Cardinal Schonborn: Church doing best to strengthen families of all types

IMAGE: CNS photo/Liam Burke courtesy Pr

By Sarah Mac Donald

LIMERICK, Ireland (CNS) — The
Catholic Church is doing whatever it can to strengthen the family, including
families often considered nontraditional, said Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of
Vienna, the theologian who reviewed Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the

“Favoring the family does
not mean disfavoring other forms of life — even those living in a same-sex
partnership need their families,” the cardinal said during a visit to
Ireland, which next year hosts the World Meeting of Families.

The family is “the survival
network of the future” and “will remain forever the basis of every
society,” Cardinal Schonborn told journalists July 13 ahead of addressing
a conference, “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family.”

The cardinal told the conference
at Mary Immaculate College that people should not be discouraged about the
future of the family, despite the many social and economic threats and policies
that disregard it.

“Today, everybody can get
married,” he said, but acknowledged “so many choose not to get
married.” He suggested that the number of so-called irregular situations
has increased enormously because the “framework of society has changed so

“But let us not forget that
marriage, as we have it today, is a privilege that was fairly rare in previous
centuries, (when at most) a third of the population were able to get married.”

He said his great-grandmother, a
wealthy widow who lived in what today is the Czech Republic but then was part
of the Austrian empire, had six servants who remained unmarried because of laws
against marriage for people of their status. “Marriage was a privilege,”
he said.

The cardinal, a former student of
retired Pope Benedict XVI, also noted that his German professor’s grandmother
was the “illegitimate daughter of a maiden, who was not permitted to marry.”

He said if he had to sum it up
for Twitter, he would say, “‘Amoris Laetitia’ tells you marriage and
family are possible today.” “Amoris Laetitia” is Pope Francis’
2016 apostolic exhortation after two synods of bishops on the family.

Asked about the reception of “Amoris
Laetitia” within the church and the “dubia” — a series of
questions raised by four cardinals to clear up confusion — Cardinal Schonborn
said the “process of reception is a long process” and needs
negotiation and discussion.

But he also criticized the
cardinals over the manner in which they raised their concerns. “That
cardinals, who should be the closest collaborators of the pope, try to force
him and put pressure on him to give a public response to their publicized
letter is absolutely inconvenient behavior,” he said.

He told journalists, “I
fear those who have rapid, clear answers in politics and economy and also in
religion. Rigorists and laxists have clear and rapid answers, but they fail to
look at life. The rigorist avoids the effort of discernment, of looking closely
at reality. The laxist lets everything possible go, and there is no
discernment. They are the same but opposite.”

“St. Gregory the Great said
the art of the pastoral accompaniment is the art of discernment. It is an art
and it needs training,” he added.

During the conference, Cardinal
Schonborn, whose own parents divorced, described Chapter 8 of “Amoris
Laetitia” as the section that has been “most hotly debated.”

“Most often the topic is
reduced to one question — ‘May they (remarried divorcees who did not receive
an annulment) receive Communion? Yes or no!’ Pope Francis has said, ‘This is a
trap!’ By narrowing this to one question the main purpose of ‘Amoris Laetitia’
is forgotten: Look closely and discern,” the cardinal said.

Commending the importance of
pastoral discernment, the cardinal said that, in view of the immense variety of
situations that can arise for couples encountering difficulties, “It is
understandable that neither the synod nor this exhortation could be expected to
provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all

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