The Synod on the Family: Curtain Up on Act II

Beatification Paul VIToday we experienced the ringing down of the curtain on Act I of the synodal process on the Family.  Pope Francis closed the Extraordinary Synod today with Mass in St. Peter’s Square and the beatification of Blessed Paul VI.

But the process has only just begun!  Perhaps the best road map to the future is found in the Pope’s speech on Francis at SynodSaturday closing the final work session of the Extraordinary Synod.  In fact, I believe that this beautiful speech deserves to be read in its entirety; you may find it in English translation here, and if you read Italian you can read it as the Pope delivered it, here.  It is spiritually rich, and it also gives us wonderful insights into the Holy Father’s dreams for the next steps in the process.

Act II, which has now begun, takes place over the next twelve months.  Act III will be Ordinary Synod on the Family to be held in October 2015.  Here’s how the Pope explained it in his speech:

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

US BishopsUsing the Synod’s Relatio, the various bishops’ conferences around the world will be discussing its contents and mapping out their specific courses of action for their dioceses.  For example, here in the United States, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will have it on their agenda next month at the Fall Meeting in Baltimore.  We can expect that individual diocesan bishops will then develop ways and means of encouraging further conversations within their own dioceses over the coming year.  Keep in mind, as the Pope says above, that the current Relatio is merely a starting point, a kind of rough draft, for the work that lies ahead.

Then, next October, Act III will begin as the Pope opens an Ordinary Synod (not an Extraordinary one such as just ended) on the Family.  At that time, more discussions will be held by the Synod Fathers, many of whom will be different bishops than the ones who attended this one, and a final document will be prepared for the Holy Father.  It can then be anticipated that the Pope will take all of these results and draft his own Apostolic Exhortation in which he charts the course ahead.

I think there are several important things to keep in mind.

1) To speak of the current Relatio as anything other than a working document is a mistake.  It does not constitute in any way “official teaching.”  Rather, it simply recounts, as the Pope says, the various elements which were discussed during this first stage of the process.  So, for people to be upset over what the document currently says, or doesn’t say, is very inappropriate and unnecessary.  The various topics for FUTURE work are all there; what final forms may come in the year remain to be seen.

2) This is why the Pope directed that even those three paragraphs which did not gain a 2/3 majority vote would still be printed in the text.  He also directed that the voting results be included so that everyone (and not just bishops!) could see how the voting went.

francis at synod 23) I would strongly recommend that people spend more time on the Pope’s speech at this point, because it gives the clearest indication of how HE is seeing things.  Consider just two tantalizing tidbits.

  • When the mid-point version of the Relatio was released last week, much attention was given to the language of “welcome” that used with regard to homosexuals, as well as the gifts that they bring to the Church.  In fact, some in the blogosphere complained about that translation of “welcome”.  The Italian verb used was “accogliere”.  According to Italians I’ve asked, the best English translation for that verb is “to welcome.”  Still, the English translation was later changed to “provide for” — clearly not an accurate translation.  Now look at the Pope’s speech from Saturday.  He’s not talking specifically about homosexual persons, but more generally, and he uses “accogliere” again.  He reminds the bishops that there first duty is to “feed your sheep, feed your sheep.”  He then tells them that they are to:

Seek to welcome ["accogliere"] – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome ["accogliere"]: [rather] go out and find them! ["Ho sbagliato, qui. Ho detto accogliere: andare a trovarle."]

I find it interesting that he takes the time here to use the very verb so many were fussing about earlier in the week: and then he plainly says that even as “welcoming” it doesn’t go far enough!  We’re not merely to welcome those who come to us who are lost: we are to go out and find them.

  • The Pope also reminds us that, as a Church, we are already to be open to all who seek.  In a particularly beautiful passage, he teaches:

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

So, however Act II and Act III develop over the next year, the vision of our Holy Father Francis is quite clear: the Church as “field hospital” for all in need is open to receive patients; in fact, we’re supposed to be out in the streets and the fields and the back alleys finding those in need.  Brother deacons, this message is particularly apt for us!  If the whole Church is a field hospital, we deacons should be the EMTs.

Stay tuned.  This is going to be quite a year ahead!  And, as the Pope requested, pray for him.  He has set us on a challenging course, but one that will, with God’s grace, bear much fruit.

Moon Over St. Peter's

Synod 2014: Lessons on the Process from Vatican II

Pope at SynodSo much hyperventilation!  Bishops fighting bishops!  “The press is out of control!”  “Translations are all messed up!”  “Release the information!”  “Don’t release the information!”  “This is bringing scandal to the world!”

After more than a week of living in the breathless world of exclamation points, it’s past time for everyone to just calm down.  In terms of the process, there is absolutely nothing new here.  This is how these things work, and we just need to take a deep breath (as I suggested yesterday) and exhale slowly.

During Vatican II, we saw analogous happenings.

  • The Roman Curia had announced that the working language for the Council would be Latin.  Therefore, the CardinalArchbishop of Los Angeles at the time, James McIntyre, offered to provide a simultaneous translation system for the Council. (Some sources maintain that the offer was made by Cardinal Cushing, but several bishop-participants later reported that it was McIntyre, with his Hollywood connections, who offered first.) Regardless, the offer was refused by the curia because the General Sessions of the Council were to be secret and there was concern that word would leak out. Did the sessions remain “secret”?  Of course not!
  • Vatican II Presser

    Vatican II Presser

    Many countries held daily press briefings, in addition to the official Vatican briefings.  For the United States, these were often held at the Pontifical North American College.  Other countries held frequent press briefings, just not on a daily basis.  Frequently these “pressers” contained information that was at odds with the official press offering, or they provided additional details.

  • Early on, the US bishops’ conference (then known as the National Catholic Welfare Conference), began assembling daily summaries of key events, interviews and interventions (speeches) from the day’s activities.  These were eventually put together as “Council Daybooks” and were published by the NCWC.  The Foreword gives some insight into the process.  I apologize in advance for the length of the quote, but read this in light of current events at the Synod,  I’ve highlighted certain interesting passages:

Council DaybookFrom various sources requests have come to the NCWC to gather as soon as possible into one volume whatever information is available covering the day-to-day proceedings of the Second Vatican Council.  One of the distinctive features of the present council in contrast to all preceding ones was the prompt reporting of each day’s activities, including a summary statement of each speech delivered in the aula of St. Peter’s.  The correspondents of the NCWC News Service had access to the official press releases each day by early afternoon, and were able to supplement the record by the discussions which took place at the meeting of the daily press panel.  The representatives of the various international news media, especially those from the United States, queried the “periti” or experts who had been present at the morning congregations of the council, and were in consequence able to fill in any lacunae which might have occurred and also to clear up any obscurities in the official releases.

The bishops of the United States had the benefit of receiving each evening or early the next morning a mimeographed copy of these reports.  It was the general, one might say even the unanimous judgment of the United States hierarchy that this was an invaluable service.  It enabled the bishops to review in substance the speeches or the interventions made each day, with more leisure to evaluate the various contributions made to the subject under debate. . . .

I would also point out that in interviews I conducted with several bishops who attended the sessions of the Council, they remarked that almost no Council Father from any country knew Latin sufficiently to follow the actual Latin interventions as they were being given.  The bishops noted that they knew Latin well enough to celebrate Mass and the sacraments, but not well enough to follow particular speeches in real time, especially when the Latin was spoken in such a variety of different accents from around the world!  Therefore, these daily working translations and summaries were invaluable.

  • Bishops disagreed frequently and in public on the matters under discussion.  This was helpful in sorting out the nuances of every position being taken.  It was unusual to see such things, but I don’t recall anyone being scandalized by it.  As I’ve blogged before, the almost violent disagreements that most of the world’s bishops had with the way Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani was running the Holy Office (the precursor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) were quite open and frank.  They were not unlike the public disagreements now seen between Cardinals Burke and Kasper.
  • John in TimeLong debates were held, often in public, over the meaning of specific words and passages in the the draft documents, and sometimes parts of those drafts were available to the public.  Robert Blair Kaiser, the Rome bureau chief for Time Magazine during the Council, recounts the many cocktail and dinner parties he and his wife hosted in their apartment for the Council Fathers and the periti.  He loves to tell of the conversations groups of bishops would have, debating and arguing over the text they were considering, and sometimes even going into a room and finding a group of them drafting a revised text.
  • The speeches at the Council were only the tip of the information iceberg.  For more bishop submitted their own interventions and emendations to the draft documents in written form, and so just listening to the speeches alone would never give the full story.  That would only be known sometimes days later, when all of the written interventions had been studied.
  • Just as now, people around the world could not get enough news about the Council.  The fact that the Council had been called specifically to “update” the Church (St. John XXIII’s aggiornamento) was exciting in itself!  How would they do this?  What would they do?  Writing from Rome, an American professor of Moral Theology shared his behind-the-scenes experiences with family and friends back home.  They encouraged him to submit similar accounts to the The New Yorker, and they became regular columns known as “Letters from Vatican City.”  To protect himself and his family, he wrote under the nom-de-plume “Xavier Rynne”.  For years the real identity of Xavier Rynne was as much an exciting mystery as the identity of “Deep Throat” would be years later during the Watergate scandal (Many people who knew him, however, had little trouble figuring it out: Fr. Francis X. Murphy used his middle name Xavier and his mother’s maiden name Rynne.) Many figures at the Council, particularly among the curia, were not amused by his writing, since he pulled no punches about the inner workings of what was going on.

There are countless other examples, but these make my point: RELAX, people!  This is all part of the process, warts and all.  We have the “benefit” today of instantaneous communication via electronic media to a level unknown during the Council, and we have the “benefit” of so many “experts” who really are not, except in their own minds.  Everyone has opinions; few have the facts.  And what is most important: this is only the beginning of the end of Act One of the overall synodal process initiated by Pope Francis.

“Pace, pace”: Peace, my sisters and brothers, peace!

“In medio stat virtus (et synodus)”: What if the OTHER side is correct?

santa-teresa-de-avila-12sept2012In honor of the great Saint Teresa, whom we remember today, and before reading what follows, take a deep breath.  Exhale s-l-o-w-l-y.  Repeat several times.

Now, given all of the extreme positions being taken by some people in response to Synod 2014’s Relatio post disceptationem, we should all be asking ourselves two questions:

1) Do I find myself agreeing with the extremes on either side?  Do you side with Muller/Burke or with Kasper?  Are you demonizing “the other side” as you define it?  Now, few people may answer that question directly, preferring to say, with St. Paul, “I stand with Christ.”  Honestly, though, every Christian will say that, won’t they, even when they take contradictory positions?

2) IF you find yourself on one of the extremes, I’m curious: what will you do if the “other” side (whichever that is) should become the preferred position taken by the Church?  What if the Church adopts positions which do not precisely correspond with your own?  What will you do?

As a followup to yesterday’s blog post (here), I just hope and pray that ALL of us can find the virtue that stands “in the middle.”  What is necessary now is a proper sense of reason and balance.  Aristotelian ethics, which would later influence St. Thomas Aquinas, held that every virtue is a balance between extremes: courage lies between cowardice and foolhardiness, for example.

Please, fellow Catholics, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and pray.  As a people of faith, we believe that the Holy Spirit is in charge; we should all act like it!

Holy Spirit


			

Earthquakes and Tremors: The “Relatio” in Context

Synod2014Yesterday, very early in the morning here in California, my cell phone alerted me to a new message.  My first reaction was to ignore it and go back to sleep, but curiosity won out.  This was when I found out about the just-released Relatio post disceptationem from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  As the Catholic blogosphere exploded into comments, analyses, cries of outrage, prayers of thanksgiving, “sighs, mourning and weeping” and then the inevitable calls for clarification, I thought I might blog something as well.  By the time I had the time to do so, however, I felt like I was standing in front of a fire hose shooting often conflicting information at full force onto a hot fire of feelings.  What could I possibly add to this maelstrom that could be helpful?

Context.  Every text has a context.

1) Keep the big picture in mind!  Remember that this Extraordinary Synod is only the first step in the process initiated by Pope Francis.  This Synod’s purpose is to study, discuss, debate, and question issues related to contemporary family life, and then to frame the questions to be studied, discussed, debated and questioned by the whole church throughout the coming year.  The results of the year-long process will then become the subject of the Ordinary Synod which is scheduled for October 2015.  More about that later.

Synod2) This relatio is a work-in-progress.  It is not a final document of any standing whatsoever.  It is first a status report, summarizing the conversations held thus far at the Synod.  Those conversations, of course, have been remarkable.  Following the Pope’s opening address in which he asked the participants to speak freely and boldly, they have done so, and it is thrilling to read the results of those conversations thus far.  Second, the relatio is a draft document which is intended to be revised, corrected, amended, and re-written over the next several days.  The final version of the document will be presented to Pope Francis later in the week as the Extraordinary Synod draws to a close.  Third, it appears that the hope of the Synod Fathers (the bishops together with Pope Francis) is that the final document will serve as a guide to the discussions, debates, listening sessions, research and conversations that they hope will happen over the coming year throughout every Diocese.  That is why the questions which are incorporated into the relatio are so important; it is easy to see that these are intended to be asked by every Catholic, lay and ordained, over the next year.  Then, in October 2015, the Ordinary Synod will take up the questions again, aided and informed by the work of this year of discernment throughout the entire Church.  It is, I believe, at that time that we will see certain questions and issues being addressed in more definitive form, both in terms of a final report from the Ordinary Synod and also from the papal magisterium in the form of an Apostolic Constitution or Apostolic Exhortation.  In addition, should changes be desired to the current Code of Canon Law, it is possible that Pope Francis might announce those at that time as well, although he might also choose to give the results of the Ordinary Synod to the Commission he has already appointed to study the canons related to annulments, so that the Synod’s work can inform their work.

SynodThurs23) Be prepared for unpopular changes to the current text.  Since this is a working document, synodal bishops who feel their points of view are not adequately presented will push to change that, and it may appear like a rollback of some of the ideas now being applauded by so many.  This should not be seen as discouraging OR encouraging: it will be an attempt to clarify and, in the end, reflect the complexity of the issues which remain.  It’s the way bishops tend to work.  You can see this in the press briefing offered this morning, in which Cardinal Napier of South Africa complained that the current text did not adequately describe all the positions being taken by the bishops.  He also expressed a reasonable concern that — because of the great explosion of media coverage on the relatio – bishops may now feel they are locked into the current text because any attempt to revise it will be misunderstood.  He’s right, I think: any changes now are going to be looked at very warily by people on all sides of the issues.  Still, the normal process of making revisions to a working document should be followed.

4) Keep an eye on the official synod bulletins and clarifications.  This will add additional context to the process.  John Thavis, veteran journalist on Vatican matters, reported this morning:

Today’s synod bulletin summarizes the reaction among synod participants during a two-hour debate yesterday. On one hand, it said, there was acclaim for the way the document managed to accurately reflect the speeches at the assembly and its general theme of “welcoming” as a key to evangelization. The synod should have the “watchful gaze of the pastor who devotes his life for his sheep, without a priori judgment,” was how the Vatican summarized the favorable reviews.

As for the objections, they were many – although it is hard to say how much support each criticism has among the nearly 200 bishops present.

The official Bulletin lists a number of the objections to the text.  They include everything from wanting a more complete treatment of traditional families to a better treatment of societies which practice polygamy.  It may be expected that the final form of the document presented to Pope Francis at the end of the week will certainly incorporate some of these items.

Empty Tomb5) Remember the distinction between doctrine and dogma.  Doctrines are the teachings of the Church; dogmas are doctrines that we believe to be part of God’s revealed truth.  Doctrines can and do develop over time; dogmas do not, although the way we attempt to express them can change as our human understanding of them deepens.  The church can have a doctrine regarding, for example, the lending of money at interest.  At one time, the Church taught that it was immoral to do this under any circumstances, fighting against the practice of usury (This is why, for example, the Christians in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” had to go to Shylock for a loan: it was illegal to do so from another Christian).  Clearly this is a teaching which has changed over time, as the context changed.  A dogma, on the other hand, would include our teaching on the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit.  General talk that we often read now concerning the Synod involves “changing church doctrine”.  Some are saying, “We can’t do that because they come from God!”  That would be correct if we’re talking about dogma, and even then the words we use can still be developed, even while the dogma itself remains unchanged.  Plus, are we talking about dogmas in every case here?

Television coverage of Vatican II

Television coverage of Vatican II

6) The Synodal Process in Light of the Second Vatican Council.  Many people have noted that the synodal process (by which I mean the entire process of preparation for this Extraordinary Synod, the Synod itself, with its working documents, then the “intersession” between the Extraordinary Synod and the Ordinary Synod next year, and its documentary results) has a tone reminiscent of the Second Vatican Council.  I would agree that there are certainly many similarities.  A popular pope who calls together bishops of the Church to discuss areas of concern, a group of bishops and others who express horror and concern that “timeless truths” risk being discarded and that the ecclesial sky is falling, other groups who predict wholesale changes to teaching as well as pastoral practice, the world’s media pouncing on every press release, statement and bulleting: ALL of these things were present during the Council.  One of the photographs I often use in teaching about the Council shows the bishops in Council in St. Peter’s Basilica, with a television camera right in the middle of it.  The entire world, still reeling from world wars, economic collapse, living under a nuclear threat and a not-so-Cold War, wanted desperately to hear Good News from the Catholic bishops of the world.

vatII-4The Council proceeded in stages, too, just like this synodal process.  There was an “antepreparatory phase” in which input was solicitied from bishops and others around the world.  There was a “preparatory phase” in which the nearly 9,000 items received were considered and placed in some kind of order, and seventy draft documents were prepared — all before the Council opened.  Then came the Council, held in the Fall months over four years, from 1962-1965.  Not only were these four sessions important: so too were the intersessions — the time between the sessions — in which much of the work continued, bishops discussed matters at home with their pastors and people, research was conducted, and preparations were made for the coming Fall Session.

While synods have been a long standing tradition in the 2000 years of church history, the Council Fathers envisioned a renewed kind of synodal process.  The nearly 3000 bishops at the Council found that the collegial work they were doing in Council was of great value, as they learned about the pastoral needs and responses of their brother bishops around the world.  How could this collegial process be extended in the future, without having to go through the expense and time to call ALL of the world’s bishops together?  Might there be a way to gather a smaller, but representative group of bishops together with the Pope to discuss specific issues of concern.  And the contemporary synodal process was born.  This was understood as a way to extend the work of the Council into the future.  There have been many synods since the Council, but none has captured the imagination of the world like the current event.  Many bishops have complained over the years that synods have not been the source of creative pastoral responses that the Council Fathers had intended; perhaps the biggest change with THIS Synod is that there is a renewed appreciation that these bishops, representing their brothers, and in full communion with the Holy Father, will be able to recommend and even to effect changes in pastoral practice in a way not done before.

There is also a “conciliar feel” to the process itself: the preparation process for this Extraordinary Synod (including the questions sent out from the Synod office, requesting wide dissemination as a way to prepare for the Synod), the fact that there are two synodal events (I do not want to refer to them as “Sessions” such as we use for General Councils of the Church): the Extraordinary Synod this year and the Ordinary Synod next year, with the period in between the Synods to be used for further research, study and development, much like the conciliar “intersessions.”

Nonetheless, while many of us get a kind of “conciliar feel” from the current synodal process, it would be wrong to treat this like a Council.  It is NOT a General (sometimes called an “Ecumencial” (world wide)) Council of the Church.  Some have suggested that perhaps the time is right to hold another General Council, that issues such as those related to the family are too important to be left to a synodal process.  Perhaps this is true, and perhaps this could actually be a recommendation of the Ordinary Synod next year: that the Holy Father consider doing just that — although I doubt that will happen.  My own opinion is that what we are witnessing now is the synodal process as it was originally envisioned and intended by the Council Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.  Let’s see how this works out.

This is an exciting time for the Church: not only because vitally important questions related to marriage and family life are being debated and addressed at long last by church leaders, but also because we are witnessing a renewal in the leadership structures of the church herself.  As Pope Francis has repeated so often since his election, everything — including the structures we use to serve others — must be evaluated in very concrete terms: how well are we able to care for ALL of God’s people?  That is the standard to be applied.  We exist to serve others in need and, as the saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied.”  The tradition and the history of the Church reveal that we have always had great flexibility in how we attempt to serve, while agreeing on the core truths of faith.

Keep watching!  And, as the Holy Father himself reminded the assembly at Mass yesterday morning before the relatio was released, “be open to God’s surprises”!

The Extraordinary Synod and Battling Cardinals: Perspectives from Vatican II

synod bishopsIt begins this Sunday, 5 October 2014: the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in the Context of Evangelization.  The media, religious and secular, have been all over it.  The topic itself is so broad that almost everyone can find issues affecting themselves or other members of their families, leading to the questions, “How will the assembled bishops respond?  How will this affect me and my family?”

kasper

Cardinal Walter Kasper

Much has been made of the very public debate going on between Cardinal Walter Kasper on the one hand and other Cardinals such as Raymond Burke and Gerhard Muller on the other.  “We can’t change church teaching!”, some cry,

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Cardinal Raymond Burke

“Mercy, mercy!” cry others.  “There will be no change to the teachings of the Church, because they are the teachings of Christ Himself,” report some; “we must find new ways of responding to the crises that face today’s families,” respond others.  And, at least according to some observers, all of this public debate by such high ranking prelates is simply unseemly, with fingers being pointed at the other side, saying, “Well, he started it!”

What shall we make of all this?  As the members of the Extraordinary Synod gather in preparation of the opening Mass of the Synod on Sunday, perhaps we can place all of this in some historical and ecclesiological context, using the Second Vatican Council as a guide.

Peter vs Paul_21) Kasper vs. Burke: “Cardinals shouldn’t fight in public; it’s just wrong!”  Well, prior to — and during — Vatican II, cardinals and other bishops often engaged in public debates, wrote letters, published opinion pieces and so on.  It was all part of the process, and this is no different.  Ever since St. Paul and St. Peter got into it over the question of who could become Christian, bishops have disagreed, sometimes publicly and loudly, to anyone who would listen.  Consider it part of the necessary public discourse for such important issues.  But I also invite people to avoid polarization!  When two people argue, one could be right and the other wrong, both could be right, or both could be wrong!  These issues, like life itself, are complex and demand rigorous, comprehensive argument, but no one is helped by a “white hat, black hat” mentality.

2) Even the fault lines of the arguments are similar to those surrounding the Council.  The Pope had called for an ecclesial aggiornamento (updating), and the response from some bishops was that you could NOT update the Church without weakening church teaching, giving the impression that what had gone before was wrong and now being corrected, or that God’s truth was somehow being compromised.  Other bishops responded that doctrine develops (certainly picking up cues from Cardinal Newman’s work in the 19th Century), and that the pastoral needs of the 20th Century demanded new and more pastorally effective approaches.  None of this was new THEN, nor is it new NOW.  This is what led St. John XXIII to teach, in his opening address to the Council:

John OpeningThe substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.

This seems to me to be precisely what Pope Francis is asking for, and what Cardinal Kasper is attempting to do: he is not questioning “the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith,” but rather “the way in which it is presented.”  Furthermore, the framework for both content and method must be “predominantly pastoral” in character.  The pope included all of this in his opening address precisely because there had been such vehement debate on these points during the antepreparatory and preparatory phases leading up to the Council itself.  Fifty-two years ago this month, St. John was concerned that the bishops of the world be clear on what he was asking for, and what he perceived the Church and the world needed most.

3) Keep the relationship of theology and law in proper perspective.  This is very important, especially in the current debates.  Theology precedes law; law is not a source for theology.  Law develops out of the theology which comes first.  It is because we believe certain things about God and ourselves that we then develop laws which reflect those prior realities.  Looked at another way, we don’t start with the law and then develop a theology — or at least we shouldn’t!  Why do I bring this up?  Because in some of the recent breathless exchanges on the issues surrounding the Synod, there have been appeals to what the law has to say, while the “other side” has been speaking theologically.  Yes, theology and law intersect, certainly!  But the law serves theology, not the other way around.  Consider a debate between a medical doctor and a lawyer over the nature of a particular disease.  The doctor is going to look at the disease from within her own framework of science: causes, methods of transmission, treatments.  The lawyer is going to look at the same disease from with his own framework of the law: actions, responsibilities, jurisprudential history.  Same disease, different ways of addressing it.

ottaviani

Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani

During Vatican II, especially during the often fiery first session, the Prefect of the Holy Office (now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) was not a theologian at all.  The Prefect was a respected canon lawyer, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani.  Think about that: a canonist responsible for guarding the church’s doctrinal office.  This led to some fiery exchanges during the First Session of the Council, as many of the world’s bishops took to the microphone to complain publicly about the way Cardinal Ottaviani and his curial staff was dealing with theologians around the world.  It led the aged Cardinal to respond passionately in defense; he refused to stand down at the end of his allotted time and eventually one of the Cardinal-Moderators simply unplugged his microphone.  Cardinal Ottaviani left the Council and did not return for a couple of weeks in protest.

But consider this.  As I wrote above, we need to avoid a “white hat, black hat” approach to these arguments.  During Vatican II’s debate on war and peace in 1964 and 1965, there was no stronger opponent of ALL warfare than Cardinal Ottaviani.  To read his interventions on the subject, you could easily hear the voice of any number of folks “on the left” who were arguing to outlaw all war.  On this issue at least, the canonical lion was more “liberal” than almost everyone in the “progressive” group of bishops.  Just like everyone else, bishops are complex human beings who defy easy characterization.

As I also said above, public debates between bishops is no new thing.  But it is also important, when assessing an argument, to discern the frame of reference being used by the respective participants.  Theologians such as Cardinal Kasper are speaking and evaluating things theologically; canonists such as Cardinal Burke are doing the same, but canonically.

This all goes back to St. John XXIII’s point, to paraphrase: Certain points of theology cannot change, perhaps; but the way they get enshrined in practice and in law can and sometimes must change.

Vatican II

Vatican II

4) Since we’re looking at the Council, what did those bishops have to say about the current question?  You can rest assured that whatever documentation emerges from the Synod, there will be multiple references to the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes), especially paragraphs 47 to 52, which focus on the nobility of the family. Read the whole document here.  Many of the challenges identified in the preparatory work for the Synod were already realities identified by those bishops five decades ago: these are not new challenges.  In many ways, the work of these two synods (this year’s and next’s) can be understood as an extension or a continuation of the Council’s work.

5) Keep your expectations reasonable, and follow closely; this is going to be fun!  On the one hand we should not expect too much from this year’s Extraordinary Synod.  Its purpose is to prepare for NEXT year’s ORDINARY Synod.  The debates this year will help refine the questions and procedures to be dealt with more formally next year.  Synods like this do not hold the magisterial weight of a General Council (such as Nicaea, Trent, Vatican I or Vatican II), but they will certainly lead to significant developments nonetheless.  I would expect that no papal document will result from this first, Extraordinary Synod.  Pope and BishopsFollowing the Ordinary Synod next year, however, there should be an Apostolic Exhortation from the Holy Father.  I would also hope that, following this Extraordinary Synod, there might be another opportunity for listening sessions around the world in which experiences and opinions are sought from a wide variety of people.  And, hopefully, sufficient time will be given for the process, unlike last year in which tight deadlines prevented many people from responding to the questionnaire set out from the Synod office.  Again, our model can be Vatican II.  In between the Council’s sessions, bishops went home and consulted with many of their own experts on matters they would be discussing in the following session.  It was a graced time of mutual exchange and shared learning and consultation.

May this synodal process over the next year or so be fruitful and benefit the common good of all!

Swiss Guards

When Passion Goes Too Far: Crossing the Line

voris on dolanIt is nothing new for many people to be passionate about the Catholic Church, whether that passion is directed against the Church or for the Church.  However, passion should be balanced with compassion. As a theologian whose special interest is ecclesiology — the theology of church — I try to be aware of what’s going on in and around the church.  I try to avoid extreme positions on either side of the spectrum, firmly believing the ancient maxim “in medio stat virtus“, “virtue stands in the middle.”  Presuming the truth of that claim, then, we might conclude that “at the extremes stand weakness,” and perhaps even sin.  As one approaches the extremes, then, it becomes important to know where the boundaries are, the lines that one must not cross if it is truly truth and virtue that is sought.  For this reason I think it is important for us to consider the recent activities of a supposedly Catholic commentator by the name of Michael Voris.  I would not normally pay much attention to his work since in the several times I’ve reviewed it, I have found it consistently unbalanced and “over the top.”  But I was recently directed to a couple of his most recent broadcasts which seem even more so, and in my opinion, can give us a good example of how passion brought to the extreme crosses the line.  So, while I am loath to draw attention to his work on the one hand, I think that we also have a responsibility to challenge such extremism so we can all avoid it in the future.  Simply hoping that this kind of thing will just disappear if we ignore it is simplistic, dangerous and naive.

Mr. Voris has recently targeted for particular attention the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.  (For full disclosure: I have known Cardinal Dolan for many years, first meeting him briefly when we were both in the seminary, and again more closely during the years I served on the senior staff of the USCCB.)  While there may be more videos like these out there, these two will give a sense of what is going on.  Watch them here and here.  

One of my first reactions when I watched them for the first time was what I would do if someone said such things about me in such a public forum!  Certainly I would be consulting an attorney about whether such videos might constitute slander or libel.  But the legality of these videos, at least under US law, is a matter far beyond my qualifications or competence.  I can only examine them as a theologian, so let’s begin by highlighting just a few of the claims Mr. Voris makes in the videos above.

Cardinal-DolanCardinal Dolan is accused of being “a wicked bishop”, of being “under the grip of the devil.”  He is accused of not caring for or loving the Church, and that he apparently no longer believes in Hell.  He is accused of “giving your blessing to a group publicly celebrating their sin,” and that “you give your approval to mortal sin. . . You give active homosexuality a free pass in your Archdiocese.”  Then Mr. Voris expands his list of complaints, accusing Cardinal Dolan of not supporting “faithful Catholics.”  He has, according to Voris, never publicly condemned Islam as “a heresy and a false religion that does not have supernatural faith.”  The Cardinal, he claims “has been a non-stop source of scandal” and is “not fit to be a bishop.”  Voris wants the Cardinal and any other bishops who agree with him (the Cardinal) to repent their sins and resign their office.

Where to begin?  While reasonable people might certainly disagree with the actions of any bishop, just as one might with any leader, one must certainly stop there, without going on to try to infer motivation or motive.  I am sure that if Cardinal Dolan were asked about these things, he would completely and fully reject all of these assertions, and with good reason. To lump together, as Mr. Voris does, sexual orientation and sexual activity is to miss an important distinction made in the teaching of the church.  Nowhere has Cardinal Dolan ever sanctioned sinful behavior by anyone, nor does the record indicate that he has ever given anyone a “free pass” on sin of any kind.  There is no substantiation of any kind for a claim that the Cardinal has lost his faith, or that he is not striving to provide for the cura animarum of the people of New York — all the people.  To spring from a criticism of certain decisions into a full blown attempt to characterize another person’s intentions and motivations — much less that state of that person’s soul — is not only fatally flawed logic, it is seriously deficient in Catholic morality.

But perhaps most disturbing is the challenge offered by Mr. Voris toward the end of the first video: “Do not think that the punishment visited on you will not be the most severe when you die, perhaps even before you die, if you do not change.”  He then cries, “Now is the time for an authentic Catholic uprising.”  For me, these statements are most disturbing and downright frightening. I suppose coming from a person whose website is called “Church Militant,” this should not be surprising.  Still, couched in such militaristic tones and context, one could easily infer a call to physical violence against the Cardinal and other bishops.

The last point I wish to highlight is the claim made in the crawler at the bottom of the video.  It is an advertisement for a paid subscription to the site, which professes to be “100% faithful to the Magisterium.”  I must confess that when I first saw that claim, while watching the video and its assertions about Cardinal Dolan and other “wicked bishops,” I laughed out loud.  How a person could claim to be completely faithful to the teaching authority of the Church while at the same time denigrating those men whose ministry includes being authoritative teachers of that Magisterium is simply nonsensical.

What are we to make of all of this?  Let’s review some basics.

PentecostThe Magisterium is not simply a “who”; it is a “what.”  Magisterium refers to the teaching authority of the Church, a Church we believe guided by the Holy Spirit.  Every person, in some way or another, and in the broadest sense of the term, participates in this teaching authority, constantly learning and sharing this faith.  Think of parents, for example, teaching and forming their children in faith, as they are charged at baptism; they are part of the magisterium in this broad sense.  But in a very specific and particular way, the highest human teachers in the Church are the College of Bishops, always in communion with each other and with the head of the College, the Pope.  Unless and until an authoritative judgment is made by the College (always in communion with the Pope), or by the Pope himself, that a bishop is no longer part of that College, then the bishop in question remains an authoritative teacher.  It is not within the competence of someone else (like Mr. Voris, or myself) to judge when a bishop is no longer teaching authentic or faithful doctrine.  In fact, I will go further and suggest that, if there should be a presumption of veracity and accuracy in presenting the Church’s teaching, that presumption goes to the bishops, not to anyone else.  Put simply, Mr. Voris is neither qualified nor competent to make the judgments he is attempting to make.

Do bishops disagree with one another?  Of course they do, but not about the fundamentals of the faith.  They may disagree over pastoral strategies, over how a particular situation will be dealt with in their diocese, and they will be certainly be judged on the exercise of their ministry when they stand before God.  But disagreement in practice does not necessarily mean a break in communion.

God as JudgeAm I saying that bishops never make mistakes?  Of course not!  Bishops make mistakes just like the rest of us, and they also deserve the benefit of fraternal correction.  Some bishops commit crimes and should be held accountable under civil, criminal and canon law.  But no one has appointed any of us to take the place of God in judging us all for our sins.  Alone we will stand before God and take responsibility for the way we’ve lived our lives.

Let’s take just one example from the litany of complaints made by Mr. Voris, and analyze just how wrong he is.  He condemns Cardinal Dolan for not publicly condemning Islam as “a heresy and a false religion”.  While this may be what he believes, it is NOT what the Catholic Church teaches (remember the claim that he is 100% faithful to the Magisterium?).  What DOES the Magisterium of the Church teach about Islam?

IslamHere’s some truly authentic magisterial teaching, found in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution [please note that well -- it is a DOGMATIC text, dealing with the most fundamental issues of faith and church] on the Church (Lumen gentium), #16:

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator.  In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.

Later, this thought is developed in the same Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), #3:

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and
subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has
spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as
Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though
they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His
virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of
judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead.
Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual
understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

Vatican IIIn fact, even earlier — when talking about religion in general, the bishops of the Council (that “episcopal college” mentioned above) taught at #2:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

When a person claims to speak with complete faithfulness to the Magisterium, then, we should expect that this person would be echoing these teachings, which Cardinal Dolan has certainly done.  The Church does NOT teach what Mr. Voris teaches: that Islam is “a heresy and a false religion.”

Finally, I want to return to the threatening language used by Mr. Voris when he refers to punishment that he thinks may happen to Cardinal Dolan after he dies, “or even before you die,” and when he issues his call for an “authentic Catholic uprising.  I would refer Mr. Voris and anyone else who is interested to the following canons from the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1372 A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council [note: such as Vatican II]  or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary [note: such as Cardinal Dolan] because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

It would be interesting to hear the opinion of a canon lawyer with regard to these canons as they might apply in this instance.

Many lines have been crossed in these ranting diatribes by Mr. Voris against Cardinal Dolan and any other bishops Mr. Voris decides to condemn.  Lines of civility, lines of Christian charity, and lines of faithful adherence to what the Church actually teaches have all been overstepped..  One would hope that Mr. Voris will himself be open to fraternal correction.  We just heard about this in the Gospel last Sunday.  As Christ taught his disciples 2,000 years ago, as well as his disciples today:

 If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

voris on dolan 2Mr. Voris is entitled and free to make his own judgments about things.  However, he is not free to play fast and loose with the truths of our faith or to challenge and mock the legitimate and authoritative exercise of servant-leadership by a bishop in communion with the Church, regardless of his own personal disagreement with those teachings or that bishop.  Yes, Cardinal Dolan will someday give an accounting of his stewardship; so, too, will Mr. Voris and the rest of us.

Incarnating God’s Mercy: Loving in Real Life

LectorIn this past weekend’s second reading at Mass, we read from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  At verses 9-10, we heard:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Echoing Christ’s own summation of the Law, Paul is cutting to the chase.  Christ incarnates God-With-Us; God enters into our “real lives”.  God is Love, and that Love is incarnate.  If we claim to love God, Christ says, we must incarnate Love to “the neighbor”.  How do we do that?  How do we make concrete that incarnate Love?

Padre PaoloRecently there was some interesting coverage of an initiative by some Franciscan friars in Rome; read more about it here. Essentially they set up a presence right in the heart of Rome’s summer festival along the banks of the Tiber.  They reported how positive the experience was in responding to Pope Francis’ call to serve at the peripheries.  Franciscan Father Paolo Fiasconaro said, “I had no idea it would be like this. . . .  I believe being on the banks of the Tiber is putting into practice precisely what Pope Francis means by mission.”

What struck me about this story is that this is nothing new, but rather a resurgence of some of the most ancient practices of the Church, right there along the very same banks of the Tiber.

There are churches in Rome and elsewhere that are referred to as “diaconiae”.  When I first heard of this term some years ago, I thought initially that these might be referring to the churches traditionally assigned to the “Cardinal Deacons” of Rome.  However, their history is far more intriguing than that.  While scholars debate their precise origins, these churches began at the initiative of several Bishops of Rome who sent their deacons out to establish centers for relief, food and sustenance, especially in the market areas around the Tiber River, where poverty was greatest.  One of the earliest (5th or 6th Century?), for example, seems to have been the famous “Santa Maria in Cosmedin”, but by 800 AD, there were more than twenty-two “diaconiae” in Rome, Naples and elsewhere.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Outside Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Santa Maria in Cosmedin is an interesting example.  Perhaps most famous for the “Bocca della Verita”Audrey_Hepburn_and_Gregory_Peck_at_the_Mouth_of_Truth_Roman_Holiday_trailer (The Mouth of Truth) which is on the “porch” of the Church (made even more popular in this scene with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in “Roman Holiday), the more intriguing evidence is inside.  Archeologists and architects have determined that the church was built in three major stages.  The nave was the original structure, a broad covered area where the deacons provided goods and services to the people: think of a kind of warehouse or market structure.  Then, after a little time, the deacons decided to add an area where they could assemble in prayer: they added choir stalls at one side of the nave, and included an ambo and next to the ambo, the Paschal Candle (note the traditional association of the Deacon with the Paschal Candle, even at this ancient stage).  Finally, the third section was added to the structure: the sanctuary for celebrating the Eucharist.  When you enter from outside, you first encounter the nave, then the diaconal section, then the sanctuary.

Santa-Maria-in-Cosmedin

View from the Entrance: Nave

Diaconate Section of Cosmedin

From the Nave, entering deacons’ area: Notice high ambo and Paschal Candle to the right.

From diaconia to sanctuary

From the deacons’ area into the sanctuary.

 

To me, this represents a profound reality, and it underscores the “real life” impact of living out the commandment of Incarnate Love.  The role of the deacons was to meet people where they were most in need, and to provide for their very real, concrete everyday needs.  Think of the naves of our churches today: Do we provide real world care and service there any more?  Is it the local “distribution center” for charity?  Then consider how, in the model of the “diaconiae”, prayer, worship, sacrifice and communion flow FROM that Incarnate Love.  Do we first love our neighbor and then bring our gifts to the altar?  Think how revolutionary this would be, if we tried to recover the insight of those early Christians!

The Franciscans are really on to something here.  Listen to Father Paolo again:

It makes me sad to realize there are some pastors who think only about the 10 percent who go to church, those who spend all day everyday with the little old ladies in the church, while 90 percent of the people — who make up the periphery — are never touched by the church’s pastoral work.  It’s absurd, but the periphery is 90 percent of the people within a typical parish’s boundaries.

A friend and co-worker today remarked that every single person who comes to church on Sunday comes with a story, with needs, with struggles that very often we know nothing about.  That’s very true; we don’t know the depth of every person’s struggle.  But now consider as well: every person who has come into our churches knows at least twenty other people who don’t come to church at all!  Why not?  Very often it’s because they don’t seen the church as being a place that knows or even cares about their own struggles, so they don’t even bother coming.

Look.  It’s very simple.  How well do we, perhaps especially those of us who are deacons of the church, connect the dots?  How well do we meet people where they are “in real life” — and not just where we would like them to be! — and then connect that encounter to the Great Lover, Christ?