Saturday, October 31, 2015

Douthat vs certain theologians

As with the papal visit to the U.S., I deliberately posted nothing during this year's Synod on Marriage and the Family. I contented myself with praying fervently during the proceedings and reading a few articles here and there. I was especially impressed with Dr Chad Pecknold's "Leaving Hegel Out of the Synod." In my opinion, the best intervention at the Synod was not made by a bishop or theologian, but by a female Romanian lay Catholic, Dr. Anca-Maria Cernea, who stated, "What the world needs nowadays is not limitation of freedom, but real freedom, liberation from sin. Salvation." The Synod is now over, leaving us with a very ambiguous final document, known as a relatio, which is quite good in parts.

What prompts me to write now is a post-synodal dust-up precipitated by several critical articles written by Ross Douthat in the New York Times on the Synod and the Holy Father's recent motu proprio making it easier to obtain an annulment. Douthat's writing prompted a fair number of theologians, several of them quite prominent, to publish a letter-to-the-editor of the New York Times. The letter basically asserted that because Douthat, a lay Catholic and a convert to boot, was not a member of the professional guild of theologians, he had no business opining in public on these matters.

Today Douthat responded to their letter in a column published in the New York Times. I have to say I am impressed with Douthat's response. For those interested, in his column he provides links to the articles with which the theologians took issue as well as a link to their letter.

To his great credit, Douthat took something he could've easily and understandably dismissed as not very serious and, moreover, that was intended, if not to stop him from publishing opinions with which the signatories to the letter disagreed in a very popular public forum, then certainly to damage his credibility. However, I think they only succeeded in in damaging their own. It seems to me that Douthat opted to take the high and courageous road by laying down the gauntlet with clear and cogent explanations for his positions. By doing this he makes it very easy for any and all of these theologians to respond to him with their concerns.

Let's face it, the concerns laid out by Douthat are shared by many Catholics throughout the world, cleric and lay, theologians and non-theologians alike. I have no qualms about saying that I share these concerns.

Given the readily discernible ambiguity of the Synod's final relatio, no amount of post-synodal lipstick is going to pretty up the pig (to take poetic license with the sausage-making metaphor everyone seems to love so much in this context). Of course, the proof will be in the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which the Holy Father has promised to deliver sooner rather than later. As Douthat noted, "In politics and religion alike, a doctrine emptied in practice is actually emptied, whatever official rhetoric suggests."

It seems to me that the stakes are very high, not only for the Church, but for the world. Hence, it strikes me as wholly appropriate that there should be a rigorous and vigorous disputatio, which, because of the wide-ranging effects of the outcome, should not be limited to the to the Synod hall.

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