How one cardinal proposes to correct ignorance of marriage's nature

By Matt Hadro

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Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington arrives at the Vatican's Synod Hall during the Synod on the Family, Oct. 10, 2014. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

According to the Archbishop of Washington, the recent Synod on the Family worked to address the challenge that many young people today don’t fully understand the nature of marriage.

“There were a good number of us within the synod who felt, given the heavily secular climate today in which so many of our young people are living – what they see in media, television, electronic print, in movies, the music they listen to, the world they’re engaged in – (that) the idea of a permanent, enduring bond that would be life-giving and at the same time be indissoluble is not uppermost in their awareness of marriage,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl asserted in an Oct. 30 conference call.

Cardinal Wuerl was speaking about the Oct. 5-19 extraordinary Synod of Bishops, which was held in anticipation of next year's World Meeting of Families and the ordinary Synod on the Family. After the 2015 synod, Pope Francis is expected to issue an apostolic exhortation.

In his analysis of the synod, Cardinal Wuerl specifically discussed two negative outcomes of confusion about the nature of marriage: cohabitation, and the failure of some marriages.  

“One of the increasing concerns is the number of people who aren’t even getting married today: the number of people who are simply living together without benefits of even civil marriage. And that says, to me, we have a long way to go in helping present as clearly as we can the beautiful gift that is marriage,” Cardinal Wuerl stated.

Another area of concern among synod fathers was the process of marriage annulment.

“The fact that there are Catholic couples and people who have re-married, and therefore can’t come to Communion, the fact that they would desperately like to do so, and the Church recognizes the good of that; the question is, 'how do we do that while being faithful to the teaching of the Church concerning the bond?' That brings us to the question of an annulment, the declaration that there never was a bond in the first place,” Cardinal Wuerl commented.

It was in reference to this that he suggested that “so many of our young people” might not have a correct understanding of marriage, to the extent that they cannot validly contract a marriage.

“Having said all that,” he continued, “there were many, many of us who felt (that) if we’re going to go the route of annulment, then that process can’t be so costly or so burdensome that it becomes a weight around the shoulders of the people trying to regularize their situation.”

Cardinal Wuerl added that “there were a number of suggestions on how to do that,” and that “that’s probably going to be an area that there’ll be a lot of discussion (about) between now and the next synod.”

One way to address the widespread confusion about the nature of marriage would be to properly catechize children and teenagers about the faith, the cardinal continued, beginning in Catholic schools.

Regarding a term that received much attention in the synod’s mid-term report – causing media speculation and confusion – the principle of “graduality” was nowhere to be found in the final document, Cardinal Wuerl confirmed.

“The whole concept of 'graduality' – that surfaced but you don’t find it in the final document,” he said.

“And I think one of the reasons for that is it’s a theological concept. It’s not a concept that you find well-expounded, well-defined, well-developed. And so if there’s going to be any reference to that in the future, I think it’s going to require a lot more thought and a lot more theological penetration.” "That doesn’t mean it won’t come back up again, but my thought is that ... it needs a lot more thought and a lot more theological development."

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