Written by Damian Thompson for The Spectator:
Pope Francis yesterday gave an address to the profoundly divided Synod on the Family in which he confirmed his plans to decentralise the Catholic Church – giving local bishops’ conferences more freedom to work out their own solutions to the problems of divorce and homosexuality.
This is the nightmare of conservative Catholic cardinals, including – unsurprisingly – those in the Vatican. They thought they had a sufficient majority in the synod to stop the lifting of the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion, or any softening on the Church’s attitude to gay couples.
But in yesterday’s keynote speech, delivered as the synod enters its last week, Francis told them that the decentralisation will be imposed from above.
While deliberately referring to himself as ‘Bishop of Rome’, to underline his solidarity with local bishops everywhere (as opposed to the Roman Curia – i.e., ‘the Vatican’), he invoked the power of the Supreme Pontiff to overrule mere cardinals. ‘The synod journey culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called to speak authoritatively as the Pastor and Teacher of all Christians,’ he said. This is more authoritarian language than I can remember Benedict XVI using as pope. It means: I call the shots. In the end, you listen to me, not the other way around.
One statement in particular horrified the conservatives. Francis told them that ‘the sense of faith impedes the rigid separation between the Teaching Church and the Learning Church, because the flock possesses its own “sense” to discern the new roads that the Lord reveals to the church…’ Meaning? We shall have to wait until the Pope delivers a final response to the synod next year.
This is such a startling development that it deserves fuller analysis once the synod is over. I was going to say ‘once the dust has settled’, but I don’t expect any dust-settling in the foreseeable future – at least until after the next conclave, which lots of conservative Catholics want to happen as soon as possible.
Here’s why I think Francis’s decentralisation won’t work: