[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]
In his first press conference since being created cardinal last Saturday, the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, spoke with journalists yesterday at the English College in Rome. The themes included last week’s discussion on marriage and family (see CV Comment here) as well as the radicality of Francis’s papacy, the UN report on abuse, wealth and poverty, relations with Anglicans, and his priorities as cardinal archbishop.
EXPERIENCE OF CONSISTORY
Describing his experience of the previous few days as a “vivid and powerful experience of the universality of the Church”, Cardinal Nichols said being among 18 new cardinals from 15 countries, with only four Europeans, had made clear to him where the strength of Catholicism currently lies. “Now I sit next to the cardinal from Managua,” he said.
He said he had also been struck by the “depth and richness of friendships that Church helps to nurture among people” and the way in which faith deepens friendships. He said he took away from the Pope’s homily on Sunday Francis’s “intense insistence that our relationship with Christ lies at the heart of everything.”
He spoke of his pride that the choir of Westminster Cathedral had sung at both the consistory on Saturday and Sunday’s Mass with the cardinals, which had “showed the world something of the richness of the tradition of English church music.”
The invitation to the choir to sing at the consistory arose from the 2010 visit to London of Pope Benedict XVI, when he had been impressed by the choirs of both Westminster Abbey and Cathedral.
After the Mass on Sunday the cathedral choir waited for Pope Francis in the courtyard outside the Santa Marta guest house. When he arrived, they sang for him, and Francis greeted them one by one. It was “a very personal, very intimate and an unforgettable gift to the Holy Father”, said Cardinal Nichols.
CONFERENCE ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Cardinal Nichols announced he would be hosting a 9-10 April conference in Rome on human trafficking that would bring together church leaders and law enforcement officers. About 2o heads of police services from many different countries will be taking part, including the head of Interpol and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner from London. He said the conference was based on the victim-driven work of the previous three years.
“By attending to them and their needs we can make a huge contribution, with the police, to the tackling of this problem,” he said, adding: “There have been raids in London that began in church circles”.
RELATATIONS WITH ANGLICANS
Cardinal Nichols said he enjoyed contact and cooperation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and that there had been a recent two-day meeting of the bishops of the Church of England and the bishops of England and Wales.
He said the fact that the House of Bishops had taken a further step towards ordination of women as bishops “does not make the path to structural unity any easier, but it does not impede our joint cooperation”.
CHANGES UNDER POPE FRANCIS
Asked to describe the changes under Pope Francis, Cardinal Nichols said: “I would not use the word reform. I would use the phrase ‘radical renewal’. He is a Pope of startling, radical renewal in the Church. He is radical because he goes right to the very heart of why the Church exists, why it has life in it, and what its mission is.”
EXTRAORDINARY CONSISTORY DISCUSSION ON THE FAMILY
Cardinal Nichols was one of 185 cardinals — virtually the entire College — who met over two days last week to discuss the pastoral challenges of marriage and family. The cardinals were addressed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, and then had a free-flowing discussion, with contributions from 45 cardinals.
The extraordinary consistory discussions, said Cardinal Nichols, were “an overture before the opera or concert really begins” at the synod discussions in October 2014 and again in October 2015. Although there were many themes, there was a focus on specific pastoral challenge of those who were divorced and remarried, and therefore barred from Communion.
1. The debate was characterised by “a keen awareness of the distress of many people in their experience of their family and marriage and their family. People feel they have failed and have a desire to start again.” People sense their not being admitted to Holy Communion as a kind of punishment, a sign of not being accepted. “There’s a whole need to explore more what the Eucharist plays, whether the Eucharist is, as this sense suggests, the sum total of Catholic life, and it isn’t. But there’s a great recognition that these are people we’re talking about and the hurt they have in their lives for all sorts of reasons.”
2. There was also “a deep concern for the truth of the unity and indissolubility of marriage” and the central importance of teaching of Christ. “Out of that came a desire to thank those who give the witness of fidelity in their marriages: the majority of marriages remain and endure and people remain faithful to each other”. Marriage is the work of grace. “It was clearly recognized that if we are to unfold that grace it’s a real challenge to how in Europe we understand each other as human beings,” he said, adding: “The anthropology behind the unity and indissolubility of marriage is a real challenge.”
3. Concern for human freedom. To give a solemn undertaking in marriage, people needed to be free do do so. However, especially in Europe “the cultural context in which people come to the altar to be married is radically changed”. For a marriage to be a sacramental covenant, it is not enough that people entering marriage aspire to permanence; the sacrament requires “a commitment to indissolubility.” He said: “There was a whole lot of discussion about how free are people to give the consent and commitment that the validity of marriage is understood to need.”
4. Concern for love. Francis spoke of “the need for a pastoral care that is intelligent, courageous and full of love.” Cardinal Nichols said this pastoral care was clearly enunicated by the founder of the Redemptorists, St Alphonsus Liguori, whose church in Rome was now Cardinal Nichols’s titular church. “If ever there was a master of pastoral theology, it was Alphonsus,” said the cardinal, “so I will be looking to him.” Key to the pastoral support of the family was the need to build up supportive groups that were broader than the nuclear family, and inter-generational. The challenge to the Church, said Cardinal Nichols, was: “Can we help society knits its families together for mutual support?”
5. There was also a concern that marriage annulments be made more available and accessible. That meant looking at the basis for evidence needed, among other mechanisms of church tribunals. Although they must be concerned to establish the truth of the marriage, “can they be made more accessible?”
In answer to a later question about the question of the separated and remarried, Cardinal Nichols said:
We have to back and look again at place of the Eucharist in relation to the whole life of church and spiritual life of any person or couple. And make it possible that somehow the identification between receiving Eucharist and being a faithful Catholic isn’t as important is now. When I was growing up, there was a more reserved approach to the Eucharist. It made demands on us. To receive the Eucharist was the high point. There must be ways in which people can live a very fruitful life in the church even if for the public reasons we all understand they might not have access to the Eucharist.
That’s on the one hand an understanding of the Eucharist that we have to develop or recover; and on the other hand, not assume like we tend to, that if they’ve experienced a failure in their marriage and have started again with a new partner that they are necessarily in this new relationship with the Church. So I think we have to be —and it’s a strong point in the discussions — much more positive in the way in which we engage with people whose marriages have broken down to find solutions that apply to them, even if they might not think so. We too easily assume that the breakdown of a marriage is an irretrievable situation. Given some of the things that have been said about the freedom needed for a valid marriage we shouldn’t come to that conclusion too quickly.
Cardinal Nichols cited Francis’s letter to the new cardinals that their appointment was “a call to serve. A call that invites you to have broader horizons and a larger heart.” He said: “What I saw in his choice of 16 active cardinals was his emphasis on cardinals in poor countries and secondly cardinals who live in the world’s great cities. They’re the right priorities, frankly.”
Cardinal Nichols said the traditional description of a cardinal as a prince of the Church “is not one that occurs to Francis, and it’s not one I think of for myself.”
He said he had three priorities as Archbishop of Westminster: to be attentive to the poor, attentive to the world of business where wealth is created, and attentive to the parishes as “the basic unit of the Church where people live their faith.”
He said Pope Francis in his message to Davos recognised the importance of creative business for developing the wealth of the world, but which was understood as “service to the whole of humanity and not a self-service to business itself.”
Cardinal Nichols said his conversations with business leaders had showed him that “many are willing to admit that business around the world has lost trust, and the trust has to be rebuilt”.
“There are potential allies in the business world for the agenda of the Church”, he said, adding: “The perspective of shareholders is not wide enough for business to work with integrity. They have to look at the wider context in which wealth is created and who it serves.”
He said “the Holy See is building up its reputation as a protagonist for the poorest of the world” and that the trafficking conference was a sign of that.
THE UNITED NATIONS REPORT ON VATICAN AND ABUSE
Cardinal Nichols said the recent UN Report (see CV Comment here) seemed to have “an exclusive focus on the Catholic Church and to that extent was not satisfactory.” He said the report seemed to be wanting to identify Church with abuse in a way that was “profoundly misleading”. He said the report also had a very limited understanding of the nature of the Church, “seeing it as a worldwide corporation with a single chief officer.”
Cardinal Nichols added:
My first duties with regard to child protection lie within the legal structure of Great Britain. Criminal proceedings have to take place there first. If I were to act on the basis of canon law straight away I would be in the wrong; because I would be interfering with the proper process of justice in Great Britain. The sense that somehow the Holy See was somehow responsible for the handling of child abuse cases in Britain is totally flawed. It just isn’t so. We are accountable first of all under the criminal and civic law of Great Britain. Jurisdiction in a nation-state is not a matter of choice. Being a member of the Catholic Church is a matter of choice. And therefore the jurisdiction of the Church is not the same as the jurisdiction of the land. And that’s the misunderstanding. We are asked to report to the Holy See, but our primary duty is to cooperate with the police in the pursuit of criminal activity in our land. And that’s what we do: regularly, clearly, and we’ve done it with great clarity for at least the last 15 years. So from the point of view of England, I would say the UN report is 15 years out of date.
Following the Pope Emeritus’s surprise appearance at Saturday’s consistory, Cardinal Nichols said it would not be normal to have Pope Francis and Pope Benedict at ceremonies in the future, although “I wouldn’t be surprised if he came to the canonizations” of John XIII and John Paul II in April. “But his vocation is now to pray for the Church and live that life of prayerful seclusion.”
– ENDS –