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A Few Thoughts about the Synod Relatio & Debates

My head is spinning about some of the things that are being seriously argued at the Vatican’s Synod on the Family. I am already concerned that a Commission was established to look at streamlining the process for annulments even prior to the start of the Synod. It seems to me that if such were a concern then the bishops would then request the Holy See to do so. Will the documents which will be formulated reflect the majority view and Catholic tradition or will there be attempts to steal the show for the minority progressives?

synod-of-bishops

What is it about this new Synod document that has critics saying it signals a revolutionary shift in favor of same-sex couples? It is acknowledged that this “relatio” urges clergy to make “fraternal space” for homosexuals. But what does it say? We read:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Are we reading the same document? All I see are questions. Hopefully they are not rhetorical. Do we eject gay brothers and sisters from our churches? No we do not. Can we invite them forward for Holy Communion? Yes, provided that they maintain chaste and celibate lives. Can we affirm or value their sexual orientation? No, we cannot do so. Such would devalue the true meaning of marriage and human sexuality. We cannot move away from the assessment of disorientation or that same-sex carnality is mortal sin.

As a so-called case-in-point of past intolerance, the news contrasted this development with the story of Barb Webb who was fired from a Catholic school when she and her partner announced her pregnancy. Similarly, her partner, Kristen Moore was asked to resign from her post as a music director at a Catholic parish. The secular media glossed entirely over the moral issues that extend beyond same sex unions, like the freezing of embryos, donated semen and IVF technologies. All these elements are reckoned as moral evils and sinful.

This relatio is being interpreted precisely as Cardinal Kasper would suggest. The doctrinal truth is eclipsed, if it remains, for the sake of a pastoral provision or slackening of discipline. The same reasoning he uses for divorced and remarried couples is being applied to active homosexuals. I find this reckoning very disturbing. Discipline can be distinguished from doctrine but discipline is always at the service of doctrine. There are doctrinal elements that cannot be ignored. It is contradictory to say that gay acts are sinful and then to value, in any way, homosexuality. It is contradictory to say that marriage is a lifelong institution and that divorce is a sin, while inviting couples to receive Holy Communion who are living in adultery. The truths of Scripture are clear and we must always be at the service of the truth on every level: doctrinally, canonically and pastorally.

The document recognizes that same-sex couples live lives where they render “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” Critics are saying that this is a crack in the door that may one day lead to full acceptance. I would say that this is not the case. The statement is one that reflects the immediate horizontal human condition but says nothing about the vertical supernatural dimension. It is a mere statement of fact that these couples support each other in their day-to-day lives. However, this does not mean that they are in right standing before God. Mortal sin is still mortal sin. I suspect that there are many “nice and pleasant” people who make good neighbors and yet will suffer damnation and hellfire. We are not saved by simply being nice but by being faithful and obedient to God. The Church can relax certain disciplines but she cannot change divine positive law. My fear is that tolerant language might enable or encourage more sinners to remain within their sins. The Church must be a place for saving truth and grace. She should never be an enabler for sinful lifestyles or blasphemous acts like receiving the Eucharist while ill-disposed or in mortal sin. This document does NOT acknowledge the “holiness” of such couples as was suggested in the Huffington Post article by Antonia Blumberg (1/13/14). It simply asks if we might tolerate with passivity and silence the situation of people living in sin.

I cannot buy this application of any “law of graduality.” No matter how slow might be the movement to holiness; the Church should never compromise on the fullness of truth. Confessors can exhibit great understanding and compassion for married couples who use artificial contraception, with the hope that they will eventually come around to the Church’s understanding of human dignity and the full value of the marital act. It is here that I can well appreciate “graduality.” However, this is not the same as cohabitating, adulterous and same-sex couples. They have no right to a shared bed.  In their regard, where there is neither contrition nor amendment of life, absolution must be withheld. Similarly, while they should attend weekly Sunday Mass, they should abstain from taking Holy Communion. The priest will not usually embarrass people in public but he fails his sacerdotal charge if he does not challenge such couples in private.

This law or better yet, theory of graduality was very much the rationale for the “open table” of Anglicanism. It was hoped that this welcoming to receive the Eucharist would draw others into greater unity. Contrastingly, the “closed table” of Catholicism sees Holy Communion as an expression of an ecclesial unity that is already realized. This is representative of the ancient tradition wherein heretics and grievous sinners were denied the sacrament or even excommunicated. The Church’s censure of interdict would also illustrate this posture. One had to be properly disposed and graced to receive the sacrament. Anything less was judged as blasphemous and scandalous. One should not pretend there is a union that is not truly there. This resonates with the current debate about divorced and remarried couples as well as with active homosexuals. We cannot allow a false compassion to tolerate normalization for the sake of public acceptance while the pastoral accommodation is deceptive to the doctrinal truth and the spiritual state of souls before God. We can move away from using pejorative biblical terms like “sodomites” and “adulterers,” but the underlying reality will remain the same. Does this really serve the summons to repent and believe?

If we change the discipline for those in serious sin and the intrinsically disordered, would we not logically have to open up Holy Communion to others (particularly Christians) who might be in ignorance of the full ecclesial reality but who live moral lives? It is a real can of worms and I would prefer to leave it closed. But that is my opinion.

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6 Responses

  1. LIFE SITE News: Cardinal Burke says statement from Pope Francis defending Catholic teaching is ‘long overdue’

    In a candid interview Monday, Cardinal Raymond Burke voiced the concerns of many of his brothers in the Synod hall and lay Catholic activists throughout the world that the public presentation of the Synod has been manipulated by the organizers in the General Secretariat.

    He strongly criticized yesterday’s Relatio post disceptationem, or “report after the debate,” which the Catholic lay group Voice of the Family had called a “betrayal,” saying it proposes views that “faithful shepherds … cannot accept,” and betrays an approach that is “not of the Church.” He called on Pope Francis to issue a statement defending Catholic teaching.

    “In my judgment, such a statement is long overdue,” he told Catholic World Report’s Carl Olsen. “The debate on these questions has been going forward now for almost nine months, especially in the secular media but also through the speeches and interviews of Cardinal Walter Kasper and others who support his position.”

    “The faithful and their good shepherds are looking to the Vicar of Christ for the confirmation of the Catholic faith and practice regarding marriage which is the first cell of the life of the Church,” he added.

    The relatio, he said, proposes views that many Synod fathers “cannot accept,” and that they “as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept.”

    The document, among its most controversial propositions, asks whether “accepting and valuing [homosexuals’] sexual orientation” could align with Catholic doctrine; proposes allowing Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics on a “case-by-case basis”; and says pastors should emphasize the “positive aspects” of lifestyles the Church considers gravely sinful, including civil remarriage after divorce and premarital cohabitation.

    “Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable,” Burke told Olsen.

    “The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium. In a matter on which the Church has a very rich and clear teaching, it gives the impression of inventing a totally new, what one Synod Father called ‘revolutionary’, teaching on marriage and the family. It invokes repeatedly and in a confused manner principles which are not defined, for example, the law of graduality.”

    Burke lamented that the bishops’ interventions are not published, while the General Secretariat chose to publish the controversial relatio, which was intended as a merely provisional summary of the first week that is under review by the fathers this week.

    “All of the information regarding the Synod is controlled by the General Secretariat of the Synod which clearly has favored from the beginning the positions expressed in the Relatio post disceptationem of yesterday morning,” he said.

    “While the individual interventions of the Synod Fathers are not published, yesterday’s Relatio, which is merely a discussion document, was published immediately and, I am told, even broadcast live. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see the approach at work, which is certainly not of the Church.”

    While critics of Burke’s public interventions in the Synod debates have portrayed him as representing a fringe, he was elected by his brother bishops to moderate one of the three English-speaking small groups discussing the relatio this week.

  2. Archbishop William Lori: Catholic ‘Synod of Bishops’ to discuss family issues [Commentary]

    Last Monday, the extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss the “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” began in Rome. The synod represents a key moment in the papacy of Pope Francis and in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, which is looking for more effective ways of communicating what it believes and teaches about marriage and family life and of supporting those who wish to live according to church teaching and are struggling to do so in the face of contemporary challenges..

