Spinning the Synod | Carl E. Olson | CWR Editorial
Here are five misleading claims and skewed statements about the upcoming Synod of Bishops
Here’s a word that hasn’t been used much in recent discussions about the approaching Battle of the Cardin—er, the Synod of Bishops, taking place October 5-19 in Rome: evangelization. Which is curious, since the official title, or theme, for the extraordinary general assembly is “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. To the contrary, it is safe to say that most people—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—think the Synod is going to be primarily about divorced Catholics, remarried Catholics, and the reception of Holy Communion by Catholics who currently live in “canonically irregular situations” (that is, are divorced and remarried).
Almost from the day the Synod was announced there has been a steady, even unrelenting, emphasis by a large number of commentators on the matter of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. It didn’t take long for “mercy” to be equated with somehow relaxing (whatever that means) or even changing the Church’s teaching on the matters. Pope Francis, interviewed on July 28, 2013, while returning from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, was asked: “Holy Father, during this visit too, you have frequently spoken of mercy. With regard to the reception of the sacraments by the divorced and remarried, is there the possibility of a change in the Church’s discipline? That these sacraments might be an opportunity to bring these people closer, rather than a barrier dividing them from the other faithful?” The Holy Father, in responding, did not address the apparent assumption that mercy automatically corresponds with a change in Church teaching, but spoke of forgiveness, the motherhood of the Church, and the Orthodox practice of oikonomia—“they give a second chance, they allow it.” He also mentioned that his predecessor in Argentina, Cardinal Quarracino, “used to say that as far as he was concerned, half of all marriages are null.”
Then, in February of this year, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave an address to the extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals (February 20-21, 2014), that was soon published in English with additional material as The Gospel of the Family (Paulist, 2014). Kasper, in short, put forth arguments in favor of allowing remarried Catholics to receive Communion, something the German prelate has been pushing for since at least the early 1990s. His approach, on the more popular level, has been been to invoke “mercy” at every turn. For example, his September 15th essay, “The Message of Mercy”, published in America, refers to “mercy” and “merciful” nearly fifty times. And who, really, can be opposed to mercy? Well, according to Kasper, those who adhere to a “closed system” of doctrine and thus prefer “severity” over mercy. And the cardinal has not been shy about indicating that his position supposedly enjoys the full support of Francis, telling The Tablet this week that while he is not “the Pope’s theologian” (“that would be too arrogant”, he says), he has been told by Francis: “You are a man who discerns the spirit.”
There is much more to all of this (some of it mentioned below), but suffice to say that many in the secular media and progressive Catholic media have been presenting the Synod as a confrontation between reformist, merciful cardinals who enjoy the good graces of Francis and reactionary, even angry, cardinals who are obsessed with doctrine and power, caring little about the situation of ordinary Catholics. In addition, there are other simplistic and skewed contrasts being presented: between a Church ready to be relevant and adaptable to modern realities vs. a Church stuck in a rigorist, black-and-white past; a Church that is “pastoral” vs. a Church that is interested only in power and control; a Church that listens to the laity vs. a Church only concerned with what bishops think and say.
In the weeks to come, the spinning of the Synod—why it has been convened, what is seeks to accomplish, what it may or may not do—will be in full force. Here are five spins that are rotating at high speed and will likely be twirling about for some time to come, regardless of how inaccurate or misleading they are: