Jul 3, 2017

Mercy must be applied by Church to families in difficult – leading theologian says ahead of major conference in Limerick next week

Mercy must be applied by Church to families in difficult – leading theologian says ahead of major conference in Limerick next week

Sunday 2 July 2017: The Church must apply ‘mercy’ to families, particularly those that find themselves in difficulty, including second unions, a leading theologian has said.

Speaking ahead of a major gathering in Limerick next week that will be attended by the cardinal chosen by Pope Francis to present Amoris Laetitia – the papacy’s letter on the ‘family’ – Rev Professor Eamonn Conway said that under Pope Francis, the Church will still hold onto ideals of what family should be but is very much, at the same time, reachuing out to those “on the margins”.

‘Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family’, which will be held at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick on July 13th, is the first major conference to be held as part of the build up to the World Meeting of Families next year in Ireland.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna - recognised as one of the Church hierarchy lead reformers – will be guest speaker at the conference. He was selected by Pope Francis to present Amoris Laetitia (the joy of love) following two Synods on the family, in 2014 and 2015, and is among the Pope’s closest confidants.

Prof Conway said Cardinal Schönborn’s attendance is hugely significant and he will give a deeper insight into how the Church under Pope Francis is changing in the context of the family.

“Pope Francis has said that marriage and the family is in crisis and that the ‘culture of the temporary’ is seeing many people give up on marriage when there is so much to fight for. So, in that context, the conference, and attendance of one of Pope Francis’ closely confidants at it, is incredibly timely, not least with the World Meeting of Families here next year.

“There is a very clear movement taking place under Pope Francis’ guidance.  I think the change or the development is that we really need to bring the concept of mercy.  Pope Francis is really challenging the Church and challenging us as Ministers; challenging us all to say how can we be more supportive of families, particularly those that are vulnerable and are fragile.

“I’m talking about people who find themselves in circumstances that they mightn’t have set out to, in some situations what we call irregular unions or second unions. How do we apply the concept of mercy while still holding to the ideal of how God wants us to be as family?  How do we reach out and touch the hearts of and be supportive as a community to those on the margins. I think we are getting new energy and new insight into how as Church we need to go about that.”

Speaking specifically of Cardinal Schönborn’s attendance at next week’s event, Rev Conway, a professor at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, said that he is not alone one of Europe’s leading theologians and among the Pope’s most trusted cardinals, but brings a particular experience of the complexities of family through his own circumstances.

“We’re really, really grateful that Cardinal Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, will be with us at our conference in Mary Immaculate. It’s really a great honour as he is in huge demand. He was chosen by Pope Francis actually to launch the Joy of Love, Amoris Letitia. And one of the interesting things about him, and he spoke about this at one of the synods, is that he himself comes from a broken family, as we would call it.  His parents divorced when he was quite young.  So he knows at a personal level, in a sense, the challenges that families can face and the challenges young people can face growing up in a family that is not necessarily the ideal circumstance.

“Over many years as chief pastor of the diocese of Vienna, he has worked hard to integrate and support and care for those in vulnerable situations, while also obviously trying to hold before people the ideal of the Church’s teaching on family life. So he is a very experienced pastor.”

To book a place at the conference, go to,  call 061 204507 or email The full conference costs €20 or €10 for the evening public lecture by