Nearly 800,000 people from 178 countries are asking Pope Francis to provide clarity on Church teaching regarding the family. Signers of the petition include 202 cardinals, archbishops and bishops.
In the lead-up to October’s Vatican Synod on Marriage and the Family, the drafters express their deep concern over what they see as “widespread confusion” over the possibility of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion as well as the acceptance of homosexual unions, which they describe as “contrary to Divine and natural law.”
On Tuesday morning, the petition was delivered to the Vatican, requesting that Francis offer “a clarifying word” to dispel the confusion that reigns among many of the faithful around the globe.
The spokesman for the appeal, Tommaso Scandroglio, a professor of Ethics at the European University of Rome, said that the popularity of the petition suggested that “a substantial number of believers are very worried about certain theological tendencies present in the Church today.”
Scandroglio noted that a handbook titled “Preferential Option for the Family” and authored by three bishops has been distributed along with the collection of signatures. Tens of thousands of copies of the handbook, “have been requested from all over the world,” he said.
Tuesday’s petition is just one in a series of projects aimed at upholding traditional Christian teaching on marriage prior to the synod on the family in October. In recent weeks, “a flurry of books” advocating or explaining Church doctrine on marriage and the family have been published, in an effort to keep the synod on course.
One of the books titled “God or Nothing,” was written by Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, who offers a thinly veiled critique of the positions of German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has endorsed offering Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried.
“The idea of putting Magisterial teaching in a beautiful display case while separating it from pastoral practice, which then could evolve along with circumstances, fashions, and passions, is a sort of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology,” writes Sarah.
African prelates have been especially vocal in preparing for this year’s Vatican synod, and just before the recent UN meeting on Sustainable Development Goals this week, 48 African bishops and ten cardinals released a letter demanding that western powers stop pushing their “filthy campaigns that promote a civilization of death on our continent” under the guise of humanitarian aid.
“These political and economic pressures have but one objective: the drastic control and reduction of the African population, the planned destruction of marriage and the family,” they wrote.
African bishops seemed particularly heartened by the Pope’s strong words on the family during his recent 3-city trip to the United States, where Francis denounced same-sex marriage by saying that the new secular model of marriage in the U.S. is no longer similar to the Christian understanding of the sacrament of matrimony.
The Pope noted the “unprecedented changes” taking place in contemporary society, “with their social, cultural – and sadly now juridical – effects on family bonds,” referring to the Supreme Course decision in June to impose same-sex marriage on the entire nation in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike,” he said in a blunt address to U.S. bishops on Sunday.
“Until recently,” the Pope said, “we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive.”
“This is no longer the case,” he said.
The president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, said that the Pope’s apostolic visit to the United States has inspired the African church in a number of ways. “His affirmation of the importance of family, essential for the well-being of society and the church, resonates with African culture and belief,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome