As usual, John Allen Jr over at Crux has a most interesting look at the opening of the synod, particularly the “opening salvo” of the relator general Cardinal Erdo.
In Edward Pentin’s ebook, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? (Which I imagine has been widely- read by the English-speaking bishops at the synod) Erdo was painted as perhaps overly accommodating of wishes from the synod commission organizers in softening his opening statement and changing things that caused him, according to Pentin, a great deal of angst.
By the time the midterm relatio came out, Cardinal Erdo openly distanced himself from its three paragraphs on homosexuality that led mainstream media to trumpet the Catholic Church had changed its teachings. He referred a journalist’s question about them to Archbishop Bruno Forte, saying the journalist should ask Forte because he was the author.
Well, from what Allen reports, Erdo is not bending this time around. He writes:
Not mincing any words, Erdő said the only case in which divorced and remarried believers could be readmitted to Communion is if they “practice continence through the strength of grace,” meaning they renounce any sexual relationship, and only then if allowing them to take Communion doesn’t “provoke scandal.”
“The integration of the divorced and remarried in the life of the ecclesial community can take many forms, [but it] is different from admission to the Eucharist,” he said.
Erdő seemed determined to tackle all the usual arguments advanced for relaxing the Communion ban, such as the so-called “law of graduality,” which holds that people in imperfect life situations can be on a path toward moral growth and should be encouraged rather than excluded.
“Between truth and falsehood, between good and bad, there is no graduality,” he said.
On the equally divisive question of whether the Church should be more positive about homosexuality and same-sex relationships, Erdő threw down another gauntlet.
“There is no basis for comparing or making analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s plan for matrimony and the family,” he said, quoting a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter also has an interesting round up of the days events, including Pope Francis’ preliminary address. He writes:
The Synod, the pope said, is not a parliament or a senate, but an “ecclesial expression” of a church “that walks together to read reality with eyes of faith and the heart of God.”
“It is the Church that questions itself on its fidelity to the deposit of the faith, so that it does not represent a museum to be looked at or only to be safeguarded, but a living spring from which the church drinks to quench thirst and illuminate the deposit of life,” the pontiff said of the Synod.
“The Synod is also a protected space where the Church goes through the action of the Holy Spirit,” said Francis.
“In the Synod, the Spirit speaks through the language of all people who allow themselves to be guided by God who always surprises, by God who reveals to the little ones that which he has hidden from the wise and intelligent,” he said.
You can find the Pope’s text here at The Catholic Herald. Be cautious of mainstream media accounts and read the actual texts!
Speaking of the mainstream media, here is Elisabetta Povoleda’s report in the New York Times. An excerpt:
Archbishop Bruno Forte, one of the synod’s secretaries, said that nonetheless, the synod would continue to search for pastoral responses to the challenges presented by modern family configurations.
“We must look at the doctrine of the church and see how we can be pastors for all these different situations, that’s really what’s at stake,” he said.
The goal of the meeting is to make the family central to pastoral care “in a moment when it is in crisis, with an increase in cohabitation and fewer marriages,” Archbishop Forte told reporters on Monday.
Archbishop Forte said the pope had encouraged the synod participants to “have the freedom to say what they wanted to,” encouraging debate.
“This synod did not meet to say nothing,” he said. Even if doctrine does not change, the church must find new ways to approach issues “to allow the church to keep abreast of the times.”
He added, “Situations change and the church can’t be insensitive to these challenges.”
The journalist who asked the famous question last year that prompted Erdo to name Archbishop Forte as the author of the paragraphs on homosexuality is none other than Michael Voris of Church Militant TV. Many people find his style abrasive and uncharitable in his daily Vortex briefings, but last year, his synod coverage was very different from his usual Church Militant fare.
He comes from a mainstream media broadcasting background and has excellent journalistic and broadcasting chops, regardless of whether you agree with his point of view or not. In other words, he knows what a story is and when other news outlets and journalists get bogged down on process, he zeroes in on the conflict, who is doing what and he is extremely fast out of the gate and articulate. So, speaking as a former television news and current affairs producer, I say he knows what he’s doing in the broadcast medium.
Today’s report after the synod’s first news conference is an example of a professional news hound’s wrap up that is very interesting and a reason why I, who seldom listens to his regular Vortex broadcasts, will be watching his synod coverage.
Like the New York Times reporter, his eye is still on Archbishop Forte.
Most observers think there is no chance doctrine will change, except for some who think this is the synod of doom that will usher in the great apostasy. If your mind runs to conspiracy theories and such, there is a lot out there.
Where the concern lies among more mainstream Catholic observers is how much of a gap might open up between doctrine and practice. There are legitimate fears (or hopes, depending on your point of view) a change in practice does result in a change in doctrine. And one American theologian Richard Gaillardetz has said it is precisely by changes in practice that doctrine does in fact change. Here’s an excerpt of a 2013 piece in the National Catholic Reporter in which Gaillardetz wrote:
Doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particular doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God’s transforming love. Doctrine changes when the church has leaders and teachers who are not afraid to take note of new contexts and emerging insights. It changes when the church has pastors who do what Francis has been insisting on for the last six months: Leave the security of your chanceries, rectories, parish offices and episcopal residences. Set aside the “small-minded rules” that keep you locked up and shielded from the world. Go meet the people where they are.
If Francis succeeds in creating a new generation of pastor-leaders who are willing to meet the people where they are, who are willing to create what he has called a “culture of encounter,” he will have created the necessary conditions for appropriate doctrinal change. That’s how it works.
As I have said before, there are two insurmountable difficulties the synod faces. Does it treat Jesus’ words concerning marriage and indissolubility and St. Paul’s words on the danger of receiving the Blessed Sacrament unworthily as small-minded rules and reinterpret them so that the latest sociological and scientific research trumps Revelation?
Does meeting people “where they’re at” become a historical sign of the times that empties Scripture of its content?
I don’t think this is what Pope Francis has in mind when he talks about the God of surprises. I hear what the Holy Father is saying when he calls for “emptying oneself of one’s own convictions and prejudices in order to listen to our brother bishops and fill ourselves with God.”
That kind of emptying is a contemplative practice that I am well familiar with.
But one can’t become so empty that one sets aside Revelation. The Catholic Church can’t do that and still call herself the Church founded on Jesus Christ and the Apostles.
I have found that truly emptying myself of my own convictions and pet theories and allowing God to fill me only makes Revelation come alive with supernatural power when, after a period of silence, and entering the “Cloud of Unknowing” I return to Scripture and find it alive with meaning. May that happen to the synod fathers over the next three weeks.