On Sunday evening Pope Benedict XVI gathered all of the bishops of France in the Hemicycle of Bernadette Hall and addressed the numerous issues facing the Church in France. In particular, Benedict defended the Church’s stance on divorce and remarriage, spoke of the Latin Mass and called for the continued defense of the family.
The meeting of Benedict XVI with the bishops of France on Sunday marked the first time that the bishops met with him as Pope. During the gathering, the Holy Father took full advantage of the chance to touch on the issues facing the Church in France.
The Latin Mass
The Church in France is one where the Motu Proprio issued by Benedict XVI in July of 2007 has had a notable impact, due to the size of the St. Pius X Society in France.
Calling liturgical worship the “supreme expression of priestly and episcopal life, just as it is of catechetical teaching," the Pope explained that he laid out the conditions for fulfilling this expression according to the missals of Blessed John XXIII (1962) and of Pope Paul VI (1970) in “Summorum Pontificum.”
Pope Benedict related that the Church has already seen “some fruits” and that he hopes that the divisions created by the changes and misunderstandings surrounding Vatican II are being healed.
“I am aware of your difficulties, but I do not doubt that, within a reasonable time, you can find solutions satisfactory for all, lest the seamless tunic of Christ be further torn. Everyone has a place in the Church. Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home, and never rejected," he said.
Urgent Care for the Family
The Pope then turned to another problem that “arises with particular urgency everywhere: the situation of the family."
Describing marriage and the family as “experiencing real turbulence,” the Holy Father pointed to laws in different countries that have “relativized” the nature of the family.
Benedict critiqued these countries for losing sight of the family as the “primordial cell of society,” and instead “seeking more to adapt to the mores and demands of particular individuals or groups, than to promote the common good of society.”
"The stable union of a man and a woman, ordered to building earthly happiness through the birth of children given by God, is no longer, in the minds of certain people, the reference point for conjugal commitment," he added.
Experience proves, the Pope stated, “that the family is the foundation on which the whole of society rests. Moreover, Christians know that the family is also the living cell of the Church. The more the family is steeped in the spirit and values of the Gospel, the more the Church herself will be enriched by them and the better she will fulfill her vocation."
Divorced and Remarried
The situation of Catholics who are divorced and remarried is a sticky issue throughout the Church and with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a lapsed Catholic, being divorced and remarried twice, the issue has gained a higher profile.
Pope Benedict began addressing the issue from the perspective of fidelity to the teachings of Christ. “The Church wishes to remain utterly faithful to the mandate entrusted to her by her Founder, her Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. She does not cease to repeat with him: "What God has joined together, let not man put asunder!" (Mt 19:6). The Church did not give herself this mission: she received it,” he noted.
The difficulties presented by this teaching did not go unmentioned by the Pope, who stressed that, “Families in difficulty must be supported, they must be helped to understand the greatness of marriage, and encouraged not to relativize God’s will and the laws of life which he has given us.”
“Those who are divorced and remarried,” Benedict XVI said, are in a “particularly painful situation.” Nevertheless, “the Church, which cannot oppose the will of Christ, firmly maintains the principle of the indissolubility of marriage, while surrounding with the greatest affection those men and women who, for a variety of reasons, fail to respect it.”
This means that any “initiatives aimed at blessing irregular unions cannot be admitted,” the Pontiff underscored.
France’s Christian Roots
One final area examined by the Holy Father was the issue of the relationship between the Church and State.
He asserted that the Christian roots of France will enable “each inhabitant of the country to come to a better understanding of his or her origin and destiny,” and that it is necessary to find a new path founded on France’s true identity.
The Pope also noted that, “Your president has intimated that this is possible."
Benedict XVI closed his address by highlighting the importance of working "towards a genuine spiritual liberation. “Man," he said, “is always in need of liberation from his fears and his sins. Man must ceaselessly learn or relearn that God is not his enemy, but his infinitely good Creator. Man needs to know that his life has a meaning, and that he is awaited, at the conclusion of his earthly sojourn, so as to share for ever in Christ's glory in heaven. Your mission is to bring the portion of the People of God entrusted to your care to recognize this glorious destiny."