Children must be priority when marriages fail – top cardinal

Children must be priority when  marriages fail – top cardinal Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

One of the Pope’s closest advisers on the family has insisted that when dealing with marital breakdown, the Church must put the needs of children ahead of a simplistic application of rules.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn told The Irish Catholic that in the past the Church too often focused on sexual sins to the detriment of the wellbeing of abandoned spouses and the children of both valid and ‘irregular’ unions.

He underlined the fact that when a divorced Catholic enters a second union, there is a responsibility to care for all others affected by marital breakdown.


“It’s very often a matter of justice in the family crises,” said the cardinal, whose own parents divorced when he was in his teens, continuing, “what is due to the other, what is due to the children, what do they really need?”

The Austrian cardinal was in Ireland for a major conference in Limerick ahead of next year’s World Meeting of Families and to celebrate a Mass in Cork to mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of which he was General Editor.

His comments came against a background of heated debate within the Church since the publication last year of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ major document on marriage and the family, in which the Pope advised on how to help Catholics who have divorced and remarried back into Church life.

The Pope suggested that in certain circumstances, and with careful guidance, some such Catholics might be able to receive Communion.

This suggestion, building on Pope St John Paul’s 1981 acknowledgement that clergy must honestly face how there are distinctions between, for example, those Catholics who had civilly remarried after divorcing their spouse and those who had done so after being abandoned, has been highly controversial.

Last autumn, four cardinals sent the Pontiff a series of questions – termed dubia or ‘doubts’ – about issues they regard as problems in Amoris Laetitia. 

When Pope Francis did not answer these questions, the cardinals published them, and have since called for the Pope to respond to them and grant them an audience, with one cardinal even saying the Pope may need to be ‘corrected’.


Explaining that Amoris contains an ‘examination of conscience’ similar to a pastoral programme that has been used in the Archdiocese of Vienna for some years, the cardinal said these questions are the Church’s real programme to accompany divorced and remarried Catholics, reiterating that whatever happens the good of children must come first.

“The question of Communion can come after all this,” he added.

“And not only look on one’s own needs but on the needs of the others,” he said, continuing, “that’s the matter of justice, and therefore I think the Bible teaches us to be very attentive to justice.”

See conference report (‘The Pope is a Catholic’) and The Irish Catholic’s exclusive interview with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (Building a doctrine to speak to real human situations).