Thoughts on the Claims of Synod Agendas and The Dangers they Hold
It’s popular for Catholic writers, even in normally orthodox publications, to talk about agendas when it comes to the upcoming synod on the family. People scrutinize the appointed and elected bishops to the synod and wonder aloud about the machinations of bishops who are not being faithful to Church teaching and plan to overturn Catholic moral teaching. Some (mind you, we’re talking orthodox publications here, not radical traditionalist sites) have even gone so far as to question whether the Pope agrees with their agendas?
I think those people and publications have lost sight of something important: The Church is not a man-made institution and the synod is not a political undertaking. What the synod is attempting to do is to look at the family and determine how to present the Church teaching in a time when the entire understanding of marriage and family have fallen into confusion.
Are there bishops involved who have expressed extremely dubious views on divorce/remarriage and “same sex marriage”? Yes, unfortunately. But what we forget is that in any Church council or synod, there have always been participants who have had dubious ideas. You can not only trace that back through all the Church Councils to Nicea I, but you can see it in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:1. Some members of the Church have the wrong ideas on what the Church is supposed to be, and the Church looks into the issue and determines how to be faithful to Our Lord in every age.
And that brings us to people looking at the Church as a human organization and the fears that the synod is going to push an agenda. See, when the Pope takes the final results of the synod and issues whatever teaching we are to follow, that is an action of the Ordinary Magisterium, which requires us to give our assent:
892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 236.
So, if we are obligated to give assent to the ordinary magisterium, and the teaching that the Pope brings forth out of the synod is part of the ordinary magisterium, we are obliged to give assent to that teaching. Therefore, for one to expect the final result of the synod will be acceptance of divorce/remarriage and “same sex marriage,” is to expect that the Church will bind us to accept error. But that expectation is to forget the promises of Christ in Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 28:20. The promises are that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church and that Our Lord will remain with His Church always. See, if the Church teaches error on faith and morals, and we are required to give assent to that error, then the gates of hell will have prevailed against the Church and Our Lord will not have always been with her.
That’s a very serious error. If Jesus was unwilling or unable to keep His promises, then He is not God, and our Christian faith is in vain. In such a case, the ultimate result of the synod is irrelevant because we would have been following an error for the past two thousand years.
However, if we have faith in Our Lord, Jesus Christ and believe that He keeps His promises, then let us have faith in Him here and not panic over the possible ways the synod could go wrong.
Thoughts on Annulment Concerns
There are two major themes in articles written that express concern over the Pope’s Motu Proprio over reforming the annulment process. One of them I believe to be a valid concern. The other I believe is not. The two concerns are:
- Dioceses need to have time to set up the framework to carry out the responsibilities handed to them in determining the validity of marriage and may need to petition Rome for a delay in implementation.
- This motu proprio is going to effectively lead to “Catholic Divorce” because the bishops will not be able to handle the change and will end up “rubber stamping” petitions.
I believe the first concern is valid. Setting up the framework to handle the reform of the annulment process can take time since not all dioceses can handle the new responsibilities with their current staffing. In such a case, it can be legitimate for bishops to request a delay in order to ensure that the framework is established so a just decision can be rendered—provided that this request is not an attempt to use bureaucracy to block implementation altogether.
However, I think the second concern is not valid because it acts on assumptions I believe faulty. It takes the view that dioceses lack the competence to take on the responsibility and will not be able to correct any deficiencies that currently exist.
Sure, changing the level of responsibility from the current authority to the recognition of the role the bishops can take will result in some turmoil to begin with. But that kind of turmoil can be expected in any restructuring—religious or secular. The term abusus non tollit usum (abuse does not take away use) comes to mind. Bad implementation and even corruption can abuse any reform, but the misuse is not the use and the existence of misuse by itself is not grounds for eliminating legitimate use.
God remains watching over His Church even in the worst of times—which this time certainly is not. Yes individual bishops and even the bishops of entire regions have gone astray in the past, but those events have not changed the official teaching of the Church. Instead, those bishops have simply exceeded their authority and done wrong. We need to remember that whatever the failings of individuals in the magisterium, that has never led to teaching error by the magisterium.
So when we pray for the Church, let us do so with faith that God looks out for her and will not let her lead us astray.