Friday, July 31, 2015

' In rigorism there is an innate brutality that goes against God' says Cottier

Vatican Insider
July 30, 2015

“In rigorism there is an innate brutality that goes against the gentle way God has of guiding each person,” says the Dominican Georges Cottier, pontifical Theologian Emeritus (he was appointed to this position by John Paul II and his “mandate” extended by Benedict XVI) in an interview with the director of Italian Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, Fr. Antonio Spadaro. The theme of the interview – which will appear in the next issue of the fortnightly periodical – was mercy given the upcoming Synod and Jubilee. La Civiltà Cattolica also interviewed Jean Miguel Garrigues, another Dominican theologian in recent months.

“Mercy is doctrine, It is the crux of Christian doctrine,” the Swiss cardinal said. “Only a narrow-minded person can defend legalism and imagine that mercy and doctrine are two separate things. In this sense, today’s Church has realised that no one, no matter what their position, can be left alone. We need to guide people, both righteous and sinners.

Cottier said “it seems that people of today no longer feel the need for marriage, a public commitment for life. By now cohabiting seems to be a private thing that is always open to change.” From a Christian point of view, marriage is “the elevation of a natural institution to the dignity of a sacrament. It does not mean that a supernatural element should be added to a reality that essentially remains natural; it means that sacramentality gives this reality – which then presents itself as a material cause – a new form, a new essence and identity. One may ask oneself,” the Theologian continued, “whether some representatives of ecclesial authority may have been influenced by the first concept when acting, as if the thing that requires the greatest attention is the support that one believes legislative structures of temporal society should give Christians in their ecclesial faith”. What concerns the Swiss theologian the most “is the fact that no real innovations have been introduced on an ecclesial level to implement a new pastoral care programme for marriage preparation that addresses the crisis in the sacrament. Current practice has become inadequate and often come across as a mere formality rather than an education towards a commitment for life.”

As far as the term “remarried divorcees” is concerned, the Theologian sees it as “unfortunate” from a canonical point of view: “It is too generic and is applied in fundamentally different situations. It indicates that one or more persons who have divorced from an indissoluble sacramental marriage, have entered into a civil marriage. This second marriage des not annul the first, neither does it substitute it, because the first remains the only marriage and the Church does not have the power to dissolve it. Pastoral judgement cannot ignore the origin of each of these two unions, it is purely a question of equity.” Cottier describes two very different cases which come under the “remarried divorcee” category: One case is that of a person who has been abandoned by their spouse and who holds custody of their children. This person meets someone who offers them help and security and the two marry. The other case involves a married person with adolescent children who “meets a younger and brilliant individual. They are carried away by passion, abandon their family, divorce and enter into a civil marriage” and “take part in parish life”: “These are different cases. The second one involves a “scandal”, while the first is linked to solitude, a difficulty is moving on, vulnerability, need, including for companionship”. “Generally, in every situation, justice requires certain important factors to be taken into account”: “The duty one has towards the abandoned spouse, who often remains faithful to their sacramental vows,” “the rights of the children born during the first and legitimate marriage” (“Strangely, the 2014 Synod focused little on this aspect, at least in terms of media coverage”).

What is needed instead, is “prudent judgement”. Cottier stated: “I believe that the solution to some problems should come from the prudent judgement of the bishop. I say this not without hesitation and doubt, seeing division between bishops. My claim refers first and foremost to certain situations where there is a big likelihood of the first marriage being null but it is difficult to provide canonical proof”. More generally, “in accordance with its pastoral mission, the Church always needs to be attentive to historical changes and the evolution of mentalities. Not because it should subordinate itself to these but in order to overcome the obstacles that can prevent others from embracing its advice and guidelines.”

According to Cottier, “the existential coordinates of peoples’ spiritual lives must be respected. “In rigorism there is an innate brutality that goes against the gentle way God has of guiding each person,” he added.

“There is no doubt” therefore “that the Year of Mercy will enlighten the work of the 2015 Synod and will shape it. There are still people who are scandalised by the Church, men and women who, due to a negative judgement which was expressed in an impersonal and insensitive way, have felt a terrible rejection. This is where confessors have a huge responsibility. Whenever they express a judgement and whatever this judgement is, it needs to be expressed and explained in a way that communicates the Church’s maternal concern. Pope Francis repeatedly speaks about the beauty and joy of Christian life which the Church needs to get across. Through the voice of its pastors, the Church must always show that it is guided by divine mercy,” Cottier concluded.

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