The Vatican Synod on the Family is over and the conservatives have won

By Damian Thompson on The Spectator Screen-Shot-2015-10-24-at-19.50.00 This afternoon the Vatican Synod on the Family amended and approved the final document summing up three weeks of chaotic and sometimes poisonous debate – much of it focussing on whether divorced and remarried people should be allowed to receive communion.

The majority view of the Synod Fathers is that they don’t want the rules changed. They especially don’t want one rule to apply in, say, Germany and another in Tanzania. Pope Francis has just given a cautiously worded (but also, alas, rather waffly) address in which he acknowledges as much:

… we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.

Significantly, the Fathers didn’t back a ‘solution’ suggested by liberal cardinals, whereby divorced and remarried Catholics could consult their consciences and their confessors over whether they should follow the rules.

This was the liberal Plan B, hastily put together after it became clear at the beginning of the Synod that there was no chance that Cardinal Walter Kasper’s radical plan to scrap the communion ban would be voted through.

Please don’t ask me to explain Plan B in detail. Liberal journalists got very excited about this supposed ‘breakthrough’, associated with the German-speaking cardinals Marx and Schönborn, plus Archbishop Cupich of Chicago. But they didn’t manage to tell us how it would work in practice, given that the Synod Fathers are sticking by St John Paul II’s ruling that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can’t receive the sacrament and that’s that.

The final report of the Synod encourages pastors to ‘accompany’ divorced and remarried Catholics as they ‘discern’ their culpability – on a case-by-case basis, as not every divorced Catholic is equally guilty (very true, but a point already made by St John Paul). However, there’s no mention of readmitting them to communion. If I were a Catholic in this situation, I wouldn’t read the report as giving me any sort of permission to receive the sacrament, though I might – with a leap of the imagination assisted by liberal Catholic journalists – recognise the tiniest of steps in that direction.

As for homosexuality – no change at all. How could there be, when the most powerful African bishop, Cardinal Robert Sarah, described gay rights and ISIS as twin evils threatening Christendom? (I’m sick of pointing this out, but opposing homophobia in the Church is not high on Pope Francis’s agenda. Fighting gay marriage is.)

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that conservatives basically ‘won’ this synod – they fought successfully behind the scenes and in the debates to block changes to pastoral practice that (a) they believe go against the teaching of the very anti-divorce Jesus of Nazareth and (b) would have outraged the increasingly powerful churches of Africa.

The key moment was the revelation that 13 senior cardinals had written to Pope Francis telling him, in diplomatic language, that any softening on divorce and homosexuality would divide the Church along Protestant lines. Fr Raymond de Souza, writing in the Catholic Herald, has a theory about the importance of that letter in this fascinating post. He also has a stab at explaining the liberal’s Plan B (or maybe it was Plan C, since there seem to have been three pro-Kasper positions).

But the conservatives won’t regard this as a famous victory, and the liberals won’t despair. That’s because Francis, so far as we can tell, supports some form of pastoral change and he is, after all, the Pope.

He may choose to overrule the synod, or turn a blind eye to bishops bending the rules – which would be very dangerous for him, given the conservatism of the report published today. Then again, he lives dangerously.

But, whatever happens, this synod and the preparatory one that fell to pieces last year, will overshadow his pontificate. The naive hopes of divorced and gay Catholics have been raised and dashed. Clergy and active lay people are more divided today that at any time since the aftermath of the Vatican Council 50 years ago. Maybe the next pope will be able to heal these wounds; probably not.

[CP&S Comment: This is an optimistic appraisal of the Final Report coming from Damian Thompson. We heartily hope and pray he is correct that “the conservatives have won”, although not all traditional Catholic blogs and news outlets are seeing it in the same light. Already some of the announcements coming from the worldwide MSM are giving a very different message. Confusion continues to reign.

