Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some personal thoughts on the Extraordinary Synod thus far

Let me state up-front, I have no intent of ever becoming an apostate or a schismatic. I fully affirm what St Ambrose of Milan stated long ago: Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eterna (i.e., "Where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is life eternal!"). With that out of way, let me also state that the designator "Rad-Trad" is a redundant absurdity and using the appellation "Neo-Catholic" is merely a way of joining in the name-calling. In my view, both constitute puerile polemics.

I have to admit my disappointment at Archbishop Martin's (a man whom I mostly admire) insistence that the Synod "has to find new language to show that there can be development of doctrine." Does finding new language to express the truth (by the term "doctrine" I understand the expression of a divinely revealed truth) really require a development, which I take, in this context, to mean change? Even Pope St John XXIII, who insisted on the need to state timeless truths in language accessible to the people of our day, in his address to open the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council also insisted that the Council needed to "transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion." After all, the single subject that is the Church of Jesus Christ cannot be in discontinuity with herself. Nonetheless this is exactly what many, who adhere to what Pope Benedict XVI, in his Christmas speech to the Roman Curia in 2005, dubbed "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture," think and have sought to convey since practically the end of the Council. By way of contrast, what Pope Benedict called for is not, as others insist, "a hermeneutic of continuity," but "a hermeneutic of reform in continuity."

Neither let us forget that less than a month prior to announcing his abdication, in his final speech to the Roman Rota, it was Benedict XVI who discussed "lack of faith," characterized as not doing what the Church intends when marrying even in the Church, as a ground for nullity.

In this vein, I must also express my disappointment in Cardinal Ouellet's speech published in the most recent issue of Communio. While he argued brilliantly for being faithful to the Lord's teaching in sacramental (i.e., ontological) terms, he dismissed the moral dimension (i.e., remarriage as adultery) as if, like the recent rage for separating the pastoral from the doctrinal, the moral and the sacramental, the orders of nature and grace, have no truck with each other.

The issue of Holy Communion for those who are divorced and civilly re-married also gives us the opportunity to face reality squarely. The reality we need to face is that, at least in many dioceses in the the United States, the so-called "internal forum," whereby a divorced and civilly re-married person obtains permission from her/his pastor to receive communion without obtaining an ecclesiastical decree of nullity for his/her previous marriage(s), or having her/his current marriage convalidated in the Church, is widely used. This, at least, has the advantage, most of the time, of lifting some or all of the culpability off the couple and placing it on the priest who grants his permission. In all honesty, most (by no means all) clerics I know and with whom I have discussed this matter find the idea of a so-called "Josephite" marriage ridiculous at worst and unrealistic at best. A "Josephite" marriage, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a marriage in which a man and a woman seek to live with each other in a sexually continent manner (No jokes about unwittingly being in such a marriage. Okay, maybe one!). So, there is a de facto sense in which this question has been answered in some places and for some cases.

In my view, it boils down to something virtually nobody wants to concede: in this disputatio theology matters. There is no way around it. All of this makes apparent that our catechetical disaster flows from our theological dumbing-down. One way this is manifested is people who say things like, "People are starving to death and you're worried about admitting the divorced and civilly re-married to Holy Communion," as if the dissolution of marriage is not a major cause of poverty among women and children! There is a reason that, in his papal magisterium, Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae between Populorum Progresso and Evangelii Nuntiandi.

I still chuckle a bit when I remember that, in his gentle but clear way, Benedict XVI expressed disappointment at the shallowness of the discussion at the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, where many of these questions were taken up, albeit in a more forthright and public way. It bears repeating, if the communion issue predominates the Extraordinary Synod, we're safe calling the gathering a failure.

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