The sky is not falling … yet.
Hat tip to Simcha Fisher for her calm and reasoned analysis. I suspect there are others, but my FB newsfeed has become a repository of nuclear material and I don’t have a HazMat suit handy.
Should we all be freaking? Let’s start with the fact that the goal of the report is to “outlin[e] the main questions highlighted over the past week,” as Vatican Radio aptly described it. It’s not a Magisterial pronouncement. It’s not supposed to be a doctrinal statement. It doesn’t present the results and recommendations of a deliberative process. It’s more akin to the minutes of a free-wheeling board meeting, minus any actual resolutions.
The time to panic is when and if some of the stranger suggestions make it into the Extraordinary Synod’s final recommendations. And especially, of course, if the October 2015 Synod on the Family concurs with any recommendations that dilute, revise or jettison the immutable teachings of Jesus and the Church He founded.
Although nothing is “settled” by virtue of being in the interim report, one can sympathize with the distress some have expressed, arising solely from the week’s interventions (as they’ve been summarized by the Vatican press office). Far too much time seems to have been spent on how we need make more palatable our demanding teachings on the indissolubility of marriage, the ban on contraception, on cohabitation and homosexuality with large dollops of sweet talk. Following these teachings demands maturity, sacrificial love, humility, self-control, and faith, among other virtues, as well as the grace of the sacraments. Why pretend otherwise?
Why create the impression that among living arrangements that include sexual intimacy, there are categories of good, better and best?
What was missing from the interim report, which many hope to see in the final report, is – as noted by Mary Shivanandan, STD, Professor Emerita of Theology, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (at CUA) – a “vision of marriage and family powerful enough to draw people to conversion even gradually or to encourage those in difficulties to stay the course. Such a vision has been given by Pope St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio, his catechesis on the Theology of the Body and in the Letter to Families. Let us give them a chance.”
Two overarching concerns have been raised concerning the interim report.
First, it seems that the principle of “gradualness” is being proposed anew with respect to how the Church treats individuals who are not living in accord with Catholic teaching. Examples would be to permit reception of the Eucharist by contracepting couples who refuse being open to children or to divorced/remarried couples who will not live as brother and sister. In her article posted today – “What Does the Synod Mean by Gradualness?” – American auditor Alice Heinzen explains that the Synod Fathers are using the term as it was defined in Familiaris Consortio, no. 34. Her understanding is in line with an explanation offered yesterday by Dominican Father Dominic Legge, O.P. One cannot return to the sacraments by committing to gradually relinquish a gravely sinful practice. One must make a definitive renunciation of the sin, followed by the normal path of Christian life: a gradual ascent (with occasional backsliding, perhaps) toward the perfection to which we are called.
The second overarching concern arises from the language of the interim report: it’s simply fraught with ambiguities. A charitable reading allows one to reconcile most of the text with settled doctrine. Reading the worst possible interpretation into every ambiguous phrase can make your head explode, as one wag put it.
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