Tag Archives: marriage

Jonathan Sacks on human ecology

November 17, 2014


Among many speeches yesterday following Pope Francis’s address to the Humanum colloquium on complementarity, that of Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, was the standout, bringing the audience of 300 in the synod hall to their feet. Using dazzling oratory, he offered a magisterial account of the development of marriage from the very start — a sexual act between fish in Scotland — right up to the present day, told by means of seven stories, and ending with a spectacular exegesis of the Genesis account. It is a story with a tragic end: the dismantling of what he calls “the single most humanising institution in history” resulting in a whole new era of poverty and social division. Yet the recovery of that institution offers hope.  The full speech follows. 

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one. But to me it is a story of seven key moments, each of them surprising and unexpected. The first, according to a report in the press on 20th October of this year, took place in a lake in Scotland 385 million years ago. It was then, according to this new discovery, that two fish came together to perform the first instance of sexual reproduction known to science. Until then all life had propagated itself asexually, by cell division, budding, fragmentation or parthenogenesis, all of which are far simpler and more economical than the division of life into male and female, each with a different role in creating and sustaining life.

When we consider, even in the animal kingdom, how much effort and energy the coming together of male and female takes, in terms of displays, courtship rituals, rivalries and violence, it is astonishing that sexual reproduction ever happened at all. Biologists are still not quite sure why it did. Some say to offer protection against parasites, or immunities against disease. Others say it’s simply that the meeting of opposites generates diversity. But one way or another, the fish in Scotland discovered something new and beautiful that’s been copied ever since by virtually all advanced forms of life. Life begins
when male and female meet and embrace.

The second unexpected development was the unique challenge posed to Homo sapiens by two factors: we stood upright, which constricted the female pelvis, and we had bigger brains – a 300 per cent increase – which meant larger heads. The result was that human babies had to be born more prematurely than any other species, and so needed parental protection for much longer. This made parenting more demanding among humans than any other species, the work of two people rather than one. Hence the very rare phenomenon among mammals, of pair bonding, unlike other species where the male contribution tends to end with the act of impregnation. Among most primates, fathers don’t even recognise their children let alone care for them. Elsewhere in the animal kingdom motherhood is almost universal but fatherhood is rare.

So what emerged along with the human person was the union of the biological mother and father to care for their child. Thus far nature, but then came culture, and the third surprise.

It seems that among hunter gatherers, pair bonding was the norm. Then came agriculture, and economic surplus, and cities and civilisation, and for the first time sharp inequalities began to emerge between rich and poor, powerful and powerless. The great ziggurats of Mesopotamia and pyramids of ancient Egypt, with their broad base and narrow top, were monumental statements in stone of a hierarchical society in which the few had power over the many. And the most obvious expression of power among alpha males whether human or primate, is to dominate access to fertile women and thus maximise the handing on of your genes to the next generation. Hence polygamy, which exists in 95 per cent of mammal species and 75 per cent of cultures known to anthropology. Polygamy is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that many males never get the chance to have a wife and child. And sexual envy has been, throughout history, among animals as well as humans, a prime driver of violence.

That is what makes the first chapter of Genesis so revolutionary with its statement that every human being, regardless of class, colour, culture or creed, is in the image and likeness of God himself. We know that in the ancient world it was rulers, kings, emperors and pharaohs who were held to be in the image of God. So what Genesis was saying was that we are all royalty. We each have equal dignity in the kingdom of faith under the sovereignty of God.

From this it follows that we each have an equal right to form a marriage and have children, which is why, regardless of how we read the story of Adam and Eve – and there are differences between Jewish and Christian readings – the norm presupposed by that story is: one woman, one man. Or as the Bible itself says: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Monogamy did not immediately become the norm, even within the world of the Bible. But many of its most famous stories, about the tension between Sarah and Hagar, or Leah and Rachel and their children, or David and Bathsheba, or Solomon’s many wives, are all critiques that point the way to monogamy.

And there is a deep connection between monotheism and monogamy, just as there is, in the opposite direction, between idolatry and adultery. Monotheism and monogamy are about the all-embracing relationship between I and Thou, myself and one other, be it a human, or the divine, Other.

What makes the emergence of monogamy unusual is that it is normally the case that the values of a society are those imposed on it by the ruling class. And the ruling class in any hierarchical society stands to gain from promiscuity and polygamy, both of which multiply the chances of my genes being handed on to the next generation. From monogamy the rich and powerful lose and the poor and powerless gain. So the return of monogamy goes against the normal grain of social change and was a real triumph for the equal dignity of all. Every bride and every groom are royalty; every home a palace when furnished with love.

The fourth remarkable development was the way this transformed the moral life. We’ve all become familiar with the work of evolutionary biologists using computer simulations and the iterated prisoners’ dilemma to explain why reciprocal altruism exists among all social animals. We behave to others as we would wish them to behave to us, and we respond to them as they respond to us. As C S Lewis pointed out in his book The Abolition of Man, reciprocity is the Golden Rule shared by all the great civilizations.

