Cardinal Marx: Pope Francis has pushed open the doors of the church

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

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"The doors are open -- wider than they have ever been since the Second Vatican Council. The synod debates were just a starting point. Francis wants to get things moving, to push processes forward. The real work is about to begin," Cardinal Reinhard Marx told the German weekly Die Zeit.

The fact that the two hot-button issues -- Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and a more positive, open approach to homosexuality -- that were discussed at the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family failed to get a two-thirds majority should not be seen as a setback, he said.

"Anyone who comes to that conclusion has not had their eye on what has been going on in our church over the past one and a half years," Marx said. "Up to now, these two issues have been absolutely non-negotiable. Although they had failed to get the two-thirds majority, the majority of the synod fathers had nevertheless voted in their favor.

"They are still part of the text," Marx continued. "I especially asked the pope about that, and the pope said he wanted all the points published together with all the voting results. He wanted everyone in the church to see where we stood. No, this pope has pushed the doors open and the voting results at the end of the synod will not change that."

The Die Zeit reporter asked Marx if it was the Curia or the African and Asian bishops who saw these two hot-button issues as a threat.

"Neither/nor. That was my 'aha' experience in those two weeks," he replied. "We in the German-speaking world are not alone with our difficulties. It has so often been insinuated in recent years that these two wishes are a phenomenon of the decadent West and that they do not play a role in the rest of the world church. However, the numerous colleagues from Africa and Asia, but also from the Curia who approached me at the synod about them proves how totally mistaken that view is."

No punches were pulled on these two issues at the synod, his interviewer said. Does this mean that the world church now faces an internal dispute?

Factional struggles might be the logic of party conventions, but the church must not allow itself to be infected by them, Marx said.

"The logic of confrontation would not only be un-Christian, but also unwise," he said. "In a reform process, whoever divides people into superiors and inferiors prevents us from being infected and surprised by the Holy Spirit. It's not a case of throwing opponents. Whoever abuses a new beginning in the church in order to organize majorities for their own camp has not understood the spirit of this pope."

Discussion of whether the faithful should be brought into line with doctrine or doctrine tapped to see how it could be adapted crippled the church, Marx said.

"That was why one of the central theological debates at the synod was on how to find a way out of the far-too-narrow logic of 'Everything or nothing,' 'Sin or not sin,' as I worded it in the synod hall," Marx said.

And how should this work?

Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn had suggested applying the "principle of gradualness," "which, to put it simply, means realizing the Gospel mandate in stages," Marx said, adding that Schönborn's suggestion received a great deal of support.

When his interviewer asked him to describe Pope Francis' special approach more clearly, Marx said: "This pope knows exactly what he is doing, let no one doubt that. Francis wants us to move. His frequent use of the word avanti -- 'get moving' -- is ample proof of that. He is convinced that one doesn't need clever tactics if one is not afraid. In his final, forceful address to the synod he also for the first time describes how he sees his own office. 'As long as I am with you, you can discuss everything without being afraid. I'll see to it that we stay on the church's track.' That was certainly a strong emphasis on his primacy."

[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is the Austrian correspondent for the London Catholic weekly The Tablet.]

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