Tuesday, October 6, 2015

World Synod on the Family 2015: The Magisterium Strikes Back

Pope Francis speaks with Cdl. Angelo Sodano.
(Source: catholicphilly.com.)
The 2015 World Synod on the Family has just opened, and already the conservatives are thumping the progressives 3 – 0.

The first point scored against the progressives was actually an own-goal (or safety, if you prefer American football metaphors). On Friday, Oct. 3, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith fired Msgr. Krzystof Charamsa (aka "Sideshow Chris"), who worked as an assistant secretary for the International Theological Commission, after an interview was released in Corriere della Sera revealing that the prelate is not only gay but in a relationship; he was dismissed because, Fr. Federico Lombardi said, his statement "aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure."

Why is this an own-goal? Because Sideshow Chris was fired just as a conference of LGBT Catholics was getting ready to convene in Rome to lobby the synod bishops. Before their own opening gavel could drop, they'd already gotten a message from the Vatican: "Sorry, the cafeteria's closed." Moreover, the revelation followed another conference in which celibate gay Catholics came out in support of the Church's sexual teachings. Finally, it was revealed that Sideshow Chris had double-placed "exclusive interviews" with two competing Polish weeklies, Wprost and Newsweek Polska; according to editor Bogusław Chrabota of Rzeczpospolita, "the main intention of Saturday's spectacle was the promotion of a forthcoming book by the priest." Journalists can forgive murder, terrorism, and pedophilia much easier than they can forgive a source who plays them ... at least without their consent.

Notes Artur Rosman (stealing a line from John Médaille), "Charamsa used God, gay rights, and the Polish press to organize a big paycheck for himself. This is how you should stage-manage your 'martyrdom.'" It's not hard to conclude that Sideshow Chris wasted his "fifteen minutes"; if it's not the dumbest activism fail of the year, so far it's certainly the one with the most widespread coverage.

If the firing of Sideshow Chris hadn't made clear that doctrinal change had been clearly removed from the table, Pope Francis' opening homily reinforced the point ... or at least fired a subtle warning shot. As is typical, his speech was full of warmth and humanity, quoting St. John Paul II: "Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time" (Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). However, he also reminded the assembled bishops that "The Church is called to carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions," and cited Benedict XVI: "Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love" (Caritas in Veritate, 3). His citation of both his immediate predecessors quietly underscores Francis' message that doctrinal fidelity and mercy aren't incompatible.

Cdl. Péter Erdő.
(Source: hellobeautiful.com.)
Of course, some people don't get it unless you spell it out bluntly. In his 7,000-word opening address yesterday morning, the relator general of the Synod, Cdl. Péter Erdő, according to John L. Allen, "seemed determined to close a series of doors that many people believed the last synod had left open — beginning with the controversial proposal of German Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion." +Erdő's address also took on contraception, abortion, and euthanasia; while he stressed that "unjust discrimination" against gays and lesbians is wrong, he also insisted that "that international organizations should not tie development assistance for poor nations to their recognition of same-sex marriage" (which I strongly condemn as geopolitical souperism).

Now, this is all not to say that the progressives won't fight back to keep the doors open; the aforementioned Cdl. Kasper is one of the attendees, and has begun referring to his opponents with the "F-word"  ("fundamentalists"), hardly a sign of patient reasoning and accommodation. And, of course, reactionary conspiracy theorists on the sidelines are already facing a bleak life after the apostasy of the Synod, such as the ever-hysterical Steve Skojec at OnePeterFive, Brendan Michael Dougherty, and (natch) Rorate Caeli. (J. Vennari at Catholic Family News, which printed the Allen post, makes the rather outrageous and unfounded accusation that Pope Francis "has repeatedly positioned himself in favor or revolutionary change — change that even a Pope has no authority to promote.")

A quick little aside to these Chicken Littles fussing about the incipient fall of the sky: The Synod is merely an advisory body. It has no authority to change, add, or subtract from the dogmas of the Church. Despite Vennari's bloviation about how the pope has "positioned" himself, Francis has yet to suggest that he even considers changing dogma or doctrine. These reactionary conspiracy-theorists have more faith in the "progressive pope" narrative frame of the mainstream media than they do in the Holy Spirit.

The most important point Cdl. Erdő brought up, Jimmy Akin relates, is that Pope St. John Paul II had already discussed and rejected prior proposals to give Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried who had not rectified their situation in one manner or another in the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio. Papa Wojtyła particularly rejected an appeal to the "law of gradualism", a rule which encourages step-by-step growth in sanctity, and on which Cdl. Kasper has based his arguments.

In any event, it promises to be a tumultuous couple of weeks of punches and counterpunches. The main thing is, this time, the conservatives are wide awake and ready for the battle. It also appears that they won't put up with the kind of backstage maneuvering that dominated last year's meeting.

But as I said last year, I don't think the Church can change the discipline much without crossing dogmatic barriers. And changing dogma is not an option ... not even for Pope Francis.