Posted by MARK BRUMLEY on Tuesday Oct 21st, 2014 at 5:23 PM
COMMENTARY ON SYNOD ON THE FAMILY
Those expecting big changes in Catholic teaching in the final report of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family just encountered the “God of surprises,” to use Pope Francis’ expression. No big changes.
Of course, the interim report surprised people, too. Apparently, someone “adjusted” it to fit a certain approach to issues concerning homosexual persons, civilly remarried Catholics, and Communion and cohabitation. This approach wasn’t generally shared by the synod fathers, despite everyone’s desire to be inclusive and merciful. That made the report a misrepresentation. Surprise.
Media “spun” the story, essentially saying that the Catholic Church had “caved in,” to use George Weigel’s expression. The Church is changing her teaching, they said. The story was wrong. No surprise.
What surprised many was the bishops’ pushback. Many openly criticized the interim report. They began taking more responsibility for their own “messaging.” Even some of the so-called “progressive” voices severely qualified things:
Mercy, inclusivity and respect for human dignity doesn’t mean anything goes, many bishops noted. Human dignity isn’t a blank check to do as we please. Disapproving of certain things doesn’t mean we don’t know that people do other, praiseworthy things. Even bad actions sometimes have positive elements, which don’t, of course, make the bad things good. None of this needs to compromise Catholic teaching. We should praise faithful Catholic families. And so on.
Told by synod leadership that the bishops’ small-group reports wouldn’t be available to the public, the bishops balked. The small-group reports were published.
The final report of the synod aligns with Catholic teaching.
Some observers compared the synod’s discussion to Vatican II. Good comparison. The Roman Curial leadership at the Second Vatican Council wanted the bishops to “rubber stamp” the prepackaged documents. The bishops said, “No.” Similarly, some synod fathers tried to get a “rubber stamp” on a misrepresentative interim report. The bishops said, “No.”
The African bishops, who a few European participants seemed to want to marginalize, spoke out. Why shouldn’t their contributions to the universal Church be considered? The Pope added South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, one of the most outspoken critics of the interim report, to the final report’s writing team.
The synod upheld Catholic teaching but was eager to find new ways to present it. Call that groundbreaking if you want — it seems more like “Let’s do better.” The hot-button issues were there — holy Communion for civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitation and how to reach out to same-sex attracted people — but the final report addressed them in a more coherently Catholic way.
The evangelical thrust of Pope Francis (and his predecessors) permeated the final report. The Church should reach out to struggling families, not wait for them to come to her. What’s more, the Church is to cure wounds, not just bandage them and pretend they aren’t there. The Church must “meet people where they are” — going to the highways and byways. Yet we mustn’t “leave them where they are.”
Sounds like the New Evangelization….
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