Om - Amoris Laetitia

The Irish Catholic: Building a doctrine to speak to real human situations

20. juli 2017

Building a doctrine to speak to real human situations
Christ’s truth needs to be accessible to all, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn tells Greg Daly

Greg Daly, The Irish Catholic, skriver bl.a.:

If Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College last week managed an impressive prelude to next year’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin through hosting two lectures and an academic seminar with the prelate the Pope has tapped as the key interpreter of his document on marriage and the family, Cork didn’t let the side down.

Saturday saw Cardinal Christoph Schönborn spending the morning with catechists and clergy in Cork before celebrating Mass in the city’s Church of the Sacred Heart, with Bishop John Buckley, Waterford and Lismore’s Bishop Phonsie Cullinan, and the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland Eamon Martin concelebrating, along with a host of local clergy.

The day in Cork followed visits with 15 of the cardinal’s seminarians to such sites as Clonmacnois and Glenstal Abbey, where he was reunited with his onetime classmate the former abbot Mark Patrick Hederman, and gave thanks for the contribution of Irish monks to the medieval re-evangelisation of central Europe, describing the visit to Ireland as a pilgrimage to their roots.

While the visits to Clonmacnois and Glenstal were in some senses about paying homage to the past, the trip to Cork was very much about the future. Organised by the Steering Committee of Adult Studies of the Catechism, it was intended to mark the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on which the future Austrian cardinal had worked alongside the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as general editor.

Further insight

The cardinal’s visit, the committee’s national coordinator Máirín Ní Shúilleabháin said ahead of the event, was well timed, coming during preparations for August 2018’s World Meeting of Families as it would give further insight into the Gospel of the family at this moment in our history, helping to increase our knowledge of what we believe as Catholics and enriching our understanding of the dignity of the Christian family.

The Catechism is an invaluable tool for evangelising, the cardinal told The Irish Catholic after the Mass, explaining that, “Pope St John Paul said when he published the Catechism – he promulgated the Catechism on October 11, 1992 – that this is a secure guide for Catholic doctrine, and therefore it is the right tool for evangelising.”

However, he adds, it is not the only such tool, and related books and resources might be better suited to individual situations. “Some countries have produced national catechisms,” he says, continuing, “there have been published a good number of working tools to work with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for homilies, for catechesis – kind of instruments to use the Catechism practically, but it is a fact that the Compendium and I think even more the YouCat became very important tools to popularise the Catechism.”

The 2006 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church follows the template of the kind of classic catechism with which older readers of this newspaper would have grown up, but 2010’s YouCat: Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the cardinal was involved in at its conception, follows the template of the full catechism, albeit in a way targeted at teenagers and younger adults.

Describing it as “a worldwide success”, the cardinal continues, “it’s a tremendous success – it’s I think a perfect example of what Pope St John Paul intended when he encouraged, so to say, ‘inculturated’ or ‘localised’ instruments for catechesis.”

An obvious question that arises from that is whether the language of the Catechism is suitable for ordinary readers, couched as it sometimes is in philosophical and theological approaches with which few in the modern Church are familiar, let alone comfortable.


Indeed, this difficulty reared its head during 2014 and 2015’s synods of bishops when concerns were raised about Church language sometimes coming across as unintentionally hurtful, perhaps the classic example of which being the description of homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered”. 

The phrase, which is conspicuously absent from both the Compendium and the YouCat, is one that really only makes sense in the context of Thomistic theology and philosophy, rooted in the thinking of Aristotle.

“The Catechism first, as it says in the introduction, is intended for bishops,” the cardinal points out, stressing that they – and not general readers – are the target audience, something that has inspired some people to joke “are the bishops so ignorant that they now need their own catechism?”

“Of course,” he continues, “the intention was to say that catechesis is primarily a task of the bishops, and all those committed by them for catechesis. So you can compare the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the Catechism of the Council of Trent: it was the Catechism ad Parochos for the parish priests – it was not primarily intended to be the catechetical tool for everybody but for those who are in charge of catechesis.”

The process of disseminating the Church’s teaching through a series of simplified texts has an impressive pedigree, the cardinal explains.

“And somehow, we see a similar development as in the 16th Century, when St Peter Canisius wrote his ‘Great Catechism’ – he wrote it in Vienna – similar by size nearly as big as the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” he says, continuing, “he then rapidly became aware that he needed a smaller sized book, and he published a kind of compendium, which is a summary of his ‘Great Catechism’. That was not even enough and he published later the minimum – the very small catechism – as an appendix to a schoolbook he had published for the Jesuit schools.”


The modern parallel should be obvious: “So he had published three catechisms, the ‘Great Catechism’ for the teachers, the medium-sized catechism for the popular reader, and the minimum catechism for learning by heart with short sentences.”

Having mentioned the recent synods and given the previous day’s talks and discussions in Limerick, another obvious question concerned how the cardinal’s working group at the synod had ever reached agreement, including as it did such totemic figures as the cardinal himself, Cardinal Gerhard Müller who was then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s doctrinal watchdog, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, whose proposed penitential path towards enabling the divorced-and-remarried to receive Communion had dominated public debate ahead of the first ‘extraordinary’ synod.

Other major figures in the group included Munich and Freising’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinal Advisers, and the Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

“There’s always a period of time dedicated to the language groups,” Cardinal Schönborn tells me, “so there was only one German language group – there were three or four English and French and Italian and Spanish speaking language groups.”

These groups were drawn up to consider the midway reports of the first synod and again for the central week of 2015’s synod. “In the German-language group there were, yes, some – as they say in Italy, pezzi grossi (‘big shots’) – there was Cardinal Müller, Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Kasper, me, Cardinal Koch and a good number of bishops, German bishops or neighbouring bishops,” he says.

Commenting on how much attention was paid to the group, which was expected by many to be key to how the synod would go, he says: “Of course, we were looked at very attentively – how does it work with especially cardinals who are considered as being rather controversial? And the great surprise was that the text we presented to the synod – to the secretariat of the synod – we all voted for unanimously.”


In their report, the group detailed suggestions for facing the challenge of divorced and civilly-remarried Catholics who want to receive the sacraments but acknowledged that this was a issue which had no simple or general solutions.

Recalling Pope St John Paul statement in 1981’s post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio that pastors “must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations” and that there are real differences in how Catholics have come to remarry after divorce, the group built on that to consider how that discernment might play out in reality.

They agreed that Catholics in such situations should be led by a qualified priest through a deep examination of conscience, reflection and repentance to consider a range of issues, with the outlined questions subsequently being adopted in Amoris Laetitia.

When one’s situation is examined objectively in such a guided way, the group said, it would be possible to determine before God in the privacy of one’s conscience – the so-called ‘internal forum’ – whether access to the sacraments would be possible.

Real situation

“I think it was the result of a really careful consideration of both doctrine and the real situation of most families,” the cardinal explains, continuing, “and this synthesis was well accepted by the majority of the Synod and was also partly integrated in Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis.”

During his public lecture in Limerick, the cardinal noted the similarity of the examination of conscience mapped out in Amoris Laetitia 300 to that recommended for almost 20 years in his own diocese, saying that he had been “very moved when I read in the papal document a very similar programme”.

While the cardinal rejects the notion that Pope Francis took this idea from Vienna’s ‘Five Attentions’, maintaining that he surely based it on his own experience, it is clear that the examination of conscience outlined in Amoris is strikingly similar to that in the Vienna programme, rooted as both are in the need to face the truth. As such, the cardinal must have experience in his diocese of what the kind of discernment Pope Francis – like the German language group – envisages, which invites the obvious question of what this entails on the clerical coalface.



Guided discernment would clearly be hard work, after all, requiring empathy, intelligence, knowledge, experience, courage, and – perhaps most importantly given declining clerical numbers in the West – time. How can priests fulfil such a challenging role in these discernment processes?

“You are right – there is a question of time,” the cardinal says. “May priests have time enough to really listen to difficult situations, and are they trained to counsel really in difficult situations? This is a very good question, which is certainly not easily resolved.”

It may be a case where the load needs to be shared, he ventures. “But I think what Vatican II intended to say when the Council speaks about conscience – it doesn’t speak about the conscience of the priest or the laity but the conscience of everybody, and for everybody it is necessary to have a careful formation of our own conscience, and this concerns mainly the people concerned by marital conflicts and family conflicts,” he says.

“Very often the best advisors may not be the priest,” he continues, “but the parents, a cousin, an uncle, friends, a good parish – a living parish community where people are aware that there is a crisis in a family – and how often marriage has been saved because there was a good counselling perhaps not from the priest, but from prudent, wise people who helped this couple to find a new start!”

There is a logic to this: although it might be natural to think that spiritual guidance can really only be given by priests, it’s hard to deny the value of the lived reality of the marital experience of devout Christian couples, or indeed of holy Christian individuals such as the lay Carmelite Jan Tyranowski who did so much to form the youthful Karol Wojtyla in his path to becoming the future Pope St John Paul II.

In the public address, the cardinal noted that in the Church we have often focused on issues of chastity when considering questions of marriage and family while not giving sufficient attention to questions of justice, which are often more important, observing that, “in the Bible the sins against justice are counted more seriously than the sins against chastity”.

He had already pointed out earlier that day that the only mention of Communion in the main text of Amoris Laetitia is in section 186 of the document which deals with questions of social justice and how those who receive the sacrament while turning a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or accept other forms of division, contempt and inequality, receive the Eucharist unworthily.


The obvious question, then, is where the focus on children – and indeed on the treatment and fate of abandoned spouses – comes from in the Vienna process and in the examination of conscience in Amoris Laetitia 298.

“Exactly,” he says. “It’s very often a matter of justice in the family crises – what is due to the other, what is due to the children, what do they really need?”

We must not only look on our own needs, he concludes, but on the needs of the others: “That’s the matter of justice, and therefore I think the Bible teaches us to be very attentive to justice.”

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