The Sacred College of Cardinals has had a crucial role to play in the life of the Catholic Church. As well as having the enormous responsibility of electing a new Pope the Cardinals also have the task of advising the Pope and assisting him in the fulfilment of his duties. Cardinals often perform this through their leadership of the various Congregations which exist in order to help the Pope fulfil his ministry of teaching and governing in the universal Church. To accept the office of Cardinal therefore is to accept a position which carries with it very serious responsibilities and it is often said that the Cardinal wears red garments to symbolise the willingness he should have to die for the Pope and for the Catholic faith.
The doctrine that marriage is an indissoluble union of one man and one woman is part of the deposit of faith unceasingly taught by the Catholic Church. It finds confirmation in natural reason and in the words of Our Lord in the gospel of St Matthew: “A man, therefore, will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. And so they are no longer two, they are one flesh; what God, then, has joined, let not man put asunder.” (Mt 19:5-6)
It has been encouraging to see that over the last few weeks many Cardinals have fulfilled their solemn duty to defend the doctrine of the faith. We have discussed Cardinal Caffara’s recent interview at some length in this week’s edition but many other Cardinals have also defended the traditional teaching of the Church in response to suggestions made by Cardinal Kasper that in some circumstances the Church might permit reception of Holy Communion by divorced persons living in unions not recognised by the Church.
Cardinal Ruini, retired President of the Italian Bishop’s Conference, has said that more than 85% of Cardinals have expressed their opposition to Cardinal Kasper’s proposals. Prominent among Kasper’s critics has been Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the congregation which is principally responsible for assisting the Pope in his ministry of teaching and defending the Catholic faith. The CDF recently published a document setting out the traditional Catholic doctrine clearly and unambiguously and Müller has remarked that other Cardinals ‘speak personally, only for themselves.’ He insisted that the temptation to ‘flirt with public opinion’ must be resisted ‘by every bishop and by every priest’.
Similar remarks have been made by Cardinal Raymund Burke, Prefect of the Apostolica Signatura, the Church’s highest court, who has insisted that it ‘will become ever clearer’ that Cardinal Kasper’s approach is an ‘error.’
Cardinal Piacenza, Prefect of the Sacred Penitentiary, also opposed Kasper’s approach and remarked that if the Cardinals wanted a debate on pastoral care they should discuss the various threats faced by the family, such as the ‘ideology of gender.’
Yet another Cardinal to speak out was Battista Re, considered one of Pope Francis’s greatest supporters during the conclave, who told fellow Cardinals that he was ‘completely against’ Kasper’s proposals and felt he had to speak up in order to give newer Cardinals courage to do so.
The theme of courage also played a large role in the contribution of Cardinal Walter Brandmüller who urged Catholics to show courage in defending the indissolubility of marriage. “Neither human nature nor the Commandments nor the Gospel have an expiry date” he said “Courage is needed to enunciate the truth even against current customs. Whoever speaks on behalf of the Church must possess courage if he does not want his vocation to be a failure.”
Whatever our vocation in life, courage is one of the most essential virtues for Catholics trying to live in accordance with their faith today. There are many examples of courageous Catholics living the faith today, many of whom we encounter in the pages of this newspaper. When confronted with the darkness present in our modern world, such as the disregard for unborn life symbolised by the hospital incineration scandal or the ever encroaching threats to our basic freedoms, we can take hope from the fact that there are still Catholics, at every level of the Church, who are still speaking out in fidelity to their vocations. We can also pray that those who have a duty to speak out, but do not, may be given the courage to do so.