    Pope Francis took the unusual step of calling for the synod last year. One of only three such gatherings to occur since the 1960s, this month’s synod brings together 184 bishops from throughout the world. They, along with 13 Catholic couples and other lay members of the church, priests and women and men in consecrated life, are set to discuss a number of issues, including cohabitation before marriage, divorce, artificial birth control and the impact of social and economic pressures on the family.

    At the opening of the synod’s first session, Pope Francis urged participants to “speak fearlessly and listen humbly.” May the synod “be permeated by a new openness to the Spirit, by a method and a style of life and witness that guarantee unity in diversity, apostolicity in Catholicity,” he added.

    Why did Pope Francis call for such a meeting? At the time the synod was announced, the Pope said, “It is evident that the social and spiritual crisis of today’s world has an impact on family life and creates a situation of genuine pastoral urgency.” On the eve of the synod, the Pope spoke of the victims of an “individualistic culture that denatures and renders ephemeral the ties” that bind us as humans. “The Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity. The family continues to be the unparalleled school of humanity, an indispensable contribution to a society of justice and solidarity. And the deeper its roots, the farther out we are able to go, without getting lost or feeling estranged in any land.”

    The family, society’s most important social unit, is in crisis, threatened by any number of factors ranging from absentee parents to pornography and sexual addictions to social injustice, consumerism and poverty. “The family is almost the last welcoming human reality in a world determined near exclusively by finance and technology. A new culture of the family can be the starting point for a renewed human civilization,” he added.

    The family is also the most important structure through which the Catholic faith is transmitted from one generation to the next. And the role of the Catholic Church in helping to strengthen families is changing in an increasingly secular society where religion and God are under consistent threat of being marginalized. The synod seeks to develop clear pastoral guidelines for helping Catholics and individuals live their Catholic faith more fully.

    Many reports are likely to speculate on what will come of the synod, whose participants will begin a discussion of very complex issues in advance of next year’s synod, which is expected to yield recommendations to the Holy Father.

    In anticipation of this year’s extraordinary synod, the Vatican issued late last year a 39-point questionnaire or “preparatory document” to Catholic bishops throughout the world. It sought discussion and input from the world’s Catholics. Here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we shared the entire document via our website and invited people to comment. More than 4,000 people offered more than 60,000 comments and responses, which I submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for inclusion in the Conference’s report to the Vatican. Not surprisingly, the responses represented a range of opinions. However, it was clearly evident from the majority of responses that the church needs to improve how it communicates church teaching regarding issues related to marriages and families. The church also needs to be sure it is doing so in a spirit and tone that is consistent with the loving and pastoral example of Pope Francis.

    Baltimore Sun – October 12, 2014

  3. Christian Post: Not All Catholic Bishops Onboard With Positive Language Toward Same-Sex Couples in Controversial Synod Report; Needs ‘Right Degree of Prudence’

    U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told Catholic World Report that the midterm report “advances positions which many synod fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept. Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of synod fathers found it objectionable.”

  4. Catholic News Agency: LGBT activist group hopes to influence family synod

    The start of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family has triggered a wave of activism from well-funded LGBT activist groups in the U.S. who are targeting “outspoken” Catholic bishops in hopes of changing Catholic practice and moral doctrine.

    “Most important is the opportunity to create a precedent for change,” the Human Rights Campaign said in its pamphlet on the synod.

    The LGBT group has announced an activist effort targeting eight bishops in a pamphlet that labels them as “the best of the worst Catholic bishops across the country.”

    Its campaign will target bishops including Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, U.S. bishops’ conference president and Kentucky Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill.

    The effort aims to target bishops the activist group claims have been “most outspoken in their rejection of LGBT Catholics, their civil rights, and their rightful place in the church.” The effort will include rosary events and literature distributions in the bishops’ home cities.

  5. I will add your intentions to my prayers for Cardinal Burke and the African bishops who are (I assume) fighting for the Faith at the Synod.

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