The atrocious script for the "Ordinary" Synod | Rev. D. Vincent Twomey SVD | CWR
The "Instrumentum Laboris" for the Synod is marred by serious weaknesses regarding the sacraments and morality
The Instrumentum Laboris, or working paper, for next month's synod has all the hallmarks of the product of a committee. It is also tiresomely moralistic in tone. Apart from an occasional nod in the direction of Africa and Asia, the text mostly reflects the cultural and social situation of the Church in the Western world, including America north and south. The document is, at best, theologically thin.
Before looking at the documents two main weaknesses, some of its strengths should be noted. It does give due attention to preparation for marriage and accompaniment for married couples, as well as some understanding of the difficulties faced by many couples (paragraphs 94-7). The attempt to redefine marriage in favour of same-sex unions is also unequivocally rejected (91, 130, 132, 138). Pro-life issues are unambiguously mentioned (140-1).
Also included is a short description of today's bio-ethical challenge (34), that is, assisted artificial reproduction. The description is however morally neutral apart from noting the "profound effect" they are having "in relationships, in society and in the judicial system". There seems to be a vague allusion in paragraph 134 to the development of alternatives to IVF based on natural family planning, but it is ambiguous. More important is the rejection of the underlying mentality that sees the child not as a value in itself but as a means to achieving one's own desires (138).
One hopes the synod will develop these themes, given the wide use of IVF in the Western world, its impact on generations to come and the widespread ignorance, even among bishops and priests, of the Church's authoritative moral evaluation of these practices.
The working paper's theology of the sacraments is one of its two main weaknesses. It stresses the continuity between natural marriage, as given in creation, and the sacrament of marriage (39) which is true. But here the newness of the Christian sacrament is reduced to some vague fullness of natural marriage, suggesting it is merely a matter of degree. There is no mention of the radical transformation in our relationship to the Triune God caused by baptism, making us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The text reduces baptism to introducing the baptised into the Church community through the domestic Church (whatever that might mean).
The text also misunderstands the famous passage in Vatican IIs Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (22) which says that Christ fully reveals man to man himself. (This was the key to St John Paul IIs anthropology). In the working paper the fullness of the sacrament seems to have been reduced to Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner's controversial notion of Christianity as making explicit what is otherwise implicit (40).
The paragraphs on the sacrament taken from the last Synod's Final Report and now incorporated into the working paper (46, 47, 54, 64) are somewhat more theologically precise (apart from paragraph 64, which curiously refers to the sacrament as enriching a young couples "prospects of love"). But these sections seem to have had no influence on the Working Paper's main recommendations. The latter take their cue from the German theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper's contentious notion of the sacrament as a higher or fuller degree of what is already present in nature.
The working paper bizarrely applies a Patristic idea of "seeds of the Word" present in non-Christian wisdom traditions to cohabitation and civil unions among Catholics.