Cardinal Rodriguez on Mercy, Divorce, Homosexuality, The Unfree Free Market and the Limits of Vatican II

Last night at the Mission Church of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, President of Caritas Internationalis, and Head of the Pope’s Council of Cardinals (the so-called “Gang of Nine”) presented a major lecture on “The Meaning of Mercy.”

Responding to Pope Francis’ frequent call that at the heart of Christianity lies the call to show mercy, Rodriguez proposed that Catholics should imagine the church as “a Samaritan Church,” an institution which like the Good Samaritan chooses to “heal the wounds of those who are beaten, hurting and prostrated, those who have weakly fallen under the power of those who use violence.”


Such a concept, he argued, returns the church to its earliest foundations as “a Church that is close to people, incarnated and submerged in the existential history of man, turning their miseries into wealth and their weaknesses into their biggest strength.”

“The Church,” he said later, “is not here to judge, to condemn, to reproach or to reject anybody, but to embrace as in a home where love reigns for everyone who needs it. Following Jesus does not mean to participate in a triumphant entourage. It means to share his merciful love.”

In an intriguing take on Vatican II, Rodriguez proposed that the Council developed the externals of church like liturgy, lay participation, ecclesial structure—"institutional and functional changes.” But alone these changes “proved insufficient, superficial. Sometimes they created new problems and crises both unnecessary and deep,” even a “’schizophrenia’ in some Christians.”

By focusing on mercy, Rodriguez argued that today the church is entering into that “deep and global renovation” that it previously missed, a renovation of its fundamental motivations—“the ‘why’ of its organization and its action.” Pope Francis’ goal, he said, is to help this along “to the point where it becomes irreversible.”

The church, he suggested in a quote from Pope Francis, finds its fullest realization as a mother: “the joy of the Church is to give birth; the joy of the Church is to go out of herself to give life.” “Even if she is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart, everything’s fine, everything’s tidy," he went on, "But she lacks joy, she lacks peace, she becomes a disheartened Church, anxious, sad, a Church that seems more like a spinster than a mother, and this Church doesn’t work, it is a Church in a museum.”

In his wide ranging remarks, Rodriguez described the fall’s Synod on the Family as having been “like two Synods”—the “media Synod” outside the precinct, which showed a “perverse intention to confuse opinions, invent answers, imagine solutions and exaggerate positions of those of us gathered there;” and the meeting of the bishops, where “a charismatic, serene, cordial, filled-with-unction-and-faith synod was taking place.”

On the specifics of the Synod’s discussion on divorced and remarried Catholics, Rodriguez insisted that the question of the reception of Communion was “never essential.” The heart of the bishops’ conversation was instead about the feeling that no one wants “the realities of divorced and rebuilt families” to be “an impediment to live and participate in the abundant life of the Church; that the ‘sacramental communion’ is not the only way to vitally participate in the pastoral dynamic of the parish community.”

Quoting again the Pope, Rodriguez got a big laugh when he reminded the full house that we must be “careful not to turn the parish and episcopal offices into ‘customs’...’We are many times ‘controllers of faith’, instead of becoming ‘facilitators’.’”

A similar reaction ensued when the cardinal ventured from his prepared text to mention the Pope’s Christmas comments to the Curia. “It is good to refer to the last speech of the pope to the Roman Curia when he was denouncing some illnesses. Not only to the Curia, but also for each and every one of us....To have good health spiritually it is necessary to make a very good examination of conscience regarding I would say these defects we can have, or maybe sins.”

Prior to the evening talk Cardinal Rodriguez spent the day in San Jose speaking at various meetings with local clergy, a group of immigrant mothers and with Santa Clara students, whom he not only took questions from, but played piano for and then directed in song. The cardinal is a classically trained pianist and jazz saxophonist.

Much like Pope Francis, the cardinal showed throughout the day a remarkable freshness of spirit and thought. After his talk he spent an hour sitting before the gathered hundreds in a simple black suit, gentle and open in tone, a smile never far from his face.

Some of his most provocative comments, particularly with regard to the place of homosexuality in the church, but also capitalism, the plight of youth in Latin America and martyrdom came out in these post-talk interchanges. I’ll be posting transcripts of those moments over the next few days as text becomes available, along with links within this article. 

The full transcript of the talk, along with podcast and video versions, will be made available on Santa Clara’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics website.


Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga on the Situation in Latin America

Cardinal Rodriguez on the “Unfree Market”

Cardinal Rodriguez on Homosexuality and the Church

Cardinal Rodriguez: On The Need to Question Capitalism

Cardinal Rodriguez on Christian Martyrdom Today

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
3 years ago
The Cardinal certainly sounds like a good man, but "spinster"? Such a hurtful term.
Luigi Del Gaudio
3 years ago
Yes, "spinster", perhaps, a poor choice. How about, "stodgy bachelor"? I am not sure something new is happening here, rather, it is a matter of this openness to the poor, downtrodden and broken is just getting more of a re-emphasis now that we have Papa Francesco. I think prelates, many, are feeling freer to proclaim this "Gospel" that they've always held in their hearts and for whatever reason were timid about proclaiming. I will leave to others, and there will be others, who denounce previous popes in this analysis. Don't count me in that group, please.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla clash with military police in the Policarpo Paz Garcia neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 20, 2018. Following a disputed election marred by irregularities, incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the victor and will be inaugurated on Jan. 27. The opposition does not recognize Hernandez's victory and are protesting against the result. (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio)
“You will see many protests during his mandate...because Honduras hasn’t fixed its age-old problems of inequality, exclusion, poor educational and health system, corruption and impunity.”
Melissa VidaJanuary 23, 2018
I want to be able to serve the state better. I want to be able to serve more of the state.
Nathan SchneiderJanuary 23, 2018
Formed in 2011, The Oh Hellos' Christianity is one of their foundational inspirations, evident in lines like "the only God I should have loved."
Colleen DulleJanuary 23, 2018
People gather at a June 14 candlelight vigil in Manila, Philippines, in memory of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Philippine Catholic bishops called for vigilance against bullying, ostracism and harassment of gay people in the wake of the incident in which police said a lone gunman killed 49 people early June 12 at the club. (CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA)
“We are losing three generations of people, and we need to hear why,” said Bishop Mark O’Connell.
Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 23, 2018