Pope Francis' new document on love in the family is welcome particularly for its steadfast adherence to Church teaching on homosexual acts and relationships, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna said.
“There’s another point in which (Pope Francis) is very firm: speaking about gay couples or homosexual couples, he insists very clearly that only the union between a man and woman, open to new life, by principle, can be called a marriage,” the cardinal told CNA April 8 during an interview shortly after leading the press conference presenting Amoris Laetitia at the Vatican.
“And I'm very happy that he did clarify this, because the other situations can be partnerships, relationships, but it’s certainly not a marriage.”
The apostolic exhortation is the conclusion of a two-year synod process discussing both the beauty and challenges of family life today. Hosted at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015, these synods gathered hundreds of bishops from around the world.
It makes a brief but clear reference to homosexuality, saying that “the Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception … We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”
Pope Francis wrote that families which include gay persons “should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God's will in their lives.”
He then quoted the Synod Fathers, who had written that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family” and that it is unacceptable that “international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish 'marriage' between persons of the same sex.”
Cardinal Schönborn called the document “a great catechesis.”
“You can take chapter by chapter, passage by passage, and work through it in the parish, in the communities. It’s a great, great catechesis on marital and familial love. And I think that’s a source we can use for our pastoral work.”
Cardinal Schönborn noted that “it's fascinating to see how much (Pope Francis) relies on the work of the bishops in the synods” in his document, and that he “quoted a great number of texts from both synods.”
Much of the media discussion of the synods has focused on pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried.
Pope Francis' discussion of accompaniment for the divorced-and-remarried focused on a discernment made in conjunction with one's pastor, and Cardinal Schönborn affirmed that “there is a danger, of course,” of couples not being led properly in such discernment.
“But, this danger exists always, since the beginning of the Church, because shepherds can lead or mislead,” he reflected. “They can be too harsh, or too compromising. But this is the art he is speaking about: the art of accompanying people. That’s the proper capacity for a Good Shepherd.”
During the press conference, Cardinal Schönborn had been joined by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, and by the Mianos, a married couple from Italy.
Cardinal Schönborn began the event by saying there has been “too much concentration” on the questions regarding the pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried. “It’s a trap to focus everything on this point because you forget the sum total of the situation.”
“A key to reading Amoris laetitia is the experience of the poor,” he said. “In the families of the poor, little steps on the path of virtue are experienced that can be much greater than those who live in 'comfortable success'.”
He added that even after the release of this apostolic exhortation, “there are many questions to continue to discuss, and one of the points is a renovation of sacramental praxis. Fifty years after Vatican II it is good to think about what a sacramental life means, and not only in a particular case.”
Several questions focused on the relationship between Amoris laetitia and Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul II's own apostolic exhortation following a Synod on the Family, which was published in 1981.
“I don't see that there is a change,” Cardinal Schönborn said, “but certainly there is a development, just as Pope John Paul developed doctrine … John Henry Newman explained to us how the organic development of doctrine works. Pope Francis is developing things in this way.”
Cardinal Baldisseri responded to a question regarding “ongoing debate” about pastoral care, saying that “the Church is on the road, so it’s the synod question which is important. It’s not that it’s ever closed. We’re moving forward, walking together with certainties: revelation and everything that is the tradition of the Church. The discourse continues.”
“But, we’re sure of what we have. In this sense, it’s not closed. It’s open, and for the theologians, it's their task and responsibility to deepen doctrine; so that’s why this continues. It’s a dynamic form. The Pope also speaks of steps: this is a step. We need to take little steps at all levels, whether in the family or relationships with people, and also in the field of theological research and deepening.”
Ann Schneible contributed to this report.