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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Misdirection in the Synodal Way

The Synodal Way is ushering demands from around the world for changes that would radically change the face of the Church, particularly in its ministries and basic values.  These issues include its attitude to women, LGBTI+ people, divorced and remarried, and single parents, most often mothers. Given scandals and charges of clericalism, there is also a growing outcry for the removal of compulsory priestly celibacy. Indeed, citing the issue of widespread abuse by clergy, critics are arguing that only changes along these lines can bring healing to those who have suffered at the hands of individual priests and the institution as a whole. Further, given the changing sensibilities of society, respondents say they want a dialogue that will legitimately consider both new forms of leadership and more effective or real inclusion.  It is asserted that this demands representation on both sides of the equation, among those in authority and to those who are the object of ministry. 

I do not believe this is entirely true. Rather, I think the issues of scandalous abuse and a lack of transparency are being hijacked to propel a liberal or revisionist agenda about ministry. However, echoing the Pope, the voices from the listening process genuinely urge a greater welcoming and inclusion in outreach, especially to those who feel neglected or rejected by the Church.  

Many among the critics are wondering whether such opinions will truly be aired at the October Synod of Bishops in 2023. The difficulty with such demands is that neither the Pope nor the bishops have the authority to change immutable doctrine revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Chief among the structural changes of leadership being demanded is the ordination of women to the priesthood.  Pope John Paul II has declared such as impossible. This definition has been confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI as an infallible statement.  We are locked into the pattern given us by Christ and the apostolic church.  While mandatory celibacy could change as a discipline, there are important doctrinal implications and many of us would argue that any such change would be detrimental to Catholic ministry. 

While many of us are sensitive to matters of inclusion, the question remains as to how far we can go in welcoming the LGBTI+ community and the divorced and remarried.  When the catechism speaks about homosexuality as disorientation, the LGBTI+ community gets angry.  When we speak about “loving the sinner but hating the sin,” the LGBTI+ community again gets angry.  When we urge celibate and chaste lifestyles for the LGBTI+ community, they became furious and accuse the Church of bigotry.  The Church’s refusal to bless same-sex unions has also brought allegations of prejudice and hate.  What is the Church to do?  The situation has gone way beyond churchmen turning a blind eye to what was commonly regarded as confused sexual identification and “deviant” activity. The LGBTI+ community today is demanding full regularization and acceptance. While once themselves the subject of intolerance, they are now just as demanding that Christians change their moral thinking about the subject of homosexual sin.  The issue of gender identity or dysphoria has further complicated this matter.  The whole issue of what constitutes maleness or femaleness has been called into question.  Legal or political legislation often rubberstamps what natural law would regard as intellectual fallacy.  The fads of modernity are given precedence over objective reality and biblical imperatives. 

Similarly, there is a clamoring for the divorced and remarried to be fully regularized despite the prohibition from Christ’s lips against divorce and adultery.  The Church has made the annulment process free and has a heightened awareness of the grounds that might invalidate a nuptial union.  But in truth, if one is truly married in the eyes of God, then no ecclesial process or pastoral accommodation will make any difference— sex outside of marriage (fornication) is wrong no matter whether it is according to nature as in heterosexual adultery or in contradiction as in homosexual acts.  The ministers of our faith can act with compassion toward these people but it would be a false love to excuse without comment what is essentially the matter of mortal sin.  The whole point of the Gospel is not to make people feel good but to save their souls.

Much is being made of the fact that the Synodal Way is opening the Church to the “sensus fidelium” of the laity.  However, this is not entirely true as many of the critics are estranged from the faith, not formed by either the Bible or the Catechism, rarely if ever worship at Mass and speak more for the world than the Church in their dissent.  It should be a “no brainer” that the laity who possess the true charism called the “sense of the faithful” are the ones who are faithful. This is not necessarily measured by any kind of majority rule or democratic vote.  Many may be baptized but are not well catechized and are Catholics in name only.  The faithful who can speak the truth to the universal Church are moved by the Holy Spirit to both holiness of life and to the truth.  They stand in agreement with “orthodox” bishops on matters of faith and morals.  They are the Catholics who challenge modernity and urge faithfulness in worship and discipleship.  As in the Arian crisis, they would even stand witness against bishops and priests that would corrupt the faith.   

When it comes to single parents, there is a genuine crisis brewing. No one would criticize the woman who is faithful to life and her child despite abandonment or the death of a spouse. But increasingly, children are being born outside of wedlock. What was once regarded as a scandalous problem is today thought of as a legitimate lifestyle decision.  Women use men to get pregnant or they engage in reproductive technologies to have children without any identifiable male parent.  Once conceived, the Church would always urge the protection of life; however, the issue remains problematical.  The ideal family includes a mother and a father.  Fathers are not a dispensable component in this equation.  A single person might adopt a child but couples should be preferred.  The Holy Father has been critical of priests who are hesitant to baptize children in such situations. I would concur with Pope Francis that a child should not suffer for a parent’s sin. Neither should we seek to embarrass the people who come to us. But I could understand why some priests only baptize children at Mass who have two married parents. Their practice is that others should be baptized outside of Mass so as not to cause scandal or to give approbation to bad behavior and to illegitimacy.