What was new and remarkable in the Hebrew Bible was the idea that love, not just fairness, is the driving principle of the moral life. Three loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.” “Love your neighbour as
yourself.” And, repeated no less than 36 times in the Mosaic books, “Love the stranger because you know what it feels like to be a stranger.” Or to put it another way: just as God created the natural world in love and forgiveness, so we are charged with creating the social world in love and forgiveness. And that love is a flame lit in marriage and the family. Morality is the love between husband and wife, parent and child, extended outward to the world.

The fifth development shaped the entire structure of Jewish experience. In ancient Israel an originally secular form of agreement, called a covenant, was taken and transformed into a new way of thinking about the relationship between God and
humanity, in the case of Noah, and between God and a people in the case of Abraham and later the Israelites at Mount Sinai. A covenant is like a marriage. It is a mutual pledge of loyalty and trust between two or more people, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, to work together to achieve together what neither can achieve alone. And there is one thing even God cannot achieve alone, which is to live within the human heart. That needs us.

So the Hebrew word emunah, wrongly translated as faith, really means faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, steadfastness, not walking away even when the going gets tough, trusting the other and honouring the other’s trust in us. What covenant did, and we see this in almost all the prophets, was to understand the relationship between us and God in terms of the relationship between bride and groom, wife and husband. Love thus became not only the basis of morality but also of theology. In Judaism faith is a marriage. Rarely was this more beautifully stated than by Hosea when he said in the name of God:

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.

Jewish men say those words every weekday morning as we wind the strap of our tefillin around our finger like a wedding ring. Each morning we renew our marriage with God.

This led to a sixth and quite subtle idea that truth, beauty, goodness, and life itself, do not exist in any one person or entity but in the “between,” what Martin Buber called Das Zwischenmenschliche, the interpersonal, the counterpoint of speaking and
listening, giving and receiving. Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic literature, the vehicle of truth is conversation. In revelation God speaks and asks us to listen. In prayer we speak and ask God to listen. There is never only one voice. In the Bible the prophets argue with God. In the Talmud rabbis argue with one another. In fact I sometimes think the reason God chose the Jewish people was because He loves a good argument. Judaism is a conversation scored for many voices, never more passionately than in the Song of Songs, a duet between a woman and a man, the beloved and her lover, that Rabbi Akiva called the holy of holies of religious literature.

The prophet Malachi calls the male priest the guardian of the law of truth. The
book of Proverbs says of the woman of worth that “the law of loving kindness is on her
tongue.” It is that conversation between male and female voices, between truth and love,
justice and mercy, law and forgiveness, that frames the spiritual life. In biblical times
each Jew had to give a half shekel to the Temple to remind us that we are only half.
There are some cultures that teach that we are nothing. There are others that teach that we are everything. The Jewish view is that we are half and we need to open ourselves to another if we are to become whole.

All this led to the seventh outcome, that in Judaism the home and the family
became the central setting of the life of faith. In the only verse in the Hebrew Bible to
explain why God chose Abraham, He says: “I have known him so that he will instruct
his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is
right and just.” Abraham was chosen not to rule an empire, command an army, perform
miracles or deliver prophecies, but simply to be a parent. In one of the most famous lines in Judaism, which we say every day and night, Moses commands, “You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house or when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.” Parents are to be educators, education is the conversation between the generations, and the first school is the home.

So Jews became an intensely family oriented people, and it was this that saved us
from tragedy. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, Jews were
scattered throughout the world, everywhere a minority, everywhere without rights,
suffering some of the worst persecutions ever known by a people and yet Jews survived
because they never lost three things: their sense of family, their sense of community and
their faith.

And they were renewed every week especially on Shabbat, the day of rest when
we give our marriages and families what they most need and are most starved of in the
contemporary world, namely time. I once produced a television documentary for the
BBC on the state of family life in Britain, and I took the person who was then Britain’s
leading expert on child care, Penelope Leach, to a Jewish primary school on a Friday

There she saw the children enacting in advance what they would see that evening
around the family table. There were the five year old mother and father blessing the five
year old children with the five year old grandparents looking on. She was fascinated by
this whole institution, and she asked the children what they most enjoyed about the
Sabbath. One five year old boy turned to her and said, “It’s the only night of the week
when daddy doesn’t have to rush off.” As we walked away from the school when the
filming was over she turned to me and said, “Chief Rabbi, that Sabbath of yours is saving
their parents’ marriages.”

So that is one way of telling the story, a Jewish way, beginning with the birth of
sexual reproduction, then the unique demands of human parenting, then the eventual
triumph of monogamy as a fundamental statement of human equality, followed by the
way marriage shaped our vision of the moral and religious life as based on love and
covenant and faithfulness, even to the point of thinking of truth as a conversation
between lover and beloved. Marriage and the family are where faith finds its home and
where the Divine Presence lives in the love between husband and wife, parent and child.
What then has changed? Here’s one way of putting it. I wrote a book a few years
ago about religion and science and I summarised the difference between them in two
sentences. “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things
together to see what they mean.” And that’s a way of thinking about culture also. Does it
put things together or does it take things apart?

