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Cardinal Erdo: affirming magisterial teaching, synod should address difficult pastoral situations

October 06, 2014

Cardinal Péter Erdo of Hungary, the relator general of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, delivered what is traditionally one of the most important speeches at a synod: the relatio ante disceptationem, or report before the discussion.

In his October 6 address, Cardinal Erdo called for fidelity to teaching of the Magisterium on marriage and family life and for mercy in addressing difficult pastoral situations.

“Jesus Christ is our Master before all others and our only Lord,” he began. “He alone has the ‘words of eternal life’ (Jn 6:68). This is also true regarding the vocation of the person and the family. The message of Christ is not easy to accept, because it places demands, requiring a conversion of heart. Nevertheless, it is a truth which sets us free.”

The prelate, quoting Pope Paul VI, said that “it is absolutely necessary for us to take into account a heritage of faith that the Church has the duty of preserving in its untouchable purity, and of presenting it to the people of our time, in a way that is as understandable and persuasive as possible.”

“The crystal clear and whole truth of the Gospel gives the light, meaning and hope which humanity needs today,” Cardinal Erdo said. “The Church must offer this ‘truth cure’ so that it can be recognized in the present moment as a “remedy” for the many problematic, oftentimes burdensome, family situations. In other words, without detracting from the truth, this must also be proposed from the perspective of those who ‘struggle’ to recognize it as such and to live it.” Cardinal Erdo called upon the synod fathers to offer to dioceses “clear guidelines to help those living in difficult situations. Indeed, it is unrealistic to expect that by themselves they will find the right solutions in conformity with the truth of the Gospel and nearness to individuals in particular situations.”

After reflecting upon “difficulties within the family and outside pressures,” including “disruptive factors like separation and divorce” and “a widespread selfish mentality that closes in upon itself, with the disturbing consequence of the practice of abortion,” Cardinal Erdo turned to “difficult pastoral situations.”

“Only God’s mercy can achieve true forgiveness of sins,” he said. “In sacramental absolution, God forgives us through the ministry of the Church. What remains for us to do is to bear witness to God's mercy and to perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy which were already known in Old Testament times.”

“Mercy does not take away the commitments which arise from the demands of the marriage bond,” he continued. “They will continue to exist even when human love is weakened or has ceased. This means that, in the case of a (consummated) sacramental marriage, after a divorce, a second marriage recognized by the Church is impossible, while the first spouse is still alive.”

He added:

Divorced and civilly remarried persons belong to the Church. They need and have the right to receive care from their pastors. They are invited to listen to the Word of God, to participate in the Church's liturgy and prayer and perform the good works of charity. The Church’s pastoral care must be extended to them in a very special way, taking into account the unique circumstances of each person.

Consequently, in each particular Church, at least one duly prepared priest is needed, who can offer counsel, without charge, as a first step for the parties in ascertaining the validity of their marriage. Indeed, many spouses are unaware of the criteria for the validity of a marriage, much less the possibility that a marriage can be invalid. After divorce, this verification must be carried out in a pastoral dialogue on the causes of the failure of the previous marriage and identifying possible grounds for nullity, while avoiding every appearance of a formal bureaucratic process or any economic interest. If all this is done in a serious manner in search of the truth, the declaration of nullity process for the parties will be truly a liberating experience in conscience.

The synod’s preparatory document “relates that some responses suggest further examining the practice of some of the Orthodox Churches, which allows the possibility of a second or third marriage, marked by a penitential character,” he said. “Examining this matter is necessary to avoid any questionable interpretations and conclusions which are not sufficiently well-founded. In this regard, studying the history of the discipline of the Churches in the East and West is important. Possible contributions might also come from considering the disciplinary, liturgical and doctrinal traditions of the Eastern Churches.”

“The challenge for this synod is to try to bring back to today’s world, which in some way resembles that of the early days of the Church, the attractiveness of the Christian message about marriage and the family, highlighting the joy which they give, but, at the same time, respond, in a true and charitable way, to the many problems which have a special impact on the family today and emphasizing that true moral freedom does not consists in doing what one feels or living only by one’s feelings but is realized only in acquiring the true good,” Cardinal Erdo said in his concluding remarks.


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