“Encouragement to life and love”

The German bishops have praised Pope Francis' message on marriage and the family, published on Friday, as an "encouragement to life and love". Other reactions at a glance.

The text is "first and foremost a heartfelt invitation, as profound as it is practical, to the way of life of marriage and family, which draws its inspiration from the sources of the Christian faith," explained the Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch and Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode.

Marx, Koch and Bode were among the participants in the two world synods of bishops convened by Francis in 2014 and 2015. With his now published message "Amoris laetitia" the Pope summarizes the results of the consultations. Overall, Francis is concerned with "opening up value options, possibilities and perspectives for life in marriage and family in a positive and encouraging way," the German bishops said. In the process, the Pope emphasized the importance of individual decisions of conscience in addition to church norms.

This also has "far-reaching consequences for the pastoral treatment of remarried divorcees," who have so far been denied the reception of communion according to church teaching. The statement that a second civil union is in contradiction to the first, sacramental marriage, and thus in contradiction to the objective norm, is no longer sufficient in the future as the sole reason for exclusion from receiving communion, the bishops said. "Rather, it is necessary to consider in each individual case the particular life situation of those concerned."Only in view of the respective life history and reality can it be clarified "together with the persons concerned whether and how there is guilt in their situation that stands in the way of receiving the Eucharist.".

Last but not least, bishops, but also priests and theologians, are now asked to penetrate the "manifold insights and emphases" of the papal letter and to make them effective in proclamation and pastoral work. "We especially ask priests to reach out to people in the spirit of this text, to those on the road to marriage, to married couples, but also to those whose marital relationships have failed and who often feel abandoned by the Church," the bishops said. The tenor of the letter is: "No one may be excluded from the mercy of God."

Bishop Koch, as chairman of the Family Commission of the German Bishops' Conference, emphasized that Francis rejects any "cold desk morality". Rather, he believes in pastoral care as "merciful love" that is always inclined to understand, to forgive, to accompany and, above all, to integrate.

The Archbishop of Cologne Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki stressed that for the pope it is important that the church be close to people and avoid "any appearance of idealistic exaltation, undifferentiated judgment, uncharitable condemnation or even exclusion". This attitude of mercy, he said, remains in tension with the teachings of the Church.

But "neither dogmatism nor arbitrariness lead to the goal," Woelki said. He called for the tensions and open questions contained in the letter to be endured "rather than settled by the usual classifications". The pope's approach promotes the formation of conscience and thus the responsibility of each individual as a wife or husband, as a single person, as a bishop or priest, the cardinal said.

Hamburg's Archbishop Stefan Hebe has praised the pope's message on marriage and family as a "challenge for pastoral care". In the letter "Amoris Laetitia" (Joy of Love), Francis takes into account the reality of life of people today, he said in Hamburg on Friday. This reality has changed much more in recent decades than in previous centuries, he said. "On the other hand, Francis also makes it clear: we are not giving up our ideals. But we must think anew about how people can live it," the archbishop said.

Hebe called for "building a walkable bridge between ideal and reality". The pope deliberately did not make any new regulations. Rather, he said, he wants to give help "to promote the formation of people's consciences".

Pope Francis, according to the Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn In his letter on marriage and the family, the cardinal paved the way for remarried divorcees to receive communion. Pope, referring to those affected, says that a "small step in the midst of great human limitations" can be more pleasing to God "than the outwardly correct life of one who spends his days without encountering significant difficulties," Schonborn said at the presentation of the document "Amoris laetitiae" in Rome on Friday.

Francis then writes in a footnote that the help of the sacraments can also be given "in certain cases". The Pope does not offer "casuistry" and "no recipes" for this. However, he reminds priests that the Eucharist is not a reward for the perfect, but a generous remedy and nourishment for the weak. In this context, Francis also points out that the confessional should not be a torture chamber.

The Emeritus Cardinal of the Curia Walter Kasper Has praised the pope's message on marriage and family as a "remarkable document". "Amoris laetitia" ("Joy of Love") paints a very realistic picture of family with grounding and not an abstract ideal, he told the Catholic News Agency (KNA) in Aachen on Friday evening.

According to Kasper, the Pope expresses himself very biblically and pastorally, but not doctrinally. The letter gives important indications for pastoral care and accompaniment of marriage in the German Church, he said. "In this respect, we are still in part a developing country," said the former president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

Kasper believes the document represents an open position that bishops in the Federal Republic could work well with. Commenting on the treatment of remarried divorcees, who are excluded from receiving communion according to Catholic doctrine, the cardinal said. "There are openings there, quite clearly."The Pope is concerned with the integration of these people into the life of the parish.

Also Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) Welcomed the letter "Amoris laetitia" (The Joy of Love) on the family by Pope Francis. "Pope Francis once again emphasizes that merciful love must not be sacrificed to abstract moral norms," EKD Council President Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said on Saturday. By advocating an ethic of compassion and warning self-critically against cold desk morality, the writing points far beyond its own subject area and can also be affirmed in this perspective by Protestant Christians.

The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) Sees new scope for local churches in Pope Francis' message on marriage and the family. "With his statement that not everything has to be decided by magisterial intervention, he shifts the competencies for dealing with conflicts and crises to the level of dioceses and parishes," ZdK President Thomas Sternberg said in Bonn on Friday.

Francis gives new weight to the decision of conscience of the faithful and pastors, Sternberg continued. In doing so, the pope emphasizes "the primacy of mercy over a 'cold desk morality'" and brings church doctrine and the life practice of the faithful closer together again without casting doubt on the church's doctrinal proclamation. The message of the Pope presented on Friday in the Vatican with the title "Amoris laetitia" summarizes the deliberations of the two World Synods of Bishops 2014 and 2015 on marriage and family and has a binding character.

It is now necessary to "deal with marriage and partnership in a humanly credible way, even in crisis situations and in failure," said the president of the highest body of Catholic laity in Germany. "The pope credits us all with a high level of competence in counseling people in relationships, marriages and families. He advises clergy to go to school with laity on marriage and family ies. His urgent call for pastoral discernment is common to all of us; it is a matter for individuals, parishes, dioceses and the whole Church in Germany."

The Regensburg Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer Sees in the Pope's message on marriage and family primarily "a hymn to the love given by God". It is a "soliciting, inviting letter" without blanket judgments and solutions, the bishop explained in a first statement on Friday. Pope Francis renounces magisterial decisions in controversial cases. He called, however, for more intensive church accompaniment of couples before and after marriage, especially in difficult situations.

With regard to the intense discussion about allowing remarried divorcees to take communion, Voderholzer stated that the Pope had not changed anything in the previous teaching. But he writes it "in the face of a situation that has become even more complex". The pastors should take care of these couples and walk a "path of personal maturation" with them.

Voderholzer said he would guarantee "individually tailored and, of course, free counseling and support" to anyone in his diocese who found themselves in an "irregular situation" and wanted to resolve it together with the church.

Bishops in North Rhine-Westphalia have also welcomed "Amoris laetitia". Munster's Bishop Felix Genn Said the pope is broadening the view without changing the church's teaching. He asked that families be strengthened. But if relationships fail, "not separation and exclusion" should be the principle of action of the church, but integration and love. "Francis invites us to live towards an ideal and not to judge people from the ideal."

The topics of remarriage, access to the sacraments and dealing with homosexuals are not left out, according to Genn. In the "sensitive chapter 8" failed relationships are taken into account with the sentence: "Accompany, distinguish and integrate fragility."Francis asks to look closely at each set of relationships with the eyes of mercy. "He rejects all simple solutions," Genn said.

Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck spoke in Essen of an "extremely impressive" letter. The text is oriented to the often very difficult everyday reality of today's family life, without obscuring the ideal and the importance of marriage and family. "In the text, the Pope shows himself to be a true caretaker of souls, who perceives the complex situations and circumstances of life and knows that they cannot be judged in a general way and must be considered in a differentiated way." The call to integrate people in different living conditions is "the challenging message of the Pope".

The interim administrator of the Diocese of Aachen, Auxiliary Bishop Karl Borsch, Praised the "positive tone" of the letter. This does not see first the ideal of a family, but emphasizes "its rich and complex reality," the diocesan administrator explained. The letter connects the appreciation of the family with the pastoral reality.

Although the pope is not making a magisterial decision on specific cases such as allowing remarried divorcees to receive communion, Borsch said. Important keywords of dealing with all difficult situations, however, are "accompany, distinguish and integrate".

The President of the Nordic Bishops' Conference, Bishop Czeslaw Kozon, has welcomed the pope's synod paper on marriage and family as an important contribution to the proclamation of faith to families in Scandinavia. Especially in the strongly secularized Nordic countries, the letter opens up the possibility for dialogue, Kozon explained at the end of the spring plenary meeting of the Nordic Bishops' Conference on Friday in Klosterneuburg, Austria.

Kozon welcomed the fact that the Pope does not exclude topics such as the situation of remarried divorcees, family planning or the treatment of homosexuals, but addresses them "openly and with the attitude of a true shepherd". The fact that the Pope adheres to marriage as the only valid union between man and woman is a statement of great importance, especially in the countries of the North.

The papal exhortation "Amoris laetitia" on marriage and family offers, according to Genn's assessment of the Bishop of Passau, Stefan Oster important impulses for a pastoral reorientation. Francis wants "the church and all those involved in pastoral care to look at the individual," Oster wrote Friday on Facebook. The paper starts from a perspective of inclusion, not exclusion. "Amoris laetitia" had been published at noon in the Vatican.

"No one is given to be lost, no one is to be left behind," Oster. "Everyone, without exception, should be allowed to experience the merciful action of the Church."In the text, the Pope calls for intensive accompaniment of people in difficult life situations or failed relationships, "to integrate them into the life of the Church and always to distinguish well the individual case". Thereby the pastoral care gains new room for maneuver. More urgent for the head of the church, however, is the strengthening of existing marriages and families.

The Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ) draws a mixed conclusion from the post-synodal letter "Amoris Laetitia". "We are pleased that Pope Francis does not declare discussions to be over, but invites the local churches to find their own, suitable solutions in each case," summarizes the BDKJ Federal President Wolfgang Ehrenlechner.

"The comprehensive presentation of the pastoral care of the family contains encouraging remarks about love, marriage and family," Ehrenlechner further praised the post-synodal letter. However there is a certain disappointment in view of the two-year process, both over the statements to controversial points of the church marriage doctrine and to the process itself. "Pope Francis has invited all the faithful to participate in the preparation of the synods. However, the criticism from many parts of the universal Church of aspects of the Church's teaching on marriage no longer appears in the letter."Ehrenlechner particularly regrets the clear rejection of a new evaluation of homosexual partnerships: "It is a contradiction when one speaks of appreciation and non-discrimination and at the same time sees homosexual partnerships only as a problem and same-sex love as not wanted by God."

Note: The overview of the reactions will be continuously supplemented.

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Christina Cherry
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