Pope Francis chats with Ungarian cardinal and archbisop of Budapest cardinal Peter Erdo (R) as he arrives at the Synod Hall for the Synod on the themes of family on October 6, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis addressed the Fathers of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Monday, as they began their first full day of sessions exploring the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.

Pope Francis chats with Ungarian cardinal and archbisop of Budapest cardinal Peter Erdo (R) as he arrives at the Synod Hall for the Synod on the themes of family on October 6, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis addressed the Fathers of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Monday, as they began their first full day of sessions exploring the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.

Nearly 200 Roman Catholic clerics from around the world began a second week of discussions at the Vatican yesterday. Pope Francis convened the meeting – called a synod – to explore challenges facing Catholic families and clergy. It’s the first time in 35 years a pope has ordered this type of review. Few expect substantive changes in Church rules to come out of the synod. But many Catholics long for a Church more in step with the modern world on contentious issues such as divorce, contraception and same-sex relationships. A discussion of the Vatican synod and the future of the Roman Catholic Church.


  • Maureen Fiedler Host, Interfaith Voices and Sister of Loretto.
  • E.J. Dionne Jr. Senior fellow, Brookings Institution; columnist for The Washington Post; and author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent."
  • William Mattison III Associate professor of Moral Theology and associate dean of undergraduate studies, The Catholic University of America; author of "Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues."


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Liberal Roman Catholics are hopeful that Pope Francis will modernize the church. They point to a shift in tone under Francis who's urged clergy to not obsess over small-minded rules. But there are powerful conservative voices in the church as well. Many church leaders and parishioners want the Pope to take a hard line on doctrine that's guided Roman Catholics for centuries.

  • 10:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the Vatican Synod underway in Rome, E.J. Dionne of The Brookings Institution and The Washington Post, Maureen Fiedler of public radio's Interfaith Voices and William Mattison III, of the Catholic University of America. Do join us. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.

  • 10:08:06

    MS. MAUREEN FIEDLERGreat to be here.

  • 10:08:08

    MR. E.J. DIONNE JR.A joy to be here, Diane.

  • 10:08:09


  • 10:08:10

    REHMThank you all. Bill Mattison, this sounds like an important and rare meeting. Tell us about it.

  • 10:08:20

    MATTISONWell, sure. Bishops have been meeting in the Catholic Church since the beginning of the church together to discuss doctrinal and pastoral matters. But at the close of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI instantiated a new set of guidelines so that bishops could meet regularly to discuss matters of pastoral import for the church. And these general, ordinary sessions or synods of bishops have been going on since then.

  • 10:08:48

    MATTISONThis is the -- there's been 13 so far and this is -- what we're in right now is an extraordinary session, the third of which has happened since Vatican II. And these are called when bishops gather to discuss more pressing and time-sensitive concerns of the church. So the two things that are interesting about what we have going on now is that for the first time since Vatican II, the church has called simultaneously an extraordinary synod, which is what's happening now in Rome, and it's an ordinary synod on the same topic, which will happen next year in Rome.

  • 10:09:22

    REHMAnd tell me what the topic is expected to encounter.

  • 10:09:29

    MATTISONYeah, the topic is the marriage and family in the context of evangelization. So the Pope is trying to seek input from diocese all around the world so there are delegates of bishops from all around the world, to discuss the different pastoral practices regarding marriage and family in the church today and what's been working well in terms of the church's pastoral strategy and what challenges we face and what hasn't been working well and how we can improve it.

  • 10:09:57

    REHMMaureen Fiedler, certainly this is about family. What particular family issues are under discussion?

  • 10:10:09

    FIEDLERWell, I think the one you see in the media most often is the question of divorced and remarried Catholics being able to receive communion. And I have to say this one strikes me in the heart because one of my aunts in my own family had married a divorced man and for most of her life was not able to receive communion. And it was only on her deathbed, when a just very wise and kind priest spoke to her and gave her communion that she began to feel that life would be all right and so would the afterlife. And that's a major concern.

  • 10:10:47

    FIEDLERContraception is also coming up for discussion.

  • 10:10:49

    REHME.J. Dionne, as a practicing Catholic, why is holy communion so important?

  • 10:10:58

    JR.Well, holy communion is the essential sacrament. It is the sacrament that Catholics engage in at least weekly and, in many cases, more that weekly. It's the body and blood of Christ. And to be denied communion is really to be, in a very deep way, cut off from the life of the church. And I think what's really striking so far about this synod is that the language seems very much in line with the new departures that Pope Francis has in mind. The key...

  • 10:11:32

    REHMGive me an example.

  • 10:11:33

    DIONNE JR.Well, the key, I think, to Pope Francis' papacy is the idea of mercy. And what you're seeing in these documents is an emphasis more on mercy than on judgment, you know. There was a preliminary document put out over the weekend and as Josh McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter put it, it's a document calling for the church to listen more, to respect people in their various struggles and to apply mercy much more widely.

  • 10:12:02

    DIONNE JR.And what happens a lot in the church, and Sister Maureen has written a book about this, is that doctrine, as such, doesn't change, but the discipline around doctrine changes and over time, the church can change its doctrine, usually beginning the document with the words "as the church has always taught."

  • 10:12:22

    REHMBill Mattison explain the difference between doctrine and discipline.

  • 10:12:28

    MATTISONSure, sure. This is a great example here, with marital indissolubility. We have, the Catholic Church has always discerned in the words of Jesus himself, an injunction that marriage should be indissoluble. So that which God has put together, let no man separate. So how do you respect the fact that Jesus has enjoined marriage indissolubility, but also recognize that, at times, people are broken and can't live up to the ideals that we all strive toward.

  • 10:12:54

    MATTISONOne of the ways that the church has tried to recognize this teaching of marital indissolubility is to say that somehow the reception of holy communion, because it symbolized the union of Christ and his church, which has always been understood as, in some way, a marital relationship, that people who are living in a situation where their current circumstances defy the Lord's teaching on marriage and divorce and remarriage are not able to receive communion.

  • 10:13:24

    MATTISONSo that is a discipline that could be changed if we decide to honor indissolubility in a different way. That could be changed. It's not practiced, for instance, by the Eastern Orthodox churches. So you want to maintain the doctrine of indissolubility and as E.J. rightly says, the church has always said, you know, that marriage is indissoluble. That will not change, presumably, but the practice of how to deal with situations where there's not an ideal could change.

  • 10:13:49

    REHMI see. Do you expect that to happen, Maureen?

  • 10:13:51

    FIEDLERWhat, on divorce and remarriage -- the communion after divorce and remarriage? The stories I've read give it about a 50/50 chance. I suspect that Pope Francis -- and let me say he's the ultimate decision-maker in this. This bishops are really advisors in this case and so are the married couples that are there. But that he would probably like to change it, that's the subtext of a lot of this, but he's not, I don't think, gonna go against a vast majority. But there appears to be a split opinion on that in the synod right now.

  • 10:14:24

    REHMHelp me to understand, would you see something like a show of hands, a raising of hands to vote on something like that?

  • 10:14:36

    FIEDLERI would think they actually would vote on something like that. I don't think they do it by raising their hands. They probably write on little pieces of paper.

  • 10:14:42


  • 10:14:43

    FIEDLERYou know, but yes, I would expect some kind of a vote on that.

  • 10:14:46

    REHMAnd you would think that if a majority were to go against changing of the discipline that the Pope would not defy that majority.

  • 10:15:00

    FIEDLERWell, that's the surmise. Of course, I don't know. But I think Pope Francis has injected something else into this process which is very important. He has instructed everybody that's there to speak his or her mind, to say what you really think, don't hold back. I'm quoting from him, as I say this, and I've never seen this in the Catholic Church before, particularly from a Pope. And from anything that anybody can see, people are taking that to heart and they really are speaking honestly about what family life and married life is in reality on the ground, around the world.

  • 10:15:39

    FIEDLERI mean, the very first married couple, and there are just few of them there, but the first couple that got up to speak from Australia talked about some friends of theirs who have a gay son and wanted him and his partner to come for Christmas and how that family welcomed them because after all, he was their son. That's never been said at a synod before, I daresay.

  • 10:15:58

    REHMSo Bill, at this synod, in addition to bishops and priests and cardinals, you have members of the lay public.

  • 10:16:09

    MATTISONSure, sure. And Sister's exactly right about the injunction to speak boldly and humbly. And there was also an injunction to listen and not listen to me, the Pope, but listen to each other and listen to the experience of the different churches around the world. So that experience is rather broadly represented, perhaps not as much as some would like, but we have lay people there, as Sister mentioned. We also have the eastern churches, importantly represented, and they have different experiences with things like priestly celibacy and whatnot.

  • 10:16:36

    MATTISONBut one of the more important things that's also represented is the experience of the third world. Two of the most important concerns that are mentioned on page one of the preliminary document are the ways that interfaith marriages, particularly in Muslim countries, are causing problems for Christians and women receiving inheritances after their husband dies. Polygamy in African churches, these are not the things that come to mind in the U.S. or the West, but these are real problems in parts of the world.

  • 10:17:03

    REHMAnd would be discussed.

  • 10:17:05

    MATTISONAbsolutely. And so we need to remember that as important as the American and Western experience is, and it is, it's not the only experience.

  • 10:17:12

    REHMAnd the Latin, certainly the South American, will also be part of that. E.J.

  • 10:17:19

    DIONNE JR.One of the other interesting things about this synod is that the word went out from the Vatican for all of the bishops to consult with the lay people, with average Catholics, and some of them took this very seriously. It was interesting. You could tell sort of where a bishop stood by how open they were to getting input from lay people. And some opened it really wide and got some rather, some pointed, sometimes angry, but very honest reaction.

  • 10:17:50

    DIONNE JR.And you know, they are bringing this back to the synod so that Archbishop Martin of Dublin said that the synod can't simply repeat what was said 20 years ago. He said, it has to find new language to show there can be development of doctrine, that there has been a willingness to listen to what emerged from the questionnaire that went out to the faithful. So there's an interesting process change here in the way the church goes about making decisions.

