Monday, October 13, 2014

Fearing Pope Francis and the Synod

The reaction to the synod report and the Pope’s statement that “laws that don’t work are obsolete,” have put certain Catholics into panic mode and others into a false sense of rejoicing depending on their ideology. Ironically, conservative and liberal Catholics aren’t even on opposite sides. They simply have opposite reactions to a shared view. That assumption is that Pope Francis is a liberal Pope who is determined to change the teaching of the Church.

The “Who Am I To Judge” Quote

This hearkens back to 2013 when the Pope was, unfortunately, quoted out of context when he said, “Who am I to judge?"

Did ANYBODY read it in context?

Let’s be clear here. The Pope didn’t say it in a sense of moral indifference about the moral teachings of the Church. That’s a media fabrication. The proper context was a press conference on July 28th 2013 (if you’ve never read the whole thing in context, here is the official Vatican transcript). The Pope was asked a question by journalist Ilze Scamparini:

I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?

So, right off the bat, we see that the Pope was not asked about changing doctrine. He was asked about the discovery of an allegedly notorious past of a newly appointed member of the Vatican Bank. Was the Pope going to fire him? Was their a clique of homosexuals in the Vatican?

The Pope’s response, in context, was:

About Monsignor Ricca: I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation. And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged. We did not find anything of that. This is the response. But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that. But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything. This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ... wait a moment, how does it say it ... it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. Thank you so much for asking this question. Many thanks.

The Pope is talking of a person who has repented of a sin, not of the unrepentant. When God forgives a sin, we cannot continue to hold the past against the sinner. What’s more, earlier in the same interview, we had this exchange:

Patricia Zorzan:
Speaking on behalf of the Brazilians: society has changed, young people have changed, and in Brazil we have seen a great many young people. You did not speak about abortion, about same-sex marriage. In Brazil a law has been approved which widens the right to abortion and permits marriage between people of the same sex. Why did you not speak about this?

Pope Francis:
The Church has already spoken quite clearly on this. It was unnecessary to return to it, just as I didn’t speak about cheating, lying, or other matters on which the Church has a clear teaching!

Patricia Zorzan:
But the young are interested in this ...

Pope Francis:
Yes, though it wasn’t necessary to speak of it, but rather of the positive things that open up the path to young people. Isn’t that right! Besides, young people know perfectly well what the Church’s position is.

Patricia Zorzan:
What is Your Holiness’ position, if we may ask?

Pope Francis:
The position of the Church. I am a son of the Church.

 In other words, there is no way that anyone who was paying attention to the interview can think that the whole “who am I to judge” line was giving approval to homosexuality.

The Synod Relatio Post Disceptationem

I mean, seriously? It's NOT the disaster everyone thinks it is.

Once we recognize this exchange in context, it is impossible to think that Pope Francis favors a change on Church teaching in sexual morality—but rather he takes it as a given. What he calls for is studying how we are to deal with a world where a majority don’t even believe that they are doing wrong. There’s a lot of things accepted as “good” now that 40 years ago nobody would have dreamed of accepting. The Church needs to have a game plan in reaching out to all sinners.

When read in this context, with the intent of the synod, it becomes clear that the relatio is understood as the Church investigating how to bring them to Christ . . . whether they be the divorced and remarried, and the cohabiting. There is nothing listed in the document recommending changing doctrine. But we do see the document stating:

39.  All these situations have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy. With a view to this, the attractive testimony of authentic Christian families is important, as subjects for the evangelization of the family.

It’s pretty clear that the goal is not to tell such couples that it is ok to remain as they are.

Moreover, we need to realize that even though the relatio did deal with same sex couples, it did not “lump them together” with the irregular relationships of male-female couples. Indeed the relatio did say:

51.  The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

In other words, the document already has affirmed that the Church will not change her teaching on homosexuality. Like the “Who am I to judge?” comment, the allegation is another fabrication. Perhaps it comes from wishful/fearful thinking by people who do not understand the meaning and the structure of the Church. Perhaps it comes from agitators who think they can treat Church teaching as if it were a political platform. But it is simply false.

The thing that really struck my attention was the reference to the Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate (#2), concerning non-Christian religions. The passage of relevance is:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

This document recognized that these religions, even though not the true faith, had elements of the truth which can serve as a common point of reference to bring them to the full Truth of Christ.

This relatio from the first half of this synod makes a rational application of Nostra Aetate. Why not look for the “ray of truth” that comes from irregular relationships and use them as a way of pointing them to the full truth? That approach is not heretical or endangering souls. It is an approach of move them from a partial truth to the full truth. What people overlook is the fact that the relatio says nothing about approving of those people who have found themselves in opposition to God on account of their sins.

It is important to remember that this relatio is not a declaration of official Church teaching. It is a report on the first half of the extraordinary synod. It tells us of the issues discussed and gives us a sense of what might be discussed at the 2015 ordinary synod. We must remember that nobody has taught heresy or advocated sin here. It simply says, “We need to talk about these issues and establish the pastoral care for people in difficult situations to bring them over to Christ."


I truly believe the fear among certain Catholics concerning the synod is a fear of Pope Francis not being fit to carry out his office, and a failure to realize that the actions they fear coming into existence would be allowing the Church to formally teach error in a matter concerning salvation. Remember, if remarriage after divorce, cohabitation and same sex relationships are wrong, then the Church permitting them would be teaching them it was OK to do what was evil in the eyes of God. If the Church ever does that, then it’s meaningless to worry—because then the Catholic Church would never have been what she claimed to be. 

Because I do believe she is what she claims to be, I believe God will protect the Church from teaching error in the synod. Moreover, I do believe that Pope Francis is not some “idiot uncle” Pope. I believe he is wise and has a deep love for Christ and His Church, and is determined to be a faithful shepherd to the best of his ability. So I believe all the panic that exists among certain Catholic blogs is misplaced.

If we believe God is protecting His Church, we cannot assume from the fact that some people have a “wish list” incompatible with Christ’s teaching that they will have their way. 

No comments:

Post a Comment