open the conference which takes place from November 17 to 19.

The Vatican-sponsored gathering on the Complementarity of Man and Woman will feature more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism.

The conference will aim to “examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society,” according to organisers.

Archbishop Charles J Chaput of Philadelphia and the Rev Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, will be among the participants.

Pope Francis will address the conference and preside over its first morning session on November 17, following remarks by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The conference was an initiative of Cardinal Muller, who proposed it to Pope Francis in November 2013, according to Helen Alvare, a professor at George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, who is handling press relations for the event.

The conference is officially sponsored by the doctrinal congregation, and co-sponsored by the pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, for Interreligious Dialogue and for the Family. The heads of all four curia offices are scheduled to address the assembly.

Topics of lectures and videos will include The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the World’s Children and The Sacramentality of Human Love According to St John Paul II.

Given its timing and subject matter, the conference is likely to invite comparisons with the October 5 to 19 synod on the family. Several conference participants have already commented publicly on the earlier event.

One of the synod’s most discussed topics was a proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Cardinal Muller was a leading opponent of that proposal.

Archbishop Chaput told an audience in New York on October 20 that he had been “very disturbed” by press reports of last month’s synod, saying, “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion,” though he added: “I don’t think that was the real thing there.” The archbishop will play host to the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis is widely expected to attend.

Rev Warren was one of 48 Christian ministers and scholars who signed an open letter to Pope Francis and the synod fathers in September, urging the assembly to defend traditional marriage, among other ways, by supporting efforts to “restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman”.

Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a blog post in response to the synod’s controversial mid-term report, which used remarkably conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to Catholic teaching, including those in same-sex unions and other non-marital relationships.

Moore praised the document for suggesting that “we should not drive sinners away, but that we should receive them and nurture them toward Christ,” but said that the “Church is not itself, though, to be made up of unrepentant people”.