After the Synod, What's Next?
The Extraordinary Synod on the Family is over and its participants home from the wars. Some orthodox bishops are reportedly shell-shocked seeing how deeply their brothers dissent from Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Despite secrecy surrounding activities in the synod hall, controversy and contentious disagreement among the bishops spilled over, especially after the interim report, Relatio Post Disceptationem,[i] was released which the media saw before the bishops did.The media focused on three paragraphs (50, 51, and 52) addressing homosexuality which Fr. James Martin, S.J (no friend of orthodoxy) called a “stunning change in the way that the Catholic Church speaks about the LBGT community,” so much so that “veteran Vaticanologist John Thavis rightly called the document an ‘earthquake.’"[ii] Fr. Martin summed up with, “Clearly Pope Francis's call for openness at the beginning of the Synod has allowed the bishops to listen carefully, to speak their minds and to be open to new ways of thinking.”[iii] In view of Fr. Martin’s approval of dissent (He’s an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Nuns on the Bus.) his idea of “new ways of thinking” no doubt includes replacing doctrine with fuzzy feelings.
Another point of concern over the interim Relatio was a semantic shift in use of the term gradualism from the gradual growth of a person in holiness to a gradual acceptance of doctrine -- receiving Communion meanwhile in an objective state of mortal sin. St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle illustrates the true meaning of gradualism, while dissenters calling for full participation in Church life by those who reject Church teaching illustrate the second. Pope Saint John Paul II specifically rejected this false meaning of gradualism in his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, when he wrote, “Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions. They cannot…look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future; they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. ‘And so what is known as the ‘law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of the precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.”[iv]
The interim Relatio, mentioned gradualism in several paragraphs including this disturbing statement:
, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.[v]
It is hard to believe that this would not become a “general possibility” with resultant loss of a sense of sin as occurred with contraception because of the mass uncorrected dissent (much of it from clerics) following Humanae Vitae. Let your (unformed) conscience be your guide took precedence over unchanging doctrine.
The final report of the Synod, Relatio Synodi,[vi] was a marked improvement over the interim report. Discussion of gradualism disappeared altogether. By order of Pope Francis himself, however, the Relatio included three paragraphs which did not receive the required 2/3rd vote of the Synod Fathers, namely 52 and 53 on divorced and remarried individuals and 55 on homosexuality. In an unprecedented move the pope instructed that each paragraph be voted on individually and the vote tally be included in the final report. Every paragraph received a majority vote including the three controversial ones.
So what can we expect between now and the Ordinary Synod next year? That’s easy to predict – confusion -- with dissenters in the Church continuing to push for “reform” to established doctrines (which will never happen). Just recall the aftermath of Vatican II. Despite the fact that the Council did not mandate or even recommend such changes, overnight we saw: Latin disappear, the priest facing the people, the tabernacle stripped from the sanctuary and even the main body of the church, Communion in the hand, disappearance of Gregorian Chant despite the Council giving it “pride of place,” introduction of butterfly vestments and banal pop tunes celebrating the people, abandonment of Marian devotion, weird decorations and bizarre practices like sand in the holy water fonts during Lent, clericalization of the laity, etc. etc. These abuses, none of which Vatican II called for, saturated most dioceses.
I lived through the confusion and well remember the CFM (Christian Family Movement) convention with The Giving Tree theme where priests offered Mass wearing stoles over civilian clothes (not even clerics) and banners with Shel Silverstein’s drawings decoratied the hall. I remember the home Masses where priests invited couples to take Communion in the hand and then communicate each other or invest each other in stoles as the sign of our “priesthood” to one another. Despite memorizing the Baltimore Catechism as a child, I entered fully into the “changing Church” like a lemming, which is why I see the Synod aftermath as so potentially dangerous to the faith of the average poorly catechized people in the pew, especially the young.
Just days before abdicating the papacy, Pope Benedict addressed the clergy of Rome reflecting on Vatican II:
“[T]here was the Council of the Fathers – the true Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council…through the media. So the Council that immediately, effectively, got thorough to the people was that of the media, not that of the Fathers…the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council….The media saw the Council as a political struggle…for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious…the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world. There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power… the power of the people, the laity…. Naturally [the media] saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to be favoured…. “We know that this Council of the media was accessible to all…and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy…and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself…the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surel…became the …true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force. And it is our task, especiall …on the basis of this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed. Let us hope that the Lord will assist us. I myself, secluded in prayer, will always be with you and together let us go forward with the Lord in the certainty that the Lord will conquer.”[vii]
While I agree that there was a “virtual Council” of the media, the New York Times and the Washington Post had absolutely no power to change a single thing in the Church. They could not introduce a single abuse. It was bishops and clergy who enthusiastically embraced the tyranny of the virtual Council and imposed its disasters on the Church. And looking at the tally of votes from the Synod Fathers, especially on the controversial issues, can we expect a repeat performance? It seems likely.
Among the leaders of the virtual Synod (which lacks the teaching authority of an ecumenical council, but can still influence the perceptions of the faithful) are the German Cardinals Walter Kasper and Reinhard Marx. Kasper’s deceit, well exposed during the Synod, was evident long before the Synod began. In 1993 he and fellow German Bishop Karl Lehman issued a pastoral letter allowing those in invalid marriages to receive Communion.[viii] This is the way heretics operate: if they disagree with doctrine they simply ignore it. As for Cardinal Marx, the National Catholic Reporter covered an interview he gave to the German weekly Die Zeit where he outlined the dissenters’ blueprint for the next year:
"’The doors are open -- wider than they have ever been since the Second Vatican Council. The synod debates were just a starting point. Francis wants to get things moving, to push processes forward. The real work is about to begin.’ The fact that the two hot-button issues -- Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and a more positive, open approach to homosexuality -- that were discussed at the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family failed to get a two-thirds majority should not be seen as a setback, he said. ‘Anyone who comes to that conclusion has not had their eye on what has been going on in our church over the past one and a half years,’ Marx said. ‘Up to now, these two issues have been absolutely non-negotiable. Although they had failed to get the two-thirds majority, the majority of the synod fathers had nevertheless voted in their favor….They are still part of the text,’ Marx continued. ‘I especially asked the pope about that, and the pope said he wanted all the points published together with all the voting results. He wanted everyone in the church to see where we stood. No, this pope has pushed the doors open and the voting results at the end of the synod will not change that.’”[ix]
So established doctrine is an open question? Exactly what purpose was served by encouraging that interpretation of the Synod? Remember when John Paul II declared women’s ordination a closed subject because the Church has no power to change God’s law? Clerics like Kasper and Marx believe doctrine can always change, not only in development, like Pope Pius X encouraged daily Communion, but in terms of its essence. As Kasper says,
With the aid of their allies in chanceries around the world dissenters are in full court press. Pope Francis hardly finished his closing address when the National Catholic Reporter said he is “asking us to take sides.”[xi] Columnist Brendan Butler, from the dissent group, We are Church Ireland, said this about the pope’s statement regarding traditionalists and progressives in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Overall, I think that the pope’s harshest criticism, judging by his use of language, is reserved for the traditionalist attitude. Referring to wounds and the pouring of oil and wine on wounds contextualizes the [groups]. The traditionalist is like the priest or Levi (sic) passing by the wounded man on the road to Jericho because they are caught up and closed in on themselves. The progressive is like the Samaritan who stops to tend the wounded man.”[xii] Ah, yes, the dissenter’s perennial meme about the merciless, pharisaical traditionalist, i.e. any Catholic who upholds doctrine and won’t subscribe to the “I’m okay, you’re okay” anything goes agenda. Expect this attack on the mean-spirited orthodox to be hammered home at every opportunity by the progressive Catholic media including America, U.S. Catholic, the Reporter, St. Anthony Messenger,[xiii] and many diocesan papers.
Aiding and abetting is a cast of Catholic dissent groups. Last summer over a hundred formed a coalition, Catholic Church Reform, Inc., to lobby the Synod. They began with letters then held an alternate synod in Rome during the bishops’ meeting. Their post-synodal plans for the coming year include surveys, regional meetings and lobbying for change to Church doctrine on women’s ordination, birth control, gender issues, Communion for those in invalid marriages, etc. They also want to change Church discipline to approve optional celibacy and lay election of bishops. The interim report as well as the final vote tally encouraged their hopes as seen by Rene Reid’s October 19th post on CCRI’s blog . Note how she falls into the fallacy of the false alternative when she talks about choosing between “unchangeable doctrine or compassion” as if they are mutually exclusive:
[At Mass today] the Gospel was about Jesus being put to the test, asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. Whether he said yes or no he would fall into a trap. Wisely, he said Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. I couldn’t help but feel that this is the same dilemma that Francis faces with the Synod Fathers: unchangeable doctrine or compassion regarding families. Wisely, he called upon the Bishops to use this time between Synods to find a middle ground between doctrine and the lived reality of families in today’s world. Gerard O’Connell captured the essence of the Synod well in his article: Synod on the Family Closes No Doors; Absolute Majority is with Pope Francis [xiv]. Some of the key issues were only a few votes off from gaining the two-thirds majority. How doable is it over the course of the coming year for reformers to turn 104 votes into 120, thereby giving the needed support to give the divorced and remarried official access to the Eucharist? It seems possible.[xv]
Earth to Rene: No, it isn’t possible. The Synod has absolutely no authority to change doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage or the Eucharist. The Church is not a political institution where the majority rules, and, despite the muddled message of cardinals like Kasper, Marx, Erdo, and Wuerl, it is not simply Church discipline that bans those in mortally sinful situations from receiving Communion. But reality won’t keep Rene and her fellow travelers from doing whatever damage they can.
Whatever your state in life, work on the virtues of fidelity, modesty, and chastity. Pray the rosary every day with your family for the Synod (at least a decade). Other practical suggestions: organize a group to study Church documents on the family. Promote Church teaching on your blog or Facebook page. Write letters to your local bishop asking him to proclaim Humanae Vitae and other important documents on marriage and family. In your local community assist vulnerable families. Help crisis pregnancy centers. Take your children often to a nursing home where so many are lonely and abandoned. And offer all for the greater honor and glory of God. Finally, arm your loved ones with the truth. The dissenters can make a mess, but they can’t destroy the Church or damage anyone’s faith without a person’s cooperation. Don’t let dissenters seduce you into committing spiritual suicide because of their scandal. The family is worth defending! Arm yourself with love and truth and fight!
[i]Cardinal Peter Erdo, Relatio Post Disceptionem (unofficial translation), October 13, 2014.. http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/13/0751/03037.html.
[ii] Fr. James Martin, S.J. “A Stunning Change,” America Magazine, October 13, 2014. http://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/stunning-change
[iv] Pope John Paul II, The Moral Progress of Married People, Familiaris Consortio, #34, St. Paul Edition, pp. 55-57.
[v] Relatio Post Disceptionem, paragraph 47.
[vi]Synod of Bishops, Relatio Synodi, The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization. http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/18/0770/03044.html (no official English translation as of press time)
[vii]Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the clergy of Rome, February 14, 2013.
[viii] Jean Francois Delacroix, Cardinal Kaspter: “Thou Doth Protest Too Much,” Concilioa Vaticano Secuondo, October 17, 2014. http://www.conciliovaticanosecondo.it/documenti/cardinal-kasper-thou-doth-protest-too-much/
[ix] Christa Pongratz-Lippett, Cardinal Marx: Pope Francis has pushed open the doors of the church, National Catholic Reporter On-Line, October 28, 2014,
[xi] Brendan Butler, Francis is asking us to take sides. National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2014,. http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/francis-asking-us-take-sides
[xiii] See review at Catholic Culture which gives it a “danger” rating on fidelity. http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/reviews/view.cfm?recnum=163
[xiv] Gerard O’Connell, Synod on the Family Closes No Doors, America Magazine, October 18, 20114. http://americamagazine.org/content/dispatches/synod-family-closes-no-doors-absolute-majority-pope-francis
[xv] Rene Reid, Catholic Church Reform Inc., Saying Goodbye to Rome, blogpost of October 19, 2014. http://catholicchurchreform.com/blog/?p=264