Italian cardinal wants ‘medicine of mercy, not arms of rigidity’

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti addressing a forum at the World Meeting of Families

Cardinal Gualtiero  Bassetti who heads the Italian bishops’ conference spoke about Pope Francis’s document of family life, ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ at the World Meeting of Families in Dubllin.

Doctrinal rigidity, according to the head of the powerful Italian bishops’ conference, can’t be the driving force in the Church any longer, but rather accompaniment of people and flexibility in pastoral judgment.

“The Church is a home with the door always open,” said Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia, Italy, during a panel titled “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating: Human Fragility and Amoris Laetitia.”

While Church doctrine is unchangeable, the cardinal said, it takes into account the individual situations of every family and relationship, even those that did not exist in the past.

“Not every irregularity is a mortal sin,” Bassetti said. “If we consider everything to be a mortal sin, then we exclude any form of integration. Once we acknowledge that not every disorderly act is a mortal sin, then there is opportunity for discernment.”

“The family is a love that saves and will save the world,” is what he wrote in a letter to Pope Francis as well as using it as a motto throughout his speech. Yet, he added, in his document Amoris Laetitia, Francis casts a “paternal gaze” over families while not giving up “the full ideal of matrimony.”

“We, the Church, must look at families with the eyes of the Good Samaritan,” Bassetti said, not just walking past those who stray or falter, but bending down and leading them toward the Church.

The pope’s invitation to accompany, discern and integrate lays down a path that allows the Christian community “to express the full dynamism of the Gospel,” he added.

Borrowing from Francis’s preferred analogy of the Church as “a field hospital,” Bassetti suggested that Catholicism must “embrace the medicine of mercy instead of taking up the arms of rigidity.”

Bassetti condemned the general impression that those who married in the Church and then separated – “perhaps without thinking about it enough” – are not included in Christ’s project for forgiveness, joy and grace.

When asked directly by attendees at the summit of families about “the red line” of allowing communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, cautiously considered in Amoris, Bassetti emphasized the importance of discernment.

There’s a fine line, he answered, between “laxity” and “rigorism.” The first leads to priests saying that anything is admissible and the second refuses any form of dialogue. “Both are against mercy, and therefore against the Gospel,” he said.

“The Church walks and addresses with realism what happens in the world and in its ministry,” the cardinal said, adding that the wide disparity of attitudes encountered in different parishes urges the Church to “get a move on.”

Bassetti offered some advice about how to accompany couples and individuals without adopting the “wrong behavior.”Sometimes instead of accompanying, people tend to act as guides, he said, dragging people toward the Church or pushing it ahead. But accompanying means to stand alongside the other, he continued, and walking together.

It’s important to avoid “pre-made recipes” and make sure that situations are assessed individually, the cardinal concluded. “We are called to form consciences, not to expect to substitute them.”