Cardinal Christoph Schönborn says Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia is a great catechesis on marital and familial love. In an interview following the widely-anticipated document’s presentation in the Vatican, the Archbishop of Vienna spoke on the Pope’s apostolic exhortation on the joy of love in the family and his conviction that pastors can use this document to help families. The Austrian prelate also responds to his hopes for the 263-page document, his appreciation for the Pontiff’s inclusion of the bishops’ input during the synods, and how Francis reaffirms the Church’s teaching on traditional marriage. Moreover, Cardinal Schönborn acknowledges the natural dangers that exist around the implementation of the guidance of Amoris Laetitia, and applauds the Holy Father’s example as a good shepherd who understands the proper “art” of accompanying people by not being too harsh, but without compromising.
Q: Cardinal Schönborn, what is your personal hope for how Pope Francisí apostolic exhortation ìAmoris Laetitiaî can help families?
A: I am convinced Pope Francis’ exhortation can help. The effort must be made to read it because an exhortation can only help if you know it. It is valuable to know the work. It is so rich and I can only encourage our pastors and our communities to work on it, study it, read it and taste the joy of this beautiful document.
Q: Were there any parts of the relatio that were not accepted by the Pope in this document?
A: Pope Francis has quoted a lot of the text of the documents from both synods. He has not taken everything, of course, because the two documents have created other subjects he has not touched on in his exhortation. But it is fascinating to see how much Pope Francis relies on the work of the bishops in the synods.
Q: How can a pastor effectively communicate what is in this document to the faithful, especially because, being over 200 pages, not all parents will be able to read through the document?
A: Yes, I think our shepherds, our pastors, can take for instance, Chapter Four, “Vive l’amore” (“How to live love”). It’s a great catechesis. You can take it chapter by chapter, passage by passage, and work through it in the parish, in the communities. It’s a great catechesis on marital and familial love. And I think as pastors, we can use this for our pastoral work.
Q: The Holy Father has affirmed the Churchís teaching, with regard to same-sex marriage, for instance, but, as he has done in the past, has encouraged the welcoming of those with same-sex attraction into the parish. What does this practically look like?
A: In the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis speaks only in one point about homosexual tendencies. As did the last synod, the Holy Father speaks about the question of how to handle the situation when, in the family, a member of the family discovers him or herself having a homosexual tendency. That is the only point where he touches this theme. There is another point he is very firm, without speaking about gay or homosexual couples, he insists very clearly that only a union between man and woman, open to new life, by principle, can be called a marriage. And I am very happy that he did clarify this, because the other situations can be partnership, can be relations, but certainly not marriage.
Q: And now, on the question of discernment, Pope Francis has spoken about the question of helping couples in so-called ìirregularî situations discern their way toward what is the ìidealî, as proposed in the Gospel. Is there, perhaps, a danger of some pastors or some couples not really being led properly?
A: Yes. That is a danger, of course. But this danger has existed always, since the beginning of the Church because shepherds can lead or mislead, can be too harsh or can over-compromise, but this is the art he is speaking about: the art of accompanying people. That’s the proper capacity of a good shepherd. And I think Pope Francis is a good shepherd and has great experience in following people in joyful, but also distressing situations and he knows what he is speaking about when he discusses how to accompany families in their lives toward joy and love.