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5 Responses to The Vatican Synod on the Family is over and the conservatives have won

  1. ginnyfree says:

    “Plan B” How does it work? Well, I know of one instance and I will share it: I know of a gal who is a friend of a friend. She is a cradle Catholic who has been married three times and considers herself married to the hubby she has now legitimately and validly. They are in fact, civilly wed and had some sort of ceremony conducted by a Protestant minister. Don’t ask me the denomination, I have never asked her that question, but he and her current hubby aren’t Catholic. Only hubby number two is deceased. Only the first marriage was done in the Catholic Church in a Catholic way when they were young, but according to her it was a disaster of a marriage and he became an alcoholic and she became a screaming meanie of a wife, so they parted and then she met and married hubby number two without bothering about an annulment. It wasn’t “in the Church” her words, so no “need for an annulment,” her words again. He also was alcoholic and died. She met another man, to whom she is currently married and considers this the successful marriage. So successful, she’s returned to the Church a number of years ago, about ten, and she had a “talk” with the priest who absolved away all these marriages and that’s it! No annulment needed! She cried a bit in his office and felt very relieved afterwards. She’s been receiving Communion ever since, but her current hubby has yet to “convert,” though she hopes that someday he will. In the meantime, she’s gotten very involved at her parish and is even a “Eucharistic Minister” her words, not mine, and makes several regular Communion calls a week to some sick and elderly parishioners who cannot make it to Mass. After she explained all of this to me thinking I had no knowledge of the actual requirements regarding marriage, divorce and the Sacraments, she was happy to tell me how wonderful her priest is to help her out so much and how much she loves him and her new life as a divorced and remarried Catholic. So, I asked fiegning stupidity, “Are you ever going to get an annulment from your first husband?” She replied that I didn’t “get it.” There is NO ANNULMENT NEEDED BECAUSE HER PRIEST GAVE HER ABSOLUTION and that’s it. There ya go – their “Plan B” in its fullest. This kind of “reconciliation” has been going on for years. There are priests who do this sort of misdeed every day. It was my original understanding that some Bishops being aware of this practice among their priests, hoped that some legitimacy could be given them for all of this via the synodal process. Kasper and those like him are their cheerleaders. They know what they are doing isn’t allowed, yet they continue doing so. They will continue to do so, and some may even pretend to have received approval for this shoddy mercy from the few paragraphs of the Synod documents that speak of a process of discernment in the internal forum, i.e. the Confessional. It really isn’t there but there is enough ambiguity to twist the words to their liking while others can see a bit clearer that its meaning is to give An Act of Spiritual Communion as Penance in such situations while explaining authentic teaching in each instance and encouraging fuller participation in all the other aspects of Church life. At least that’s how I’m reading it. Wow. I’ve said too much. I apologize. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  2. Michael says:

    There’s a very good assessment of the Relatio Finalis and of the Synod overall by George Weigel over at the Catholic Herald – he provides quite a hopeful interpretation of the concluding document, noting that it includes a lot of positive things that were notable by their (apparent) absence from the synodal discussions (e.g.; the blessed gift of children and the part they play in the family), but also draws attention to the many faultlines still extant in the Church, many of which were given fuller exposure by the Synod itself:

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2015/10/24/letters-from-the-synod-special-edition-october-24/

    Also, the post by Fr. de Souza that Damian Thompson links to above is very good, and describes well the sort of atmosphere that has existed for too long (i.e.; that rooted in, amongst other things, a faulty understanding of conscience) and allowed the sort of situations described by Ginny above to occur:

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2015/10/23/the-final-question-facing-the-synod-fathers/

    Finally, although it was broadcast only an hour after the final document was released (and that only in Italian), this discussion with Raymond Arroyo, Robert Royal and Fr. Gerald Murray at EWTN provides a really good asssessment of what the Synod has and hasn’t achieved, as well as some of the abiding problems that it has highlighted in the Church:

  3. Gertrude says:

    I would suggest that it is far from over. There will be a period of relative calm until Pope Francis produces his Exhortation next year. He is Pope. He will have his way.

  4. johnhenrycn says:

    “He is Pope. He will have his way.”

    Quite. We may as well just lie back and think of Rome while he does so.

  5. ginnyfree says:

    Thanks for the link Michael. The video was informative. Here’s another place to get informed: http://www.synodwatch.com/?gclid=CIPMopbE3sgCFYQRHwod3YMCaw God bless. Ginnyfree.

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