- Catholic News Agency - Thursday, February 19, 2015

ROME - A leading African cardinal says the continent’s bishops want the upcoming Vatican synod to zero-in on strengthening the Church with good families – before getting sidetracked on other issues such as the contentious debate over allowing Communion for divorced and remarried couples.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban was in Rome last week for a meeting of African bishops – known as the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar – with Pope Francis.

In a Feb. 13 interview, he told CNA that he’d gotten together with a group of cardinals the previous evening to discuss what issues they should bring to the table come October when the Synod on the Family meets in Rome.

“And the first thing we said was, we have to emphasize that we have good marriages, we have good families; let’s be positive first and foremost,” he said.

“Secondly, how can we ensure that the next generation is also going to have good families and good marriages? So the preparation and the accompaniment are two things that we really have concentrated on.”

Cardinal’s Napier’s comments emphasizing good families – and the preparation of good families in the future – were his answer to a question about a fellow African bishop’s supposed openness to admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion.

Crux’s John Allen wrote Feb. 11 that Ghanaian Archbishop Gabriel Palmer-Buckle of Accra said “he’s open to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, belying impressions of a uniformly hostile African stance toward change on such matters.”

Mr. Allen did not quote Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, but wrote that the prelate says he is disposed to “vote yes” on the “Kasper proposal.”

The term hearkens back to retired German cardinal Walter Kasper, who has suggested that Communion might be given in certain cases,to those who have divorced and subsequently remarried, without having obtained a decree of nullity of their first marriage.

After discussing the need for strengthening families now and in the future, Cardinal Napier turned directly to the issue of the Ghanaian archbishop’s comments:

“…one of the cardinals had the presence of mind to call the man concerned (Archbishop Palmer-Buckle), and he said, ‘Look, I was talking in a very general way, and yes it did come up, and my answer was (that) in cases like this, you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis; you can’t make a general statement that you can give Communion to people who are (divorced and) remarried, and so on.’”

“So it was one of the things we looked at as an issue that has to be faced,” Cardinal Napier said.

“I’m sure it’s going to come up again, but we would like, as a group of African Church leaders, not to get sidetracked onto issues, problems, without first looking at the good things that are there, and how can we strengthen the Church through good marriages and good families.”

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle has been elected by the Ghanaian bishops conference to be its delegate at the 2015 Synod on the Family, which is to build upon the foundation of last year’s family synod.

The same bishops conference adopted a statement on Nov. 15, at the conclusion of its plenary assembly, which drew attention to “the Church’s perennial and unchanging teaching on the family” and that “God determined marriage to be indissoluble as Jesus affirmed, ‘What therefore God has put together, let no man put asunder’.”

In the same communique the Ghanaian bishops – including Archbishop Palmer-Buckle – stated that “the Church will also continue to teach that divorce from a living and lawful spouse is not permitted by the Church because it separates what God has joined together.”

“She suffers with those who are not admitted to communion due to their marital status and will continue to journey with them in the faith to encourage them not to despair.”

After Ghana’s bishops’ statement on marriage last fall, bishops from the whole continent now look ahead to October’s gathering in Rome.

When asked about the African bishops’ preparation for the upcoming synod, Cardinal Napier said the bishops conferences have already examined a questionnaire prepared by the Synod of the Bishops.

“Following my advice, the bishops decided they would simplify the questionnaire and focus it around five areas which come out in the final document.”

The first of these is “the key question of preparation and accompaniment of marriage.”

The second area of questions the African bishops will ask involve ministry “when a marriage breaks down,” and the third concern is cohabitation, the cardinal noted. “Many couples are living together before they come forward. What is it that is making them do that? What difference does getting married make to them? All these kind of questions, we’ve got to find out what the cause of it is.”

“The fourth one is the question of when a marriage breaks down, how accessible are the tribunals for getting that marriage investigated, and declared null and void if that was the case?

The fifth area “is the extraordinary situations that some families have to live in” such as single parents and child-headed households.

Cardinal Napier also said it is “absolutely” of importance that the faithful pray for the synod and for the bishops participating in it.

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