What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face, the face of love.

For a whole variety of reasons, some to do with medical developments like birth control, in vitro fertilisation and other genetic interventions, some to do with moral change like the idea that we are free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm
others, some to do with a transfer of responsibilities from the individual to the state, and other and more profound changes in the culture of the West, almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.

The result is that in Britain in 2012, 47.5 per cent of children were born outside marriage, expected to become a majority in 2016. Fewer people are marrying, those who are, are marrying later, and 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Nor is cohabitation a substitute for marriage. The average length of cohabitation in Britain and the United States is less than two years. The result is a sharp increase among young people of eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, stress related syndromes, depression and actual and attempted suicides. The collapse of marriage has created a new form of poverty concentrated among single parent families, and of these, the main burden is born by women, who in 2011 headed 92 per cent of single parent households. In Britain today more than a million children will grow up with no contact whatsoever with their fathers.

This is creating a divide within societies the like of which has not been seen since Disraeli spoke of “two nations” a century and a half ago. Those who are privileged to grow up in stable loving association with the two people who brought them into being will, on average, be healthier physically and emotionally. They will do better at school and at work. They will have more successful relationships, be happier and live longer.

And yes, there are many exceptions. But the injustice of it all cries out to heaven. It will go down in history as one of the tragic instances of what Friedrich Hayek called “the fatal conceit” that somehow we know better than the wisdom of the ages, and can defy the lessons of biology and history. No one surely wants to go back to the narrow prejudices of the past.

This week, in Britain, a new film opens, telling the story of one of the great minds of the twentieth century, Alan Turing, the Cambridge mathematician who laid the philosophical foundations of computing and artificial intelligence, and helped win the war by breaking the German naval code Enigma. After the war, Turing was arrested and tried for homosexual behaviour, underwent chemically induced castration, and died at the age of 41 by cyanide poisoning, thought by many to have committed suicide. That is a world to which we should never return.

But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not inhibit us from being advocates for the single most humanising institution in history. The family, man, woman, and child, is not one lifestyle choice among many. It is the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love. It is where we learn the delicate choreography of relationship and how to handle the inevitable conflicts within any human group. It is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love. It is where one generation passes on its values to the next, ensuring the continuity of a civilization. For any society, the family is the crucible of its future, and for the sake of our children’s future, we must be its defenders.

Since this is a religious gathering, let me, if I may, end with a piece of biblical exegesis. The story of the first family, the first man and woman in the garden of Eden, is not generally regarded as a success. Whether or not we believe in original sin, it did not end happily. After many years of studying the text I want to suggest a different reading.

The story ends with three verses that seem to have no connection with one another. No sequence. No logic. In Genesis 3: 19 God says to the man: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were
taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Then in the next verse we read: “The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life.” And in the next, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

What is the connection here? Why did God telling the man that he was mortal lead him to give his wife a new name? And why did that act seem to change God’s attitude to both of them, so that He performed an act of tenderness, by making them
clothes, almost as if He had partially forgiven them? Let me also add that the Hebrew word for “skin” is almost indistinguishable from the Hebrew word for “light,” so that Rabbi Meir, the great sage of the early second century, read the text as saying that God made for them “garments of light.” What did he mean?

If we read the text carefully, we see that until now the first man had given his wife a purely generic name. He called her ishah, woman. Recall what he said when he first saw her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken from man.” For him she was a type, not a person. He gave her a noun, not a name. What is more he defines her as a derivative of himself: something taken from man. She is not yet for him someone other, a person in her own
right. She is merely a kind of reflection of himself.

As long as the man thought he was immortal, he ultimately needed no one else. But now he knew he was mortal. He would one day die and return to dust. There was only one way in which something of him would live on after his death. That would be if he had a child. But he could not have a child on his own. For that he needed his wife. She alone could give birth. She alone could mitigate his mortality. And not because she was like him but precisely because she was unlike him. At that moment she ceased to be, for him, a type, and became a person in her own right. And a person has a proper name.
That is what he gave her: the name Chavah, “Eve,” meaning, “giver of life.”

At that moment, as they were about to leave Eden and face the world as we know it, a place of darkness, Adam gave his wife the first gift of love, a personal name. And at that moment, God responded to them both in love, and made them garments to
clothe their nakedness, or as Rabbi Meir put it, “garments of light.”

And so it has been ever since, that when a man and woman turn to one another in a bond of faithfulness, God robes them in garments of light, and we come as close as we will ever get to God himself, bringing new life into being, turning the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit, redeeming the darkness of the world by the radiance of love.

God’s vineyard, or mine: Pope Francis’ homily opening the Synod

Pope Francis and Cadinals Oct 5 2014 REUTERS

Knitting the fabric together you will want to read the Pope’s reflections from the Saturday Vigil, today’s homily and the Angelus address. Read independently you’ll not have the full flavor of what he’s trying to say to the Church.

The difficulty that is arising is the confusion of what a synod is, and the perceived division among the theologians, especially among some cardinals. The pastoral thing to do in any situation is to know in a concrete way what is going on in the people’s way of life. The trouble is bishops and other pastors tend to not to really care what their people believe, think, how they live and what their struggles are: they are too insulated; they are too attached to their own opinions of “what should be.” When you are cut off from the laity: rarely speaking with and listening to them, hearing their confessions, counseling them, etc. there is no way a pastor of souls can claim to know his sheep. See if this is what the Pope is saying.

The homily from Mass follows:

Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the Lord’s vineyard.  The Lord’s vineyard is his “dream”, the plan which he nurtures with all his love, like a farmer who cares for his vineyard.  Vines are plants which need much care!

God’s “dream” is his people.  He planted it and nurtured it with patient and faithful love, so that it can become a holy people, a people which brings forth abundant fruits of justice.

But in both the ancient prophecy and in Jesus’ parable, God’s dream is thwarted.  Isaiah says that the vine which he so loved and nurtured has yielded “wild grapes” (5:2,4); God “expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness, but only a cry of distress” (v. 7).  In the Gospel, it is the farmers themselves who ruin the Lord’s plan: they fail to do their job but think only of their own interests.

In Jesus’ parable, he is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the “experts”, the managers.  To them in a particular way God entrusted his “dream”, his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field. This is the job of leaders: to nurture the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.

But Jesus tells us that those farmers took over the vineyard.  Out of greed and pride they want to do with it as they will, and so they prevent God from realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.

The temptation to greed is ever present.  We encounter it also in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds (cf. ch. 34), which Saint Augustine commented upon in one his celebrated sermons which we have just reread in the Liturgy of the Hours.  Greed for money and power.  And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4)

We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard.  Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent…  They are meant to better nuture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people.  In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.

We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings.  God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants.  We can “thwart” God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.

My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by “the peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7).  In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).

Pope Francis prays for a listening heart fixed on Christ’s gaze

Luisna Pucci and Elise NataleDear families, good evening!

The evening falls on our assembly.

It is the hour in which one willingly returns home to the same meal, in the thick of affections, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates in the days of man the feast without end.

It is also the most weighty hour for he who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of broken dreams and plans: how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes was the wine of joy less plenty, therefore, the zest – and the wisdom – of life. For one another we make our prayer heard.

It is significant how – even in the individualistic culture which distorts and  renders connections fleeting – in each person born of a woman, there remains alive an essential need of stability, of an open door, of someone with whom to weave and to share the story of life, a history to which to belong.

The communion of life assumed by spouses, their openness to the gift of life, the mutual protection, the encounter and the memory of generations, educational support, the transmission of the Christian faith to their children . . . With all this, the family continues to be a school without parallel of humanity, an indispensable contribution to a just and united society. (cfr Esort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, 66-68).

And the deeper its roots, the more it is possible in life to leave and to go far, without getting lost or feeling out of place in foreign lands.

This horizon helps us to grasp the importance of the Synodal assembly, which opens tomorrow.

Already, the “convenire in unum” surrounding the Bishop of Rome is an event of grace, in which episcopal collegiality is made manifest in a path of spiritual and pastoral discernment.

To search for that which today the Lord asks of His Church, we must lend our ears to the beat of this time and perceive the “scent” of the people today, so as to remain  permeated with their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility.

We know, in fact, as in the Gospel, there is a strength and tenderness capable of defeating that which is created by unhappiness and violence.

Yes, in the Gospel there is salvation which fulfills the most profound needs of man! Of this salvation – work of God’s mercy and grace – as a Church, we are sign and instrument, a living and effective sacrament.

If it were not so, our building would remain only a house of cards, and pastors would be reduced to clerics of state, on whose lips the people would search in vain for the freshness and “smell of the Gospel.” (Ibid., 39).

Thus emerges also the subject of our prayer.

Above all, we ask the Holy Spirit, for the gift of listening for the Synod Fathers: to listen in the manner of God, so that they may hear, with him, the cry of the people; to listen to the people, until they breathe the will to which God calls us.

Besides listening, we invoke an openness toward a sincere discussion, open and fraternal, which leads us to carry with pastoral responsibility the questions that this change in epoch brings.

We let it flow back into our hearts, without ever losing peace, but with serene trust which in his own time the Lord will not fail to bring into unity.

Does not Church history perhaps recount many similar situations, which our Fathers knew how to overcome with persistent patience and creativity?

The secret lies in a gaze: and it is the third gift that we implore with our prayer. Because, if we truly intend to walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ – Lumen Gentium – to pause in contemplation and in adoration of His Face.

If we assume his way of thinking, of living and of relating, we will never tire of translating the Synodal work into guidelines and paths for the pastoral care of the person and of the family.

In fact, every time we return to the source of Christian experience, new paths and un-thought of possibilities open up. This is what the Gospel hints at: “Do whatever he tells you.”

These are the words which contain the spiritual testament of Mary, “the friend who is ever-concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives” (EV 286). Let us make these words ours!

At that point, our listening and our discussion on the family, loved with the gaze of Christ, will become a providential occasion with which to renew – according to the example of Saint Francis – the Church and society.

With the joy of the Gospel we will rediscover the way of a reconciled and merciful Church, poor and friend of the poor; a Church “given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without.” (Lumen Gentium, 8)

May the Wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church, and on all of humanity. Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope.

Grant us this creative charity which consents to love as Jesus loved. And our message may reclaim the vivacity and enthusiasm of the first missionaries of the Gospel.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio speaks about marriage, communion to divorced and remarried

coccopalmerioCardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio was chosen by Pope Francis to head a new commission for the study simplifying of the annulment process. The Cardinal is the President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; he spoke with Salvatore Cernuzio of ZENIT and the text of the interview was released on ZENIT on October 3, 2014.

The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops begins tomorrow but tonight in Rome there is a vigil service presided over by the Pope and a packed St Peter’s Square. He set the tone of wanting the Church at her various levels oriented toward the Lord in prayer.

The interview is not terrifically insightful or revealing of “possible” changes to our pastoral practice with regard to marriage and family life, or about giving a new  theological anthropology, but it is a text that ought to garner some attention not only for experts but for those who work in pastoral contexts like the parish and universities. It follows:


ZENIT: The Synod is already at our door. With what state of mind do you approach this great Assembly? What are your hopes, but also your fears?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: There is, certainly, some concern because we will be addressing delicate questions, on which opinions are diverse. The fear, which is justified, is that there will be some reason for opposition. However, I believe that, if each one of us says freely and sincerely what he thinks and others listen to him with patience and with the desire to compare and reflect further, all will be well. In this connection, I trust in the help of the Holy Spirit, that He may illumine our minds and, above all, make us open to one another.

ZENIT: The international media has given much attention to the subject of the Sacraments for civilly remarried divorced persons, theorizing in fact that there will be “clashes” and angry debates during the Assembly between conservative and progressive factions. What do you think?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: I think the subject of Communion for remarried divorced persons is important, because there are persons who live experiences of suffering and, therefore, expect a word of light and comfort from the Church. However, obviously, this isn’t the only topic: there are many others that, perhaps, are more important. The real topic, the main one, is to make the beauty of marriage and the family understood, despite the fact that such an adventure also entails effort. If the Synod succeeds in giving, especially to young people, a more beautiful, more enthusiastic sense of marriage and the family, it will certainly have achieved the most important result. Then as well, of course, it will have to address “burning” issues, but it will do so in a wider and more serene atmosphere.

ZENIT: In regard to these burning issues, how do you define them? What is your position? In which of the two “factions,” if we can so describe them, are you?

Cardinal Cocopalmerio: I cannot anticipate here my intervention in the Synod. I only think that, following the Lord’s Gospel and it being a question of so many persons living in painful situations, we are called to commit ourselves to give satisfying and adequate answers to the needs of today.

ZENIT: Among the topics connected to the Synod are also the juridical and canonical implications of the matrimonial bond. In fact last week Pope Francis instituted a study commission for the annulments process, and made you a member. Should we describe this as a strategic move of the Pontiff on the eve of the Synod?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: I would rather say an intelligent move that put to the fore one of the questions that the Synodal Assembly will certainly be working on. From many sides it has been suggested that the procedures be simplified to come to the declaration of an eventual matrimonial nullity. Hence this Commission works outside of the Synod but also in service of the Synod, being able to give it a notable contribution. The Pope did well in instituting it.

ZENIT: Isn’t there the risk that with a simplification of the procedures of matrimonial nullity the evangelical principle of the indissolubility of the Sacrament will be questioned?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: The procedure for the declaration of matrimonial nullity serves to declare if a marriage is valid or not. Therefore, it isn’t a procedure for the annulment of the matrimonial bond but it serves simply to see, to confirm, to take into account the validity or invalidity of the bond. If the bond is not valid, there is the pronouncement of the nullity of the marriage; if it is valid, its existence is confirmed. It is, therefore, a procedure oriented to seeking the truth: does this bond exist or not?

The procedure for the declaration of matrimonial nullity does not put in question the principle of the indissolubility of marriage: it tends only to examine if in a concrete case, there is or is not a marriage. If the bond was never born, it is no longer about dissolubility or non-dissolubility, but about the non-existence of matrimony. Therefore, even if the procedure is simplified, it must never fail, however, in the finality of establishing the reality. And if the simplification impedes coming to knowledge of the reality it would not be good.

ZENIT: On the practical plane, there is an increase in requests for nullity. Almost 50,000 marriages in the world celebrated in church have been annulled, of which more than 2,400 alone were in Italy. Will it be possible, with this Commission, to meet these requests?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: I don’t have the statistics, therefore I cannot know how to reply. However it seems to me that the current language is erroneous: marriages are not “annulled.” What is declared is only that the bond does not exist because it was never born, in as much as at the moment of the celebration an essential requisite was lacking, as happens, for instance, when one who marries excludes the indissolubility of marriage.

ZENIT: In the Instrumentum laboris of the synod, one reads that the Assembly will study a more valid pre-matrimonial pastoral ministry but also a strategy to support young couples after the Sacrament. In your opinion, up to now has this type of ministry been a lacuna in the Church?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: The pastoral intention is very important. The preparation for marriage should be carried out with passion and diligence so that the future spouses are supported in a conscious and joyful way. Perhaps in some parts of the world this ambit is not taken care of or not sufficiently taken care of. I am certain that the Synod will insist on this point and will be able to renew methods and structures. Even more important, then, is post-matrimony, the follow-up, that is, the new couples that have met, for instance, with difficulties in their matrimonial life which they didn’t have as engaged couples. It is necessary to support couples, especially in their difficult moments in which there are disillusions, relational difficulties caused, for instance, by reasons of work or health.

ZENIT: I would like to hear your thought on unions between persons of the same sex. On other occasions, you have stated that homosexuals are not condemned and, if there are also stable unions between them, what is important is that they not be confused with the family and with matrimony. Can you clarify this concept?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Matrimony is a precise reality; it is the union between a man and a woman, which is stable, open to generation: it is a concept of matrimony to be maintained with commitment and honesty. Therefore, the other unions cannot in all honesty be called matrimony. And when we say matrimony we also say family. The problem, therefore, is not so much not to condemn unions between persons of the same sex: every person, in fact, has his conscience and, therefore, makes his choices. The problem is to see if legislation can include in its ordering forms of homosexual union especially in relation to adoption.

ZENIT: What is your point of view on this issue?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: I have questioned myself many times in this regard. By tendency I am decidedly opposed to the possibility of a homosexual couple adopting children. I have much difficulty with this, because one thing is the choice that two persons can make of their life, of their relationship, another is to have this choice carried out on someone outside, little persons, incapable of deciding. If I were a lawmaker I think I would prohibit it.

ZENIT: What are the greatest risks?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: First of all, those of an anthropological nature, because  — let’s say it clearly – one can discuss everything, but spontaneously one feels that the education of a child is not to be entrusted to a homosexual couple. However, here we are entering in a very complex matter in which I don’t feel competent. I say spontaneously that the adoption of children by same-sex couples is certainly something foreign to my conviction. From the legislative point of view, I confirm, I would not permit it.

ZENIT: So many, however, object that in face of cases of abandonment or mistreatment of minors, it would be better if a child was received by two persons, even of the same sex, who in any case can guarantee him/her affection and support …

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Yes, certainly, when faced with the reality of street children, totally abandoned, as the many I have seen, and they are an excruciating sight, perhaps the thought comes that a “homosexual couple is better.” But let’s be clear: it would be as if saying that in face of a great evil a lesser evil is preferable. Deep down something remains that is difficult to accept.

ZENIT: Can there ever be an opening of the Church in this regard?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: I don’t think the Church could ever accept the legitimacy of a homosexual union from an objective point of view. The Church can respect this choice of life, presupposing that it was made in full good faith. It is something else, however, to say that this union is objectively something good and acceptable.

ZENIT: So many people, perhaps misunderstanding, expect great openings on the part of Pope Francis. In connection with the Pontiff, it came to my mind that about two years ago, on the eve of the March Conclave, you hoped in an interview that “the new Pope would be first of all a witness of the Faith, capable of listening and of dialogue; that he be able to bring love and joy to the world; but that he also be able to evaluate his collaborators and appoint in the Papal Curia personnel of very high technical and spiritual formation.” In light of what Bergoglio has done in these months of pontificate, has your hope been heard?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Yes, absolutely. Among the many things that could be said of Pope Bergoglio, one is obvious above all: he loves persons, he makes each one feel that he considers him important, that he listens to him and, therefore, appreciates him. By expressing love, he gives joy.

ZENIT: Are you pleased with the reform of the Curia that is underway?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Let’s keep in mind that we are still in one phase – let’s say – of the work in progress. Moreover, the Holy Father came from far away; he had not lived in Rome and must still enter in certain mechanisms and certain structures of the Curia.

ZENIT: However in the C9, the Council of Cardinals instituted by the Pope to help him in the government of the Church, are there not truly “curial” names …

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Yes, it’s true. However, the nine Cardinals give pastoral guidelines that are then taken by experts and translated into effective. This is the praxis. Moreover, there is a clarification to be made …

ZENIT: Which one?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: That the reform of the Curia must start from a specific presupposition: the Curia is made up of persons, of Dicasteries, that is, of subjects each one of whom carries out an activity of the Pope. The Holy Father has to carry out so many tasks for the government of the universal Church, but he can’t do everything alone, because he doesn’t have the time or the specific competencies. Therefore, every “subject” – at present we have 26 Dicasteries in the Curia (Congregations, Pontifical Councils, Tribunals, Offices) – helps the Pope to carry out a task. And he has more or less value to the degree that he carries out this activity and does it well. The whole reform of the Curia must rotate around this: what activity of the Pope does this dicastery carry out? Does it do it well?

ZENIT: And if it doesn’t do it well?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: It can also be closed. If there are Dicasteries that carried out an activity of the Pope in the past but that today are no longer necessary, then they can be abolished.

ZENIT: Therefore, in this case also, are we moving towards a strong simplification?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Yes, a simplification could be exercised but, if we follow the criterion of what the Pope needs today, there could even be an enlargement. In the sense that, if the Holy Father intends to carry out an activity, of which there was no need before, he can institute a new organism. It’s the case, for instance, of the Commission for the Protection of Minors.

ZENIT: One last question. The Synod will conclude on Sunday, October 19, the day in which Pope Francis will beatify Paul VI. Were you able to know Pope Montini in person?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Yes. It was he who ordained me a priest. I was one of the last 30 priests ordained by Cardinal Montini before he left the Diocese of Milan, so I was always united to him by bonds of spiritual sonship.

ZENIT: What memory do you have in particular of the Pontiff?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: More than as Archbishop I remember him as Pope. I like to describe his figure with a phrase that a Cardinal once said and that always left me astounded: “Montini believes in God.” See, he was someone who believed in God, therefore in man and therefore he loved God and people.

ZENIT: Are you happy to see him beatified?

Cardinal Coccopalmerio: Obviously very much. I would like to see him canonized soon …

Commitment to Marriage –an open letter to the Pope and bishops

Commitment to Marriage
A Letter to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Holy Father, Eminences, and Excellencies,

We rejoice that the Holy Father has captured the world’s attention and so much good will for the Christian faith! Like others we are deeply moved by his expressions of love and mercy, echoing the love and mercy of Christ, especially for those who are defenseless and abandoned.

It is in this context that we welcome the decision to convene an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to examine the challenges to marriage and the family.  Like each of you, we believe the family is, with the Church itself, the greatest institutional manifestation of Christ’s love.  For those who wish to love as He would have us love, marriage and the family are indispensable, both as vehicles of salvation and as bulwarks of human society.

Recent popes have made these points abundantly clear.  For example, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that, “Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society.” And, in Evangelii Gaudium, Your Holiness wrote that “the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”

This Synod is an opportunity to express timeless truths about marriage. Why do those truths matter? How do they represent true love, not “exclusion” or “prejudice,” or any of the other charges brought against marriage today?  Men and women need desperately to hear the truth about why they should get married in the first place.  And, once married, why Christ and the Church desire that they should remain faithful to each other throughout their lives on this earth.  That, when marriage gets tough (as it does for most couples), the Church will be a source of support, not just for individual spouses, but for the marriage itself.

You have written so powerfully, Holy Father, of the importance of a new evangelization within the Church: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

May we humbly suggest that in the context of marriage and family life your words are a call to personal responsibility, not only for our own spouses and children, but for the marriages of those God has put by our side: our relatives and friends, those in our churches and in our schools.

The stakes are high.  According to a 2013 Child Trends international report: “Dramatic increases in cohabitation, divorce, and nonmarital childbearing in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania over the last four decades suggest that the institution of marriage is much less relevant in these parts of the world.”  In the United States the marriage rate is the lowest ever recorded, unmarried cohabitation is rapidly becoming an acceptable alternative to marriage, and more than half of births to women under 30 years of age now occur outside marriage. Among countless other negative associations, each of these trends has been linked to lower net worth and economic mobility, poverty, and welfare – for women and children, in particular.

Among existing marriages, many are fragile and strained. Between forty and fifty percent of all first marriages in the U.S. are projected to end in divorce. This rate rises sharply with each successive remarriage and research suggests the reason is not low marital quality, but weak commitment.

The consequences of divorce and cohabitation for children and adults are many and diverse – from poverty and lower educational achievement to poorer physical health; from lower marital commitment in adulthood to earlier death.  And while every nation is unique, studies show that the impact of these trends spans the globe. A small sampling of such studies: China,  Finland, Sweden, Uruguay, Mexico, Greece, Africa, and East Asian Pacific nations.

The costs of pornography to societies are significant. Studies of pornography’s impact on relationships suggest it is a major contributor to the destruction of marriages. Unfortunately, long-term research on pornography’s effect on marriage is virtually nonexistent.

So called “no fault divorce” laws in the U.S. and many other nations have licensed a system in which judges and lawyers facilitate the dissolution of marriages, often against the will of spouses who stand firm in their marital commitment.

Despite the bleakness of these trends, we are encouraged and made resolute by the Holy Father’s exhortation: “Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment.”

Perhaps the boldest new way we can evangelize married couples (and by extension their children’s future marriages) is to build small communities of married couples who support each other unconditionally in their vocations to married life. These communities would provide networks of support grounded in the bonds of faith and family, commitment to lifelong marriage, and responsibility to and for each other.

Here we offer some practical ways to create and sustain such communities:

• Commission the Pontifical Council on the Family to conduct cross-discipline, longitudinal research on the role of pornography and “no fault” divorce in the marriage crisis.

• Educate seminarians. Provide mandatory courses covering social science evidence on the benefits of marriage, threats to marriage, and the consequences of divorce and cohabitation to children and society.

• Train priests to showcase in their homilies the spiritual and social value of marriage, contemporary challenges to it, and parish help for troubled marriages. A recent study found that 72% of American Catholic women say the weekly homily is their primary source for learning about the faith.

• Create small, vibrant networks of strong married couples as mentors at the parish level, available to give spouses the tools to sustain healthy, lifelong marriages.

• Educate parishioners on the extraordinary influence they can have on the marriages of friends and family. Social science data show that the presence of divorced family and friends increases one’s own risk of divorce. Alternatively, the data suggest that family members and friends can increase commitment and satisfaction within marriages of those they love through their example and support.

• Encourage and support the reconciliation of married couples who are separated or have been divorced by civil courts.

• Request bishops worldwide to initiate regular prayers during Sunday Mass for strong, faithful marriages.

• Support efforts to preserve what is right and just in existing marriage laws, to resist any changes to those laws that would further weaken the institution, and to restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman, entered into with an openness to the gift of children, and lived faithfully and permanently as the foundation of the natural family.

• Support religious freedom in divorce courts. Many do not know that religious freedom is routinely violated by divorce judges who ignore or demean the views of a spouse who seeks to save a marriage, keep the children in a religious school, or prevent an abandoning spouse from exposing the children to an unmarried sexual partner. Begin a consortium of attorneys and legislators to combat this problem.

To accomplish any of these goals on an international scale would be a great step forward for marriages and families. To accomplish them all may turn the worldwide marriage crisis on its head.

With your leadership we will help marriages to succeed and flourish by placing the greatest value on marital commitment – at every level of society, in every corner of the world. We thank Your Holiness, Eminences, and Excellencies for taking up this vital task and you may be assured of our prayers for its great success.


[Affiliations, where listed, are for identification purposes only]

Greg and Julie Alexander
Founders, The Alexander House Apostolate, Texas

Ryan T. Anderson
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC

Erika Bachiochi, Esq., legal scholar and author, Massachusetts

Monsignor Renzo Bonetti
Founder and President, Fondazione Famiglia Dono Grande, Italy

Gerard Bradley
Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame Law School

Ana María Celis Brunet
Professor of Law, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Mary Eberstadt
Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC

Jason and Crystalina Evert
Founders, Chastity Project, Colorado

Patrick Fagan
Director, The Marriage and Religion Research Institute, Family Research Council, Washington, DC

Thomas Farr
Visiting Associate Professor and Director, The Religious Freedom Project Georgetown University

Silvio Ferrari
Professor of Law, University of Milan, Italy

Richard Fitzgibbons
Director, The Institute for Marital Healing, Pennsylvania

Juan G. Navarro Floria
Profesor Ordinario, Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina

Matthew Franck
William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution
The Witherspoon Institute, New Jersey

Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

Mary Ann Glendon
Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

Bruce and Jeannie Hannemann
Co-Directors, RECLAiM Sexual Health
Co-Founders, Elizabeth Ministry International

George A. Harne
President, The College of Saint Mary Magdalen

Mary Hasson
Fellow, Catholic Studies Program, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington DC

Alan J. Hawkins
Professor of Family Life, Brigham Young University

Kent R. Hill
International Development leader, Washington DC

Byron Johnson
Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and
Director, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University

Thomas Lickona
Director, Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect and Responsibility) State University of New York at Cortland

John McCarthy
Dean, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Rocco Mimmo
Chairman, Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, Sydney, Australia

Gloria M. Moran
Professor of Law, Chair of Law, Religion and Public Policy, University of La Coruña Spain

Jennifer Roback Morse
President, Ruth Institute, California

Melissa Moschella
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Rafael Navarro-Valls
Emeritus Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain
Secretary General of the Spanish Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation

Rafael Palomino
Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain

Marcello Pera
Former President, Senate of Italy
Professor, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, Italy

Vicente Prieto
Universidad de La Sabana, Bogotá, Colombia

Fr. Juan Puigbó
Diocese of Arlington, VA

David Quinn
Director, The Iona Institute, Ireland

Mark Regnerus
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

Balázs Schanda
Professor of Law, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary

Alan E. Sears
President, CEO, & General Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom

Reverend Charles Sikorsky
President, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

O. Carter Snead
Professor of Law, William P. and Hazel B. White Director, Center for Ethics and Culture, University of Notre Dame

Reverend D. Paul Sullins
Professor of Sociology, The Catholic University of America
Senior Fellow for Family Studies, Family Research Council
President, The Leo Institute, Washington, DC

Rebecca Ryskind Teti
Center for Family Development at Our Lady of Bethesda

Mervyn Thomas
Chief Executive, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, United Kingdom

Javier Martinez-Torron
Professor of Law, Chair of the Department of Law and Religion, Complutense University

Hilary Towers
Psychologist, Manassas, Virginia

D. Vincent Twomey
Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, Pontifical University, Maynooth, Ireland

Paul C. Vitz
Senior Scholar and Professor, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

Rick Warren,
Founder and Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California

Robert Wilken
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus, University of Virginia

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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