Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, has praised the Maltese bishops’ approach to the Pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia.
Malta’s two bishops issued guidelines in January saying that a divorced and remarried person should be admitted to Communion if, “with an informed and enlightened conscience”, they believe they are “at peace with God”.
Speaking of the bishops’ document, Cardinal Nichols told America magazine: “It doesn’t start by saying, ‘What about this rule or that rule?’ It starts by saying if this is your position and you feel uneasy, you want to know where you stand, what you ought to be doing, then come and we’ll talk. But let’s be honest, let’s be open and let’s see where we go.”
When asked if the bishops of England and Wales had drafted their own guidelines on Amoris, he replied: “No, we haven’t got there yet”, before adding: “It’s obviously very interesting to see what other people do. I think some principal points are becoming pretty clear to me anyway.”
According to the cardinal, these points include a readiness to journey with the divorced and remarried individual and for both parties to have an open mind about the process, America magazine reported.
“Try and accompany these people, whoever they might be, with the full richness of the Gospel and [try] not to enter the process with a determined outcome,” he said.
He also said that it was OK that guidelines varied from country to country, arguing: “Creating space for a variety of pastoral responses is not decentralisation. It’s a response to the realities in which people live.”
When asked if Pope Francis should respond to the dubia from four cardinals asking for clarification about Amoris Laetitia, the cardinal said it was “absolutely right” for the Pope to ignore the questions.
He explained: “To enter into that field is actually to step back from the very thing he wants to help us understand, that we have to respond to people and help them in their journey to God and to do so is not simply to apply a law.”
During the interview, the cardinal also suggested that leadership such as the Pope’s was the best counter to the rise of populist politics.
“The biggest challenge in political leadership is not to play to people’s fear but to genuinely appeal to what is best in them and to lead from what is best, not from what is worst,” the cardinal told America.
“I think that’s what Pope Francis does, and that’s why people are so interested in what he wants to say – because he appeals to their best. They feel better when they listen to him because he seems to recognise what is best.”
“He’s not a politician,” the cardinal said. “But if that stance, that vision, could be translated into political programmes, I think that would be the best answer to the rise of what people are calling populism.”
Cardinal Nichols also described the Pope as one of the “toughest” people he has ever met. He said: “His Jesuit character, his toughness and his deep spirituality, I think, make him the man he is, which is remarkable.
“He’s one of the toughest people I think I’ve met. By ‘tough,’ I mean his work regime is astonishing. If he’s got something in his mind and he thinks it’s right, he’s not going to waver this way and that. He’s immensely patient but clear. He’s clear. When he decides, he decides.”