Peter Novecosky, OSB

Family issues to discuss

Much of the discussion leading up to the bishops’ synod now taking place in Rome has centred on pastoral care for divorced Catholics who have remarried without a church annulment. In the western world this is the situation of close to 50 per cent of the population; naturally, it is a concern for the church.

Two of the main cardinals speaking their minds on this issue are Cardinals Walter Kasper and Raymond Burke. Burke is prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature at the Vatican. In an interview with Catholic News Service Oct. 1 Burke wanted to take the topic of giving communion to such divorced partners off the table before the synod began. “I cannot see how (the proposal) can go forward if we are going to honour the words of our Lord himself in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, in which he said the man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,” he said.

Kasper has explored other pastoral solutions. He was invited by Pope Francis to address the world’s cardinals at the Vatican in February, when the cardinal argued that, in certain cases, the church can “tolerate something that, in itself, is unacceptable”: a couple living together as husband and wife in a second union.

In his opening comments at the first working session of the extraordinary synod, Pope Francis urged participants to speak fearlessly and listen humbly to the discussion about the “pastoral challenges of the family.” He challenged the participants to be “fearless” in speaking their minds and not to say only what they think the pope wants to hear.

Meanwhile, Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila raised the concerns of Asian bishops: the impact of poverty and migration on families. The separation of married couples is a huge issue in the Philippines and other parts of Asia, he said, not because of divorce but because poverty pushes couples to separate in search of jobs abroad.

Working overseas is a normal part of Filipino life, he said. Couples get separated, not because of marriage breakdown, but “because they love each other.” They show their love and concern by leaving to find employment elsewhere.

Canada is increasingly an employment destination for Filipino workers. We welcome them because of our own labour shortage. We benefit, but their families suffer when they are separated.

The synod discussions will be about more than receiving communion, despite the focus of western media. It is not just the bishops present who should be listening to what the Spirit is saying to all of us.

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