(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ post-Synodal Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, on “The Joy of Love”, was officially released to the public at noon on Friday. Presenting the highly anticipated document in the Press Office of the Holy See were Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri – Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops – and Christoph Schönborn – Archbishop of Vienna and a leading Father of both the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2014 and the Ordinary Assembly that followed in 2015.
Cardinal Schönborn spoke exclusively with Vatican Radio ahead of the press conference, saying that the Holy Father’s desire in writing the exhortation was to give expression to the Church’s confidence in the family as intended by God in his design for humanity.
Click below to hear Card. Schönborn's extended conversation with Chris Altieri
“I think the key message is: ‘Don’t speak first about problems, speak first about the achievement of the family,’ [and] I would like to [shout it] out. The Church has been seen as a ‘warner’ – everywhere warnings and dangers and crises and problems. I think Pope Francis wants us to say, ‘Please, just look first at the enormous gift that is marriage and family,’” he said.
The Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna also discussed the concerns expressed by observers and not a few Synod Fathers over matters of process, direction, and content during the Assemblies themselves.
“The diversity of critiques that has been expressed during the Synod is quite large, and I am sure that not everybody will be satisfied with this document. It was never the case – I can’t remember any post-Synodal Exhortation that received applause from everybody. The fact is, Pope Francis has based his Exhortation largely on the results of the two Synods, and the texts he used for [the basis of] his own writing were voted on by an over 2/3 majority of the Synod Fathers, so there is a large consensus behind it,” said Cardinal Schönborn.
On one point, in particular, Cardinal Schönborn offered significant clarification, explaining that, when Pope Francis discusses the possibility of admitting people in irregular marital situations “to the sacraments,” the Holy Father is speaking first and foremost of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“I think it is very clear,” said Card. Schönborn, “there are circumstances in which people in irregular situations may really need sacramental absolution, even if their general situation cannot be clarified.”
Below, please find a full transcript of Cardinal Schonborn’s English-language remarks to Vatican Radio
CRA: Amoris laetitia is an “exhortation”: to what is Pope Francis exhorting the Church?
Card. Schönborn: To the joy of love. Yes, it’s really that: rejoice in the joy of familial and marital love – and he speaks about marital love, not in a romantic way, not in an abstract way, it is very realistic – it is close to life, close to daily life, with all the worries and sorrows and joys of daily life. You can feel that he is a shepherd, a pastor, who has been always very close to the people, to the families, to their daily sorrows and joys. So, I think the key message is: “Don’t speak first about problems, speak first about the achievement of the family,” [and] I would like to [shout it] out. The Church has been seen as a “warner” – everywhere warnings and dangers and crises and problems. I think Pope Francis wants us to say, “Please, just look first at the enormous gift that is marriage and family.”
CRA: The Holy Father does seem to have the idea that the family is an asset?
Card. Schönborn: Absolutely. I would say it is the asset.
CRA: And yet, one not without its difficulties. The Holy Father is not without encouragement for people facing difficulties, and even for people who have to deal with the dissolution, the disintegration of family life…
Card. Schönborn: Yes, but there is an important pedagogical point [regarding] the whole document: it is not just for people who have visible problems in their marriage and family, but everybody – even, so to say, the “best” family, even the exemplary family; they all need God’s mercy, they all need conversion, they all need the help of grace – and the distinction is not so much between those who are successful in their marriages and those who are less successful in their marriage and family, but [the question is], “How do we accept God’s mercy, God’s help? The Church’s fellowship? The Church’s aid? How do we help each other on this way?” The key word is “inclusion”: we are all included under sin, and we are all included under God’s mercy. So, include people in difficulty, and help them.
CRA: Observers and some Synod Fathers expressed concern during the two Assemblies regarding process, direction and content: to the extent that those concerns were legitimate, can those who voiced them be satisfied with the document?
Card. Schönborn: The diversity of critiques that has been expressed during the Synod is quite large, and I am sure that not everybody will be satisfied with this document. It was never the case – I can’t remember any post-Synodal Exhortation that received applause from everybody. The fact is, Pope Francis has based his Exhortation largely on the results of the two Synods, and the texts he used for [the basis of] his own writing were voted on by an over 2/3 majority of the Synod Fathers, so there is a large consensus behind it. He is not innovating: he is continuing with what the Synod had already prepared and offered him.
CRA: You have said that the continuity runs also between this document and another, specifically, St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio…
Card. Schönborn: I am profoundly convinced that, 35 years after Familiaris consortio, Pope Francis has given us a beautiful example of what [Bl.] John Henry Newman calls, “the organic development of teaching.” [St.] John Paul II has already innovated in some points: not a break with tradition, but his “Theology of the Body” was something very new; his words on graduality in Familiaris consortio were rather unusual; his words on “discernment” in Familiaris consortio #84 were quite surprising – his strong invitation to discern different situations. Pope Francis is very much in continuity with this, and the Synod was – the two Synods were [as well]. Discernment was a key word in Pope Francis’ Exhortation. It is very “Jesuitical” – discernment of spirits – and that leads him to an attitude that was already present in Pope Benedict’s teaching, in Pope [St.] John Paul II’s teaching, that the Church offers help to those who are in so-called “irregular situations”. He adds a little note, where he says, “In certain cases, also, the aid, the help of the sacraments.” That’s all he said.
CRA: That brings us nicely to the point, because, when we are talking about discernment, we are inevitably also must discuss conscience – but we must let Mother Church form our consciences – and Pope Francis certainly knows this, though it does bear mention. The sacraments: which ones, and in what order?
Card. Schönborn: I think it is fairly clear: there are circumstances in which people in irregular situations may really need sacramental absolution, even if their general situation cannot be clarified. Pope Francis has himself given an example: when a woman [in an irregular marital situation] comes to confess her abortion – the sin, the grave sin of abortion – not to relieve her, even if her situation is irregular – the discernment of the shepherd can be, and I would say, “must be”: you have to help this person to be freed from her burden, even if you cannot tell her that her marital situation has been regularized by this absolution – but you cannot [let her leave] the confessional with the burden of her grave sin she finally had the courage to come to confess. That was the example he had given, and I think it is a very good example for what this little note could mean in certain cases: i.e. “[…]even the help of sacraments.”