If there are any lingering doubts among Catholics that Francis is introducing a time of serious reform for the Catholic Church, or that next year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family should by welcomed by reform – minded Catholics, it’s worth noting the signs of panic this has evoked on the Catholic right.
“SBYVL’S BLOG” (which uses the tagline “conservative Catholicism”) says it plainly:.
This morning the Vatican announced that Pope Francis is calling the third “Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops”, which will convene a year from now, in order to discuss ““The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation”. ”Why should we panic?”, do you ask? The answer is simple. Pope Francis has made more heretical statements in the past few weeks than any pope in history.
Deacon Nick Donnelly, at Protect the Pope, is less excitable, but deeply troubled. He has a particular difficulty: as a matter of principle, he’s committed to supporting thepope no matter what – so how is he to respond rationally, when the pope’s words and actions are so clearly contrary to the deacon’s expectations?
The possibility, no matter how remote, that a pope will overturn the Church’s tradition founded on the actual words of Our Lord Jesus Christ is an absolutely appalling prospect for a number of reasons: such an unprecedented act in the history of the Church would threaten the communion of the Catholic Church; it would fundamentally undermine all other doctrines of the Church reducing them to being provisional human opinions that could be changed; and it would precipitate a crisis among Catholics about the authority of the papacy, including the infallibility of the successor of St Peter.
We could easily exult in the discomfort on the right – but it is more important and more useful to simply consider: just why are they so anxious about this synod? For years, we’ve been hearing complaints about the threats to the family, and the importance of real Catholics protecting marriage. We also know that it is typical of the right that they expect substantial deference and subservience to the appointed leaders of the Church, as guardians of the faith. So why, oh why, are they not rejoicing, instead of lamenting, that the most eminent leaders of the church are to gather in all solemnity, ton consider in earnest discussion, guided by solemn prayer and community worship, no doubt after extensive preparation during the intervening year, how best to respond to the pressing needs of the family, in modern circumstances?
I suspect that there are two issues here. The first, unspoken, fear is that what these guardians of the faith will conclude (as already indicated in the pre – publicity before the meeting of cardinal advisors that proposed the synod) is that the real threats to the family having nothing to do with gay marriage, and much more to do with problems of divorce, cohabitation without marriage – and that insensitive application of harsh rules in pastoral practice is driving many Catholic families away from the church altogether.
And that connects to the second problem on the right – a conflation of doctrine, and pastoral practice.. Deacon Nick Donnelly is concerned that in their deliberations, the assembled cardinals and senior bishops will exceed their powers and agree to overturn “the Church’s tradition founded on the actual words of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. He is presumably referring here specifically to doctrine on divorce – which is the only topic relevant to marriage and family that Jesus pronounced on. But there is absolutely no indication, anywhere, that the synod, or Pope Francis himself, will change doctrine in any way at all – on divorce, on gay marriage, or on anything else. What they will be considering, is how best to apply doctrine in pastoral practice.
Doctrine is clear, and consonant with Jesus; own teaching; divorce is wrong, and to be avoided. The reality however, is that in the real world, there are very many Catholics who have divorced, or have been divorced by their spouses. Some of these have remarried, and now in situations that cannot be simply undone. Jesus’ teaching also insists on inclusion for all. As a matter of pastoral practice, what the synod will be debating, is how best to balance the different strands of doctrine, as they apply to real family situations, in the modern world.
What they are likely to conclude, and that most threatens the orthotoxic Catholic right, is just what Pope Francis was saying as an important part of his general audience, Wednesday 9th October: that sensitive pastoral care must respect the realities of people’s lives. and respect the diversity of Catholic belief, without attempting to impose absolute uniformity and conformity in every element of family and sexual life. This will, inevitably, include significant emphasis on the importance and primacy of personal conscience, duly formed and informed by church teaching,and prayer
- Will the “Extraordinary Synod on the Family” Consider Queer Families? (queeringthechurch.com)
- Pope Francis, on Diversity and Harmony in the Catholic Orchestra. (queeringthechurch.com)
- Pope Francis calls extraordinary synod for October 2014 (catholicherald.co.uk)
- What Would You Say About Marriage and Family at the Upcoming Synod? (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- Astounded (thewildreed.blogspot.com)