  • 10:18:18

    REHME.J. Dionne of The Brookings Institution and The Washington Post, author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle For The American Idea In An Age Of Discontent." The phones are open. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 10:20:00

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the convening of the Synod in its second week now in Rome, discussing issues of the family. Pope Francis has called for this review of family policies which include divorce, remarriage, receiving of holy communion and, I gather, Bill Mattison, questions regarding homosexuality.

  • 10:20:36

    MATTISONUm-hum. Yeah, this document that E.J. mentioned before, the relatio that was released this weekend that gives a little precis of some things that have gone over -- had come to past the first half of the synod, mentions identifying resources in the lives of same-sex couples that are causes for celebration. So it's important to recognize that this is a pastoral event that's aimed at evangelization and nurturing the presence of the gospel, the good news in people's lives.

  • 10:21:05

    MATTISONSo what that document mentions is that how is there a way to maintain the church's teaching on same-sex marriage, which the church understands to be an invitation to fullness of life with regard to marriage. Obviously we can debate that, right. But on the other hand, recognize that even if you hold the church teaching, that there are resources in the lives of same sex couples who we all have in our families and among our friends that should be celebrated. These people are great friends and sons and brothers and uncles.

  • 10:21:32

    MATTISONSo how can we point to the real presence of God's life-giving spirit in the lives of same-sex couples and celebrate that and recognize that even while we recognize that marriage is -- the church's teaching on marriage is what it is?

  • 10:21:45

    REHMTell me whether an openly gay man, lesbian woman is currently welcomes at the altar to receive holy Communion?

  • 10:21:57

    MATTISONSure. Oh, sure, yeah. Not only that -- well, of course you can't speak to any individual pastor, right or bishop who may speak out. But in terms of official church teaching, not only is it the case that that's not an impediment to reception of communion unless we consider broader impediments about mortal sin. We could talk about that. But it's also the case -- and this has come up on the floor at the synod quite frequently, that children of same sex couples are not to be barred from the sacraments. So when there's a request for baptism for children of same-sex couples, that's not an impediment to their receiving the reception of baptism.

  • 10:22:30


  • 10:22:31

    FIEDLERBut that has happened in some parishes, in some diocese. And that's a real problem. And the other resonance I hope will come from this myself, there have been a number of firings in Catholic schools here in the United States, at least a dozen, firings of people either because they are gay or because they entered into a same-sex marriage or something like that. They've been choir directors and teacher in schools and so forth. Hopefully whatever the official teaching remains on this issue, hopefully the pastoral practice will change so that those people are not fired.

  • 10:23:08

    REHMNow, E.J., in -- while this synod has been convened, around this country church attendance in Roman Catholic Churches is declining. Is that in part because of policies that the synod is currently discussing?

  • 10:23:37

    DIONNE JR.Well, I think there are a lot of reasons for the decline in attendance. And indeed that decline in attendance crosses a lot of denominations. What you have right now is a really sharp drop in formal religious engagement. It doesn't mean they're not religious among millennials where you've got about 30 to 35 percent of the under 30s, under 35s, depending on how you want to define it, who do not consider themselves part of a religious tradition. That's much higher than earlier cohorts.

  • 10:24:07

    DIONNE JR.The church is certainly -- the Catholic Church is certainly very much affected by that. It's affected by a certain disaffection among women because of the role of women in the church. But I think that's part of a broader trend toward religion. And there is some -- there are some studies that suggest that the identification of the Christian church with fairly hard right positions in politics and the like is part of what is turning off those young people.

  • 10:24:36

    DIONNE JR.But just to go back to the gay issue, it's really striking that this document, that this preliminary document seemed to go out of its way, again not to change the church's position on gay marriage, but to welcome gay Catholics in the church. It said they have gifts and qualities to offer their parishes. Are we capable of welcoming these people guaranteeing them fraternal space in our communities?

  • 10:24:59

    DIONNE JR.And so what I think you've seen under Francis is this very careful sort of position where he hasn't gone and changed the church's view of same-sex marriage, but he has really changed the affect, the sound, the feeling of what the church says about people who are gay and lesbian. And I think that's had an enormous impact.

  • 10:25:19

    REHMWould you expect that language, Bill, to carry further to allow priests of the church to marry same-sex couples?

  • 10:25:32

    MATTISONYeah -- no, I don't think that's -- we can expect that in the future.

  • 10:25:34

    REHMThat's not going to happen.

  • 10:25:35

    MATTISONNo, no. I don't think that'll -- there's -- remember the same-sex marriage debate concerns two things, the civil policies with regard to same-sex marriage, which is usually what's under debate. And then another debate about intra-church sacramental marriage and homosexual activity in particular. So those are importantly distinct things.

  • 10:25:52

    MATTISONOn the first one, obviously the Catholic Church is losing the public debate on that, right. So I think what the church has to do, and this is emblematic of its -- the tenor of Francis' synod, it need to recognize that church teaching on these matters is supposed to be a source of life. It's supposed to be attractive. And the term that's come up on the floor is a magnetic approach. We want to attract people not condemn people. So explain how this teaching is a source of life. And if it is, then presumably people will be drawn to it. So the churches do a better job of making that case.

  • 10:26:26

    FIEDLERThat's the case right now. There is, in the Catholic Church however, another tradition called the development of dogma which means that things that looked hard and fast at one time do in fact change or develop throughout the ages. This certainly happened at the second Vatican council. And even when it comes to something like divorce and remarriage -- and let me say I did a whole book on this a few years ago called "Rome Has Spokane" showing how the positions of the Vatican on 18 different issues have changed over the centuries.

  • 10:26:58

    FIEDLERAnd on divorce and remarriage -- and I didn't know this myself before I started that -- in the first three centuries consensual divorce or the dissolution of marriage by mutual consent of the spouses was not uncommon. And until the 11th century, divorce and remarriage were allowed under certain circumstances including adultery, desertion and a spouse's entering religious life. So even something that sounds like it's indissoluble wasn't once indissoluble. So -- and you can find all kinds of things like that in church history.

  • 10:27:33

    DIONNE JR.No, that is very important and I think it's important though to be candid here about the issue of gay marriage and, more generally, attitudes toward gay and lesbians, like the Anglican church which has had some really tough fights over this. There are divisions between the wealthier world and the third world on this issue. And the church -- the Catholic Church is growing most in the third world. And Francis' papacy reflects that.

  • 10:28:00

    DIONNE JR.And so I think this is one of those issues that's going to be argued out for probably a century or more inside the Catholic Church. And I think what's interesting about this language that's coming out of the synod so far is that it is a message even to third world churches to say, this is the doctrine of the church to oppose gay marriage but what we need is, as it were, a Christina attitude toward gays and lesbians, just like we should have a Christian attitude toward others.

  • 10:28:31

    REHMAnd there are several other issues that may or may not come forward. One certainly that's been talked about a great deal on this program and elsewhere is the requirement for priests to remain celibate for their entire lives. So I gather it's not on the formal agenda. Is it being discussed, Bill Mattison?

  • 10:29:02

    MATTISONNot in what I've read of the general congregations in the past ten days so...

  • 10:29:05

    REHMDo you believe it will be?

  • 10:29:07

    MATTISONWell, it is to the extent that for instance this Saturday we had the testimony of the eastern Christian delegates and who frequently allow...

  • 10:29:14

    REHM...who are allowed to marry if they marry before they are ordained.

  • 10:29:22

    MATTISONThat's correct. They have to marry before they're ordained and then be -- getting married precludes one from the possibility of becoming a bishop. So there's a commonality of practice but also a discord. So priestly celibacy, something which began in the Latin church only a thousand years ago is not a requirement that has to remain the case. Like the situation with administration of communion to divorced or remarried Catholics. That could change.

  • 10:29:44

    MATTISONIn fact, it'd be one of the easiest things to change. I just don't see in this climate that being on the front burner of things to consider changing, first of all. And second of all, when you want to change that, you want to change that out of a position of strength. You want to look at where the thriving communities of faith are and are they generating vocations and are the vocations coming from people who want to be married. You don't want to change that in the west because of a decline in vocations and realizing we need to make up for the slack some other ways. So...

  • 10:30:10

    REHMHowever, I wonder whether the whole scandal regarding pedophilia is going to somehow come into that discussion...

  • 10:30:23

    MATTISONUm-hum. Yeah.

  • 10:30:23

    REHM...about celibacy.

  • 10:30:26

    MATTISONYeah, the John Jay Report seemed pretty clear that the celibacy, per se, was not the cause of priestly -- of the terrible abuse that happened. So this is by no means to excuse it or to say that this wasn't a horrific and isn't a horrific part of our recent history and longer history. But the celibacy, per se, doesn't seem to be correlated with the greater number of abuse. So -- but that doesn't mean it couldn't change but I don't think that's what's going to prompt it.

  • 10:30:50

    FIEDLERAnd when it comes to discussing a married clergy at the synod, it doesn't appear to be a public discussion but there is a lot of private discussion going on. I was talking to a very prominent Jesuit just a week ago. And Jesuit seemed to have an inside track here given that Pope Francis is one. And...

  • 10:31:07

    REHMAnd Jesuits are among the most liberal of Catholic clergy?

  • 10:31:13

    FIEDLERWell, the ones I know are. I mean...

  • 10:31:17

    REHMThey're complicated.

  • 10:31:18

    FIEDLER...it's a mixed bag.

  • 10:31:19

    REHMOkay. Okay.

  • 10:31:21

    FIEDLERBut in any event, this Jesuit knows another Jesuit who has talked to the Jesuit, Pope Francis. And Pope Francis confided in him that he would like to see a married clergy in the church. I thought, oh, isn't that interesting. Now you're not going to hear Pope Francis get in front of a microphone and say that. But I've heard this before. This is not news, but he's going to play it politically.

  • 10:31:44

    DIONNE JR.Back when he was a Cardinal, Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis gave a very interesting series of interviews in which he seemed to come very close to saying that this is something he'd like to change. He didn't go all the way but even in public -- so it's not surprising that he said that in private because these interviews suggested that.

  • 10:32:05

    DIONNE JR.But I just want to point out, it is not often on your program that you hear the phrase only a thousand years ago. We are clearly talking about the Catholic Church, I think.

  • 10:32:18

    REHME.J., how strong would you say the move toward modernization exists within the church as a whole and perhaps this synod in particular?

  • 10:32:33

    DIONNE JR.Well, you know, the church has been arguing about its relationship with modernity, I won't say a thousand years but for well over a hundred years. And I think what's really striking about Francis is the way he has lifted up Pope John the XXIII when he made Pope John Paul II as saying he very pointedly also made Pope John XXIII as saying. And the whole point of Vatican II and John the XXIII was to create a new relationship between Catholicism and modernity. Still critical in certain ways but much more open to development in the modern world.

  • 10:33:10

    DIONNE JR.And sometimes when I hear about these debates at this synod, it's over a very particular set of issues but it does feel like some of those debates at Vatican II where you have some open expressions of greater sympathy for modernity and some really sharp criticisms of modernity.

  • 10:33:26

    FIEDLERAnd there are a few open windows here too.

  • 10:33:27

    REHME.J. Dionne of Georgetown University and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a number of callers. Let's open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Doug in South Carolina, you're on the air.

  • 10:33:51

    DOUGHello, Diane.

  • 10:33:52

    REHMHi there.

  • 10:33:53

    DOUGHey, I think that one-twelfth of the population is truly biologically predisposed. I think one of the disciples from my readings of the Bible appears to have that inclination. But what I called about was the notion of divorce. And basically the thing is Christ says whoever divorces his wife. So the question is, what about the passive married person? Why should that person have guilt? So, you know, if you kept...

  • 10:34:29

    REHMSure, sure.

  • 10:34:31

    DOUGI'm sorry.

  • 10:34:32

    REHMOkay. Let's see what Bill Mattison has to say.

  • 10:34:35

    MATTISONYeah, the caller raises a great point about the fact that Christ says, whoever divorces his wife, you know, is liable of judgment. The real innovative thing here is that it was commonly practiced that men could divorce their wives with no problem. That really wasn't an issue.

  • 10:34:49

    FIEDLERBut it didn't work the other way around.

  • 10:34:50

    MATTISONIt didn't work the other way so it was a given that women couldn't divorce their husbands. It was actually radical that Christ said, hey, you can't divorce your wife either. So it's actually wise to point that out.

  • 10:34:59

    REHMAll right. To -- let's go to Chuck in Jacksonville, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:35:08

    CHUCKThank you, Diane. My question or my comments regard the modernization. Let's look at prior to 1960 and after 1960. Prior to 1960, we were working under the creator's plan. 99.9 percent of the people on the planet used the rhythm method (unintelligible) ...

  • 10:35:29

    REHMI'm sorry, sir, you're breaking up on us.

  • 10:35:32

    MATTISONYeah, it sounded like a computer.

  • 10:35:34

    REHMHere's the issue he wants to raise. Contraception versus the rhythm method. He says the latter is better because it encourages a husband and wife to communicate with each other. This worked for years. There was no need to change it, Maureen.

  • 10:35:58

    FIEDLERI think that a lot of people who look at the practice of contraception in the Catholic Church think with the laity, this is a settled issue. It's 95 plus percent of Catholic women, in fact, use artificial birth control. I must admit, this is a mysterious thing to me when I listen to some of the couples that are at this synod because some of them are natural family-planning advocates. And, you know, there might be perfectly good medical or environmental reasons or something to do it that way. That's not to disparage that method, but it doesn't work for a lot of people, at least by their own admission.

  • 10:36:35

    REHMAnd Bill Mattison, what is church doctrine on contraception?

  • 10:36:40

    MATTISON...on contraception. Yeah, this is often misunderstood, right. So the church doctrine on contraception is that a husband and wife's sexual relationship ideally is fully humanized so that they can go about certain decisions together on having sex and starting a family and do so responsibly. So the Catholic Church is all for responsible parenthood and being intentional about our practices of sexuality to make sure we can be good practice -- good parents.

  • 10:37:07

    MATTISONSo then the question is how to do that. And the church thinks -- I think the best analogy here is like with eating. The church says, you know, the best way to go about your dieting practice is to be intentional about how you eat. The church calls people to be intentional about their sexual practices.

  • 10:37:22

    REHMWilliam Mattison III. He's professor of moral theology, associate dean of under graduate studies at the Catholic University of America. His book is titled "Introducing Moral Theology."

  • 10:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back, as we are in this hour talking about the Roman Catholic clerics from around the world meeting in Rome to discuss issues of family and clergy. And Pope Francis has convened this special synod, the first in 35 years, along with a regular, ongoing synod that has been underway. Here is our first email. "What is the teaching on people who were married and divorced outside the church and then become Roman Catholic? Can they receive Holy Communion? Are the Bishops discussing this issue?" Bill.

  • 10:40:57

    MATTISONSo, marital law is extraordinarily complex. And the insight to get -- that will help us understand it a little bit better -- is that the Church wants to respect and recognize marriages outside the Church. So when the Church says that marriage, as a natural institution, is something, it doesn't want to say just our marriages. It wants to say that other, for instance, Protestants getting married -- these people are Christian, and if the church thinks that Christian marriage isn't dissoluble, that would apply to all.

  • 10:41:27

    MATTISONSo the short answer is that it depends what the people are when they are married outside of the church. So the church thinks that people who are married and are Christian, even though they're not Catholic, do need to get an annulment before they get married in the Catholic Church.

  • 10:41:42

    DIONNE JR.What about civil marriage? What if people come to the church with a civil marriage, but not a church marriage?

  • 10:41:47

    MATTISONSo, this is really interesting, because it sets up a little difference between in how Catholics and non-Catholics are regarded. If a Catholic gets married civilly, outside of the church, the church doesn't recognize that as having happened because the church wasn't involved, because you're a Catholic, you're bound to do things according to the proper form of the Catholic Church. Sadly, if you're not Catholic and you get married in Vegas or some other more casual civil marriage, or a very dignified and, you know, elaborate civil marriage, the church recognizes that since you weren't bound by the Catholic form, you've actually expressed your consent as a baptized Christian and therefore this is binding. It's from (unintelligible) .

  • 10:42:22

    REHMI see.

  • 10:42:24

    MATTISONSo it's complicated. It engenders cases that at times seem ludicrous. But I think the core insight is that we're trying to respect the intentions and vows of people outside the church.

  • 10:42:35

    REHMBut what's complicated is the issue of annulment and how that happens, when it happens, who says it can happen, Maureen.

  • 10:42:48

    FIEDLERRight. It's -- annulment is -- it's the process, of course, of deciding that in fact a marriage never existed.

  • 10:42:54


  • 10:42:55

    FIEDLERAnd there is a long and complex process that couples have to go through. Now, some of them find this healing, quite frankly. Some of them will tell you, well, we get a chance to look back at what we did and what we didn't do and what we would redo, et cetera. But most people that I have talked to who have been through the annulment process, frankly, quit after a while and never completely finish it. And that's because they find it quite onerous, quite intrusive into their personal lives, the questions that are asked, that kind of thing. There is a move at the synod -- and this is expected to get the green light -- of streamlining the annulment process and shortening it. And that has the overwhelming support of those that are there, I understand.

  • 10:43:40


  • 10:43:41

    DIONNE JR.Yes. So that's what I was going to say is that the reporting out of the synod suggests that there will be a change in this process. It's a -- it can vary a great deal from Bishop to Bishop. I mean, we forget that the Catholic Church is this peculiar combination of deeply centralized and extremely -- deeply centralized and also extremely decentralized. And so there are differences in practice from Diocese to Diocese.

  • 10:44:06

    REHMAnd there are differences in practice when it comes to who is seeking the annulment. How about Newt Gingrich? Fill us in on what happened there, Maureen.

  • 10:44:20

    FIEDLERWell, I don't know about Newt Gingrich, but Rudy Giuliani I do know about. He got an annulment because he had married his second cousin. And when I heard that, I said, Like he didn't know she was his second cousin when he married her? Well, yes, but...

  • 10:44:33

    REHMAnd Newt Gingrich married for the third time within the Catholic Church, Bill?

  • 10:44:40

    MATTISONI know nothing about Newt Gingrich's marital history. And don't want to comment on Newt's annulment process.

  • 10:44:45

    DIONNE JR.I do think that there has been a discussion in the church for a long time that the politically influential may have gotten a break.

  • 10:44:51


  • 10:44:51

    FIEDLERYes, exactly.

  • 10:44:52

    DIONNE JR.And it's not an ideological thing. Just -- and that that's a problem.

  • 10:44:56

    FIEDLERYou can go back to the royalty of a few centuries ago who readily got annulments.

  • 10:45:01

    MATTISONAnd perhaps even more important, 95 percent of the annulments sought in the world are in the West -- in the U.S. and Western Europe. So what -- that's just odd, right? That has to be addressed. Either we have something right, that the rest of the world needs to avail itself of more, or there's a problem with the annulment process in the West and we're abusing it. So the Sister is exactly right. The pope already, last month, initiated a commission to address annulment processes. They need to be more transparent.

  • 10:45:25


  • 10:45:25

    MATTISONThey need to be more fair. So, God willing, that will happen.

  • 10:45:28

    FIEDLERAnd sometimes there's a charge for it -- monetary charge, and some places, they're free.

  • 10:45:34

    REHMAll right. Let's -- I'm a little confused as to who is on which line. But let me try caller number six. I think that's John from Maryland. Is that correct?

  • 10:45:52


  • 10:45:52

    REHMGood. Go right ahead, sir.

  • 10:45:56

    JOHNWhat -- earlier, the guest of yours said, about churches do change doctrine. The doctrine that was -- got me away from the church was, where do unbaptized children go? Saint Augustine was very clear, city of God, they go straight to Hell. Then they invented a limbo. That was way afterwards. And then they threw it away.

  • 10:46:21


  • 10:46:22

    DIONNE JR.No, limbo.

  • 10:46:23

    FIEDLERNo, limbo.

  • 10:46:23

    DIONNE JR.There was a very particular doctrine of the church that unbaptized children -- it seemed very unjust...

  • 10:46:28


  • 10:46:28

    FIEDLERThat's right.

  • 10:46:28

    DIONNE JR....to say, through no fault of their own, they'd be consigned to Hell. And so then this notion of Limbo, a place that's neither Heaven nor Hell, nor this nor that, is where they went, until at some point, presumably, they'd be freed. And the church actually just walked away from Limbo. And I had a friend who worked for the church for many years who told the Bishop, look, Limbo doesn't mean anything to me. But don't get rid of Purgatory, because my working for you guys has been my Purgatory.

  • 10:46:58

    REHMAll right. Now, go ahead, Bill.

  • 10:46:59

    MATTISONI'm sure, Sister, in her book, if it had come out a few years later, would have had a chapter on the changes of limbo. But see this is a perfect example of changing a practice, although in this case it's articulating something more than practice, and doctrine. The church wants to recognize that baptism is the way that we've been revealed by Christ as an invitation to fullness of life. So the Catechism says that baptism is central to salvation. The Catechism also says that God and God's mercy and means that we don't understand can work without baptism. And that's up to God.

  • 10:47:31

    MATTISONSo in figuring out what to do with people who die at a young age without being baptized, this is the church grappling with how to maintain these things -- that baptism is very important, but presumably God is good and merciful. So it's a good example of where there has been change and development.

  • 10:47:45


  • 10:47:45

    DIONNE JR.And I just want to say, in support of the caller's heart, I think that doctrine always bothered a lot of people. There was something terribly wrong about this idea. And so I'm not surprised that this caller was turned off by it. I don't think he was alone in this view.

  • 10:47:58

    FIEDLERSure I -- hardly alone.

  • 10:48:00

    DIONNE JR.Among very faithful Catholics who just thought there's something off here. And the church kind of finally revisited this.

  • 10:48:07

    REHMAll right, let me try caller number four. I think that's Barb in Pittsburgh, Pa. Is that correct? Barb, are you there? Okay.

  • 10:48:20

    MATTISONLost Barb.

  • 10:48:21

    ANNNo, this is Ann, though.

  • 10:48:23

    REHMAll right, Ann.

  • 10:48:24

    DIONNE JR.Barbara Ann -- no.

  • 10:48:25

    REHMNo, go right ahead, Ann.

  • 10:48:27

    ANNI'm Ann from Cincinnati, Ohio. Thank you, Diane.

  • 10:48:30


  • 10:48:30

    ANNDiane, I'm just calling with a positive comment about natural family planning over contraception. Believe it or not, years ago I learned about natural family planning from you on your show. It was 1992...

  • 10:48:45

    REHMOh, good.

  • 10:48:46

    ANN...and you had an expert -- you had an expert, who was -- Norplant had just come out and there was much discussion about Norplant. And so you had an expert physician talk about it and receive -- take calls. And I learned about natural family planning through him. He attested to how it was highly effective, the modern method -- so, namely the Symptothermal method or the Creighton model, which are highly effective over the, you know, the rhythm method, per se.

  • 10:49:11

    MATTISONPurely rhythm method.

  • 10:49:12


  • 10:49:12

    ANNYeah, so anyway, and I can tell you that, it is through that little bit that I heard on your radio show years ago that I decided to go ahead and try out this Catholic -- the Catholic way of, you know, living out my sexuality in my marriage. And I can tell you, my marriage is better. It really does work. And it actually led me to the Catholic Church to really wholeheartedly live out -- because I thought, wow, this is really true. This is really a good thing for people.

  • 10:49:36

    REHMGood. Good. I'm glad for you. And thanks for...

  • 10:49:41

    DIONNE JR.And to your long list of awards, Diane, we can make sure you're nominated for an award from the natural family planning fund. So that was a beautiful call.

  • 10:49:49

    MATTISONConversions. Wow.

  • 10:49:51

    REHMRight. Let's go to -- let's see, Eileen, who's somewhere in Maryland. Hi, there. You're on the air.

  • 10:50:00

    EILEENHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 10:50:01


  • 10:50:03

    EILEENI'm calling about the importance of Communion and that we were taught that you receive the Grace of God through Communion. And my Pastor said on Saturday night, everyone is welcome and everyone matters. Then why isn't everyone welcome at the table to receive Communion? And that, to me, is such a contradiction. And I don't understand how we can't get rid of it.

  • 10:50:25

    FIEDLERYeah. And that's one of the major reasons that this is up for discussion right now, because there are people who say, when you deny Communion to, like, a divorced and remarried person, who is otherwise a devout Catholic -- and there are millions of them -- then you're using the Sacraments as a kind of weapon. And people are really negative about that.

  • 10:50:45

    DIONNE JR.And I think that's why, if I were to put a bet here -- and you shouldn't bet on synod or election, I suppose, some people say you shouldn't bet on anything -- I think they're going to go toward the open -- this -- the doctrine that that Priest taught -- Cardinal Wuerl of Washington said, I think it was over the weekend, to David Gibson at Religious News Service, "The reception of Communion is not a doctrinal position. It is a pastoral application of the doctrine of the church. And I think pastorally, to use the church's word, a lot of people identify with the caller, including, I think, a lot of Bishops in the church.

  • 10:51:22


  • 10:51:22

    FIEDLERYes, I do, too.

  • 10:51:24

    MATTISONJust the voice of the caller really says it all. And if there's one thing that's come out of the synod, whether it's couples doing NFP or couples who are divorced and remarried or interfaith couples, the synod has wanted to make sure that this first instantiation of the synod is a listening session. And that whatever the church decides -- because E.J. is right, this is a practice -- this could change. It wouldn't be shocking if it did change. But whatever happens, it has to be done in Communion, in fellowship and love and support with people who are suffering through this situation they're in.

  • 10:51:52

    FIEDLERAnd the listening is done listening to couples because each day, they're the first ones to speak, not the Bishops. Pope Francis wanted them to hear the real life circumstances of people who are married and have families first.

  • 10:52:06

    REHMWhat about Nuns? Are there Nuns present at the synod?

  • 10:52:11

    FIEDLERI'm sure there are. But I have no idea who they are or...

  • 10:52:15

    REHMBut why wouldn't you know whether there are Nuns present?

  • 10:52:19

    FIEDLERWell, it's a synod on family and family issues. And by definition, Nuns are celibate. But of course, so are...

  • 10:52:24

    REHMWell, what about Priests?

  • 10:52:26

    FIEDLER...but so are the Bishops. But let me -- but, Diane, you hit something on the head here. The international church reform movement has carried a sign in St. Peter's Square last week. And it said, families should be able to vote in a synod on the family. And if you think about it, that just makes perfect sense. So that, if there were Bishops there, fine. If there -- there should be Nuns there. But that families ought to have a lot to say -- the majority to say about what goes on with family.

  • 10:52:57

    REHMMaureen Fiedler, she's host of Interfaith Voices and a Sister of Loretto. She's author of "Breaking through the Stained-Glass Ceiling: Women Religious Leaders in Their Own Words." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, let's go to Barbara, and you're on the air.

  • 10:53:25

    BARBARAThank you, Diane. I'm calling -- I do know about Newt Gingrich, if the people who you're talking to don't. He was married two times. And during his second marriage, he carried on an affair with a Catholic woman. And then he was fast-tracked to become a Catholic, have annulments and then get married. I was someone who, through no fault of my own, I was widowed and I wanted an interfaith marriage with someone who had never been a Christian. And it took four long years, with prodding and prodding and prodding on my part, for an annulment to happen. So it's just, you know, what kind of justice is that? What kind of a taste does that leave in your mouth?

  • 10:54:04

    BARBARABecause Communion is supposed to be something that's nourishing and feeding to someone's spirituality -- to be denied week after week after week after week.

  • 10:54:13

    REHMI certainly understand that. Bill, I'm sure you do too.

  • 10:54:17

    MATTISONSure. And this tragic, tortuous process that is mentioned here, I think, is exactly why the Pope has initiated the streamlining of the annulment process. And it really does -- it does need to happen. I'll acknowledge that. But, most importantly, in the interim, we get to walk with and hear from and listen to and learn from people who are suffering from this. Because the Lord hears the cry of the poor. These are the people whose wisdom of insight from their experience we can really benefit from.

  • 10:54:41

    REHMTell me what is going on behind the scenes that we know nothing about.

  • 10:54:49

    DIONNE JR.Well, of course, if we said something, we'd know nothing about it.

  • 10:54:51

    REHMYeah. Well, that's right.

  • 10:54:53

    DIONNE JR.You know, Father Tom Reese, whom I think you may have had on this show before, has a great piece out of this synod. And the way he begins it is perfect, I think. He says, "Listening, accompanying, respecting, valuing, discerning, welcoming, dialog. These are all the kinds of words that are used in this document.

  • 10:55:10


  • 10:55:11

    DIONNE JR.And I think that what is happening behind the scenes are, quite a few Bishops who have heard folks like the caller who just called -- the pain in the church...

  • 10:55:20


  • 10:55:20

    DIONNE JR....saying, you know, we can't go on like this. And that with the new Pope -- with the spirit of the new Pope, is a time to make some change, to get rid of some of these contradictions inside the church.

  • 10:55:32

    FIEDLERAnd I think there's a battle going on behind the scenes between the ultra-conservatives -- people like Cardinal Raymond Burke, for example, whom callers may not know. I'd call him the Ted Cruz of the Catholic Church, something like that, I mean, really, really conservative. Versus the more progressive voices who want to at least make pastoral changes. And I suspect it's fierce behind the scenes.

  • 10:55:53

    REHMIf the church is growing because of, say, Africa and Latin America, aren't those voices tending to be more, rather than less conservative?

  • 10:56:08

    MATTISONThey do. And it's a question of humility on our part. Are we willing to truly listen to these voices to see if they could be right and we could be wrong? I mean that -- this is what listening entails, you know? Humility to recognize we need to be challenged with things.

  • 10:56:19

    FIEDLEROn the other hand, Pope Francis is from Latin America himself.

  • 10:56:23

    DIONNE JR.Yes. And I don't think those voices are uniformly conservative on these questions.

  • 10:56:25

    IIIThat's absolutely true. Absolutely true.

  • 10:56:27

    REHMAll right. And that's the last word in a fascinating discussion. Thank you all, E.J. Dionne, Maureen Fiedler, William Mattison III. And thank you to our callers, our emailers. I've enjoyed this hour very much. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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