Staying too long at the dance

We have, so far, avoided discussing—here, at any rate—the relatio finalis from the Synod. It is exactly the sort of document that permits both Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Pell to argue that it supports each man’s position. However, comparing the three significant paragraphs—84, 85, and 86—with Germanicus’s final report, it is clear that Germanicus’s thinking was adopted by the Synod. Germanicus misconstrued Familiaris consortio 84; so did the relatio finalis. Germanicus proposed a forum internum path; so did the relatio finalis. If you think that Germanicus’s report represents, essentially, a compromise version of the Kasperite proposal, then it is fairly clear that the relatio finalis adopted such a view. Whether the Holy Father will, in a post-synodal apostolic exhortation or other, more juridical document, put some backbone into the proposal remains to be seen.

However, one can get a sense of the Holy Father’s outlook from his extraordinary speech at the end of the Synod. We quote the entire passage, which is fairly lengthy:

As I followed the labours of the Synod, I asked myself: What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?

Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.

Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.

It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.

It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.

It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.

It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.

It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

It was also about laying closed hearts, which bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.

It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.

It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp”, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.

And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and every general principle – as I said, dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s magisterium – every general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied. The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures”. Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.

(Emphasis supplied, italics in original, and citations omitted.) For our part, we cannot remember—or even really imagine—John Paul or Benedict speaking in such a manner about their doctrinal opponents. In fact, often, John Paul and Benedict gave their doctrinal opponents the red hat and important Curial positions. (We have said repeatedly, elsewhere, that John Paul and Benedict’s legacies are compromised by their willingness to promote dissenters like Cardinal Kasper to high office.) But, regardless of whether or not such an expression is precedented, it is clear that the Holy Father has had it up to here with traditionally minded Catholics.

We note at this point that Roberto de Mattei explains the Holy Father’s critical Synod Speech by articulating another alleged revolt against a deficient text. On October 22, the draft relatio finalis was released, in Italian, under the strictest secrecy. The draft had the Holy Father’s evident backing, and it essentially restated the really deficient Instrumentum Laboris, ignoring the debate in the aula, the reports of the circuli minores, and the thousands of written modi. There was, according to De Mattei, a revolt in the aula: 51 Synod fathers, including some major figures in the Curia (and the Conclave), intervened, mostly against the draft. It became clear that the draft relatio finalis couldn’t pass. And then it was remembered that Germanicus achieved complete consensus—that is, Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Kasper on the same page—with its restatement of part of Familiaris consortio and its forum internum solution. The draft relatio finalis was amended to adopt, essentially, the Germanicus proposal, and it passed—but just barely and probably wouldn’t have passed without the Holy Father’s appointees. In other words, when the Holy Father gave his speech to the Synod, he was at the end of what De Mattei calls his “black day.” De Mattei says, of the Speech, “Hard words, which express bitterness and dissatisfaction: certainly not those of a victor.” (Emphasis supplied.) We are not sure what to make of De Mattei’s report. Certainly, it ought to be considered carefully, as aspects jive with objective facts—especially the fact that the Germanicus compromise solution ended up being the Synod’s position.

At any rate, the Holy Father apparently sees some (many?) traditionally minded Catholics—you know, orthodox Catholics—not as defenders of the Apostolic faith, which is, after all, the only sure means of salvation, but as judgmental, superior, and blinkered. But this is not a new attitude for the Holy Father. One of his favorite rhetorical devices is to criticize the so-called doctors of the law. He also likes to talk about modern-day Pharisees. He is also known for his ability to really let folks have it with both barrels: recall the 2014 Christmas speech to the Curia, which outlined fifteen diseases of the Curia. What is extraordinary to us, however, is the unwillingness of the Holy Father to make even vague noises about the good intentions of his doctrinal opponents. One gets the sense that he does not think that—oh, any number of men with red hats you could name as well as we could—even mean well.

And Francis is sick of them. Perhaps this is the way it goes. Rorate reposted today a comment from a Jesuit confrere of the Holy Father’s, which asserted that the Holy Father fell into bad, distant relationships with some groups during his time in Argentina. We do not know whether this is true: we weren’t there. However, we have a strong sense there is a sense the relationship between Francis and the conservatives is, on the whole, not good. We have the sense that everyone here thinks everyone else has stayed too long at the dance. The Holy Father wishes that the traditionalists would stop citing rules and throwing wrenches; they should get in line.

But the weariness and wariness is not limited to Francis’s side of the line of scrimmage, either. It seems to us that many traditