ROME — Pope Francis’s point man on the family expressed frustration on Thursday that discussion of the pontiff’s document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has concentrated almost entirely on the issue of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, basically ignoring everything else.
Such selective focus, said Cardinal Kevin Farrell, is especially dangerous today, when “we live in a world where the family is under attack.”
Farrell was speaking at the Rome presentation of a letter sent by Pope Francis to his Dicastary of Family, Laity and Life which the Irish-born prelate leads. It was sent ahead of the ninth World Meeting of Families (WMF), to take place in Dublin next year on Aug. 21-26.
In focusing all the attention in one section of Amoris, i.e., footnote 351 which deals with pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics, Farrell said, “we overlook the great teachings that exist in chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 of this document.”
He said that “when we live in a world where family comes under attack from many different sources and many ideologies,” it’s important for the Church to explain the entirety of what “we believe, as Catholics and Christians” regarding married life.
Picking up on a mea culpa Francis has offered before, Farrell said the Church has failed to do this many times, for instance in poorly conceived marriage preparation courses or by not accompanying couples during the first years of their married life.
“Francis constantly speaks about accompanying people, and we need to accompany people in our marriage preparation and in our continuing education for married life, and that we do in Chapters 1-7 [of Amoris Laetitia], and I believe that that’s where our main focus will be,” he said.
The last WMF was held in Philadelphia in 2015, forming the principal reason for Francis’s visit to the United States. The pope’s presence in Dublin is expected, and according to Farrell, Francis has said he intends to go.
Though he didn’t explore what he meant by “ideologies” hostile to the family, Farrell did say that they’re “not necessarily compatible with the teaching of the Church and the concept of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Marriage, he said, will be a central issue during the upcoming WMF: “It’s our task to make known the greatness and richness of our concept of married life,” he said.
Also present at the press conference was Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Asked about the possibility of addressing the scourge of sexual abuse in some of the many talks and panels that often take place around these gatherings, he said the program will “look at many of the challenges facing families.”
The Irish church was among those most scarred by cases of clerical sexual abuse, with thousands of children being abused by priests and other Catholic personnel, and many Church leaders covering up for abusers for decades.
“I would say, if you were to look in Ireland, the people who feel most hurt by what has happened on child sexual abuse, whether in families, the Church or other parts in society, would be families themselves, parents,” Martin said. “And though it’s sometimes forgotten, our young people are very scandalized by what has happened.”
Statistically speaking, most cases of child sexual abuse take place in families, but for Martin, that’s not an excuse for the Catholic Church not to own up to its mistakes.
“It’s true that sexual abuse of children takes place widely across the society,” he said. “[However] I’ve always stressed that sexual abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ puts that abuse into a category of its own. The Church has to take up and never deny the responsibilities that were there.”
He also hopes that the WMF will give new confidence to family life, and give parents confidence that their children can find a home in the Church which is safe.
Talking about ideologies that threaten the family, Martin said it’d be “foolish” to ignore them.
Yet if he talks to families in his diocese about being under attack, he added, the concerns would not be ideologies but “work, leisure, homelessness, how to make ends meet, how they’re facing new challenges, how they have sleepless nights because of their teenage children … These are the challenges parents have to be supported in, so they can carry out this essential role within society.”
The one-page letter penned by Francis was signed March 25, when the Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation.
Although the family summit will take place in Dublin, parishes around the world are supposed to organize catechesis with the materials and information provided by the organization.
Farrell said that the Catholic Church needs to go out to the peripheries, reach out to those “who don’t listen to us” or don’t go to Mass anymore. This task, however, is not the responsibility “of a few priests or a few sisters,” but of the whole Church.
“We sometimes find that everything depends on the local parish priest,” he said. “I would remind you also that we’re celebrating 50 years since the Second Vatican Council, 30 years since Christifideles Laici, which spoke to the mission of lay people and the co-responsibility of the laity within the Church.”
Married couples themselves, he said, are the ones who should be responsible of communicating “this love that we hope to re-instill in the lives of so many people.”
In the letter, Francis refers to Amoris, saying that it’s Farrell’s task, along with his collaborators, to translate and apply its teachings, “with which the Church wishes families always to be in step, in that inner pilgrimage that is the manifestation of authentic life.
“One might ask: does the Gospel continue to be a joy for the world? And also: does the family continue to be good news for today’s world?” Francis wrote in the letter addressed to Farrell. “I am sure the answer is yes! And this ‘yes’ is firmly based in God’s plan.”
God’s love, the pontiff wrote, is the “yes” to all creation, at the center of which is man.
“It is God’s ‘yes’ to the union between man and woman, in openness and service to life in all its phases; it is God’s ‘yes’ and His commitment to a humanity that is often wounded, mistreated and dominated by a lack of love,” he said.
During the press conference, Farrell and Martin quoted a section of the pope’s letter in which Francis wrote about his dream of an “outbound Church,” which is “not a self-referential one.”
“A Church that does not pass by far from man’s wounds, a merciful Church that proclaims the heart of the revelation of God as Love, which is Mercy,” he wrote.