PopeWatch: Who Won?


Ross Douthat of the New York Times weighs in on the win loss scoreboard of the Synod:

Nobody, of course, because there weren’t two “sides” or camps or (heaven help us) factions or anything so nasty as all that. It was all a dialogue, a moment of encounter and discernment, an opening to the Holy Spirit that set the Roman Catholic Church free to be church in a new way for the third millennium. It was a beginning, an overture, the first chapter in a neverending story, the first step on a permanent journey, because we are all sojourners together. So nobody won, because really everybody won.

As Saint Athanasius would say, LOL. No, look, what actually happened is that conservatives won what was probably the closest thing to victory that they could have hoped for, given that 1) the pope was against them, and 2) the pope stacked the governing and writing committees and the voting ranks, and did I mention that 3) the pope was against them. (People who still argue that Pope Francis was studiously neutral, that he just wanted dialogue, or that his views are unknowable, need to sit down and read the tongue-lashing he gave to conservatives in his closing address — and contrast it with the much more evenhanded way he closed last fall’s synod, when conservative resistance to the synod’s intended direction was much more disorganized.) Which is to say they produced a document that used unfashionable words like “indissoluble” to talk about marriage, that mostly avoided the subject of homosexuality, and that offered a few dense, occasionally-ambiguous, slightly-impenetrable paragraphs on welcoming and accompanying divorced and remarried Catholics without offering either a path to communion absent an annulment or proposing to devolve that question to national bishops conferences, as the German bishops and the rest of the progressive caucus at the synod clearly wished.

So the journalists covering the synod document as a setback for the innovators (and, because he elevated them, the pontiff) are mostly correct, given their ambitions going in. But so, in a certain way, are the journalists covering it as a kind of cracked-door to innovation, because the conservatives didn’t have the votes or the power to keep every ambiguity at bay. The most straightforward reading of the synod text supports the first interpretation, for the reasons that (among others) George Weigel and Robert Royal lay out: There is no abrogation of the ancient ban on communion for the remarried, and plenty of phrasings that indicate that ban is still in force. But at the same time, as Royal also notes, the text is not as plain as the document it quotes, John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, and it spends so much time talking about discernment and individual cases that it seems to sometimes come “right up to the edge” of communion for the remarried, as Royal puts it, without “crossing over into it in so many words.”

Go here to read the rest.  I think a good way to look at this is to ask why was the Pope so angry about the outcome of the Synod?  Because I think that he realizes that if he simply allows Catholics in adulterous marriages to be given Communion by papal fiat he will quickly be facing a major schism.  He clearly wants to give Communion to Catholics in such marriages, but he wanted to lie pretend that the whole Church was in favor of this courtesy of the Synod.  Now if he acts, he will be seen by many Catholics as no longer the Vicar of Christ, but rather the leader of a faction within the Church wishing to impose a heretical agenda on the Church.  This why he is pushing the Synodal baloney in order to distance himself from what the Germans will be doing on Communion.  What will the Pope do next?  PopeWatch would not bet against a furious Pope ultimately deciding to risk the schism.  The Pope clearly does not tolerate opposition and acts on impulse and that is a dangerous combination for any leader.

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  1. I’m sure you already know all of this…
    Remarried Catholics already receive communion. I was completely shocked when I found out that one of my friends was a) remarried (I’m not sure why she even told me) and b) never bothered to get an annulment (she very recently got one and regrets waiting 25 years and 3 kids later-the youngest of whom is 18). In looking at her life from the outside, you see a “good” Catholic family, who goes to church every Sunday. Her husband of 25 years isn’t Catholic, so he doesn’t receive the Eucharist (and oddly enough, his annulment is taking longer than hers). She says that (somehow) in good conscience, she disagrees with the Church and her first marriage was abusive and lasted less than a year. I don’t agree with her at all. The bible says that the unworthy reception of the Eucharist is a grave sin. I’m glad that she is regretful and wishes that she had gotten an annulment 25+ years ago. It’s a shame that people don’t take the lead in teaching themselves. It’s a shame that she wasn’t willing to talk to a good priest 25+ years ago. But she says she was young and prideful, and thought she knew it all (isn’t that the case with all 20-somethings?).

    All I have heard during this entire synod process is: the church should do this, the Church should do that, pastors should do this, pastors should do that, catechesis needs to be better, evangelization, blah blah blah. Books, pamphlets, articles, publications, bibles and catechisms are out there, for anyone to buy, read and study. Goodness!! The Vatican Website is FREE!!! If I can go out there and teach myself, everyone can. People are lying to themselves when they say that the Church, bishops, priests, etc., need to be out there evangelizing and catechizing. Our parish has GREAT adult (and youth) faith formation programs. They email every single registered parishioner about the events. Do you know who goes to the events? It’s the same faithful, loyal to the magisterium, small group of people – every single time. The old adage, “you can bring a horse to water…” is true. As with anything in this life, if you want to better yourself, you need to take control of and be in charge of it yourself. You can’t wait around for other people to spoon-feed you. The people who do that are the ones who think the Church is too rigid, too old-fashioned, and too first-century. It’s quite tiresome.

  2. I think you’ve nailed it for the explanation of the Pope’s anger. He was really hoping–nay, expecting–that the packed Synod would toss him into that briar patch so he could “ratify” the decision to offer the Eucharist to the remarried. Shrug–what can you do? Collegiality and synodality mandate that I–no, we–take this step, in union with my brother bishops who have discerned the signs of the times through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Instead, they bounced him to about ten feet away from it. For my part, I think it pretty well authorizes it, since it doesn’t replicate the money language of Familiaris Consortio.

    But he’s going to have to run the rest of the way himself to get it done for sure–in contravention of all that high-sounding language about collegiality, et al. Hence the concluding rant.

  3. Actually, I don’t think the pope was under any pretension that communion for those in invalid marriages was going to get the blessing of the Synod, especially after all the bruhaha that took place beginning with last year’s Extraordinary Synod over the Kasper proposal. What I think the pope is angling for is Cupich-like bishops (which he will install in major dioceses in the world by the boatload if he has the chance) to allow it in their dioceses with the pope looking the other way. This will give him the “not changing doctrine” cover he will need. As for the more orthodox minded bishops, he will just bully them into silence with his trademark mean spirited rants about the need for “mercy”. It won’t be that hard since even our more orthodox leaning bishops are not all that courageous. In fact, the only prominent American bishop close to being worth anything is Cardinal Burke.

  4. Excellent points Donald. It’s all a case of what the liberals felt they could get away with. Obviously, they believe all this Catholic doctrine business is just a lot of nonsense and so very unfashionable in this day of serial marriages, same sex marriages, gender change and who knows what. So, very cleverly they made sure there were some cracks in the document to allow “genuine innovation” or what other name for what amounts to the devil getting his way. Now we will wait and see what Pope Francis in his impatience and frustration will do? What kind of new misguided acts of “mercy” and “pastoral guidance” can we expect from him? As Ross says, only God knows.

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