How the Synod of 2015 Ignored the Real Problem, 50 Years in the Making | Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap. | HPR
It’s hard to believe now, but at the beginning of the year, Synod 2015 was predicted to be a possible game changer for the Church. According to various media reports, the Synod promised to be: “stormy,” “intense,” a time of “great expectations,” and (the ultimate, irresistible comparison), “the equivalent of the Super Bowl.”1 Instead—to continue the game analogy—it may be more accurate to say the Synod ended in a draw.
Yes, it did result in some direct exchanges, even challenges, and produced an acceptable document. The bishops who were so eager to raise the “red flag” questions about the irregularly married being able to receive communion, have returned to their cathedrals and universities, apparently satisfied that they were able to make their case. While they did not convince the majority of the bishops, they continued to voice words of dissent about the decisions of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.2 In other words, it appears that we’re back to business as usual.
It’s probably too much to ask that sophisticated, self-confident bishops, who feel secure in their theological positions would change their minds about anything. No, the real danger to the Faith is the likelihood that “ordinary” Catholics around the world are still confused about the truth when it comes to divorce, remarriage, and communion. If you doubt that this is the case, here’s a test: round up a small group of Catholics and ask them: “What was the main message of the Synod? What did the Synod finally say about Church teachings about the Eucharist, and Catholics who had divorced and remarried outside the Church?”
I think you’ll find that everybody believes exactly what they believed before the Synod—and that the Synod’s final document didn’t do a thing to change their “opinion.” That’s because the Synod failed to inspire. The Synod should have been a rousing defense of the Catholic faith. It should have strengthened Catholics, and focused their minds on the truths of the faith, so they could stand up and defend the Church’s teachings on faith and morals in the midst of a degenerate society—in fact, in a degenerate world. But most of all, the Synod should have resulted in strong, unambiguous, concrete action by the Pope and the bishops, aimed at solving the faith and moral divisions occurring within the Church. Yes, that’s right—within the Church.
The bishops knew this—at least, we can assume most of them did—but for some reason they drew back from engaging in the fight for truth. They sorely needed the famous reminder from St. John Paul II: “Be not afraid.”
Perhaps, fear is the real problem in the Catholic Church today. It certainly looks like that. There is a fear that the world will hate us. There is a fear of ridicule. There is a fear that to stand up against modern ideas will produce a backlash that cannot be contained. Fear is a powerful force, and when it’s combined with a pride that is rooted in the desire to be loved and accepted by the world, the result is that the Church appears to be powerless. (We know the Church isn’t truly powerless—“The gates of hell will not prevail” (Matt. 16:18)—but at this point in history, she is appearing that way to the world, and sadly, to many Catholics.)
This problem—fear, combined with a pride that seeks the love of the world—is as old as the human race. But when it invades the heart of the Church, it becomes like a cancer. It goes to the core of our Catholic faith. In other words, it’s unhealthy that so many bishops and pastors are worrying about winning approval from the world, and from each other, as if they were members of a stuffy country club. Whether it’s caused by fear, ambition, or “political correctness” doesn’t matter. It would be healthier if they would have a roll-up-the-sleeves, knock-down, drag-out fight about what they really believe.
Could it be that the desire to get the fight started, and to bring it out in the open, was what Pope Francis had in mind when he chose Cardinal Walter Kasper (a key radical) to give one of the initial talks at Synod 2015? It certainly seems to fit with Pope Francis’ advice to the young on July 25, 2013, at World Youth Day. He told them to go back to their dioceses, and make a “mess.” He said: “I want trouble in the dioceses.”3 Even though the official Vatican translation of the Pope’s words toned down his speech, everyone knows this Pope has come to stir things up.4
It’s my belief that, yes, the Holy Father is trying to breathe some fight into the Church by showcasing what we’re up against, as for example, by clearly showing the desire by some powerful bishops (like Cardinal Kasper) to transform the Church into the world’s “buddy.” The Holy Father’s tactics have caused many Catholics (I hear from them all the time) to think that this Pope is weak. I do not agree. I am persuaded that, in his own clever way, Pope Francis is drawing out all the opponents into the open, onto the battlefield. It’s as if he’s silently encouraging the Church: “It’s time to fight back!”
But fighting back takes strength, and right now the Church appears to be weak because fear, worldly ambition, and pride have resulted in a sickness of leadership called “dissent.” I believe the sickness of dissent can be traced to three very specific moments in history: when numbers of bishops, theologians and teachers decided to reject three Church documents. This rejection, on a worldwide scale since the mid-20th century, has resulted in a growing sickness in the Church, whose main symptom is a lack of will. This sickness has led to a widespread, institutionalized dissent which now has come out into the open, most recently in the events surrounding Synod 2015.
I would like to explore, in detail, the effects of dissent from these three core documents. They are: