Major Conference Planned on Divisions in Church, Papal Infallibility

The international meeting in Rome, one of the last wishes of the late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, is due to take place in April.

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One of the late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra’s last wishes — to have an international conference to examine ways to resolve the current crisis of division in the Church — will take place in Rome in early April, the Register has learned.

Details have yet to be officially released, but the conference is expected to explore the limits of papal infallibility as well as seek ways to overcome the division in the Church, exacerbated by what many see as pastoral and doctrinal confusion on key moral issues.

Sources who were close to Cardinal Caffarra up until his death last September said he had become deeply disillusioned by the crisis in the Church, especially the confusion and division caused by differing interpretations of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia on the issue of giving the Eucharist to Catholics engaging in sexual relations outside marriage, such as the divorced and civilly remarried and cohabiting couples.

The archbishop emeritus of Bologna was one of the four signatories of the dubia, five questions sent to the Pope in 2016 asking for clarification of the document to ascertain whether it was in continuity with the Church’s teaching and tradition, but to which the Pope has not responded.

Concerns have further increased lately after revelations that some Church scholars are using Amoris Laetitia to find ways to soften Humanae Vitae’s teaching that reaffirmed the Church’s proscription of contraception.

Cardinal Caffarra, who helped found the then-Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in 1982, was especially concerned by reports last year of possible attempts to re-read and revise Humanae Vitae. He once said the encyclical and the interest it provoked in the Church’s teaching on marriage and family had spurred him to devote all his energies to deepen and share the Church’s teaching on marriage, family and human procreation.

The upcoming conference is expected to also debate a related subject: the limits of papal power, amid concerns that Pope Francis is leading the Church in a direction that they consider to be a departure from the faith, continuity and tradition, and that he is doing so in an authoritarian fashion and without unanimous consent of bishops.

The news of the conference comes as the archdiocese of Braga in Portugal has become the latest to release guidelines on applying Amoris Laetitia. The norms stress the importance of six months of discernment leading to conversion, with a strong emphasis on conscience and “conjugal stability” of at least five years, before admittance to the sacraments. Critics, however, say it leaves the decision ultimately to the couple and is very similar to the Kasper proposal, which subsequently was rejected by the majority of bishops at the Synods on the Family.

At the same time, Catholics in Poland have launched a campaign directed towards the country’s bishops calling on them to “protect marriage and remain true to Christ” ahead of the publication of their guidelines on Amoris Laetitia, which are expected soon. 

Called Polonia Semper Fidelis, the campaign invites Catholics to put their names in support of an open letter to the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, in which they call on him to “confirm the teaching of the Church about both the indissolubility of marriage and non-admission of divorced and civilly remarried persons to Holy Communion.”

“We don’t want the interpretational confusion to spread across Poland,” the organizers say, according to the Polish Catholic website Pch24. “We want the Polish Shepherds of the Church to confirm the traditional teachings of the Church with regard to the indissolubility of marriage in an official document.”

They add that the faithful’s “strong voice can become a great support for the Polish bishops,” and show that what their bishops decide “can become a ‘spark’ which will make bishops in other countries confirm the traditional teachings of the Church.”

The Polish bishops, who took firm positions at the synods on the family in line with previous pastoral practice, reportedly planned to publish the guidelines last year, but delays have led to suspicions of internal divisions.

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Some readers have asked who is organizing the conference. Some respected Church figures and laity are involved who share the concerns of the late Cardinal Caffarra, but the organizers say they prefer to wait until the official announcement to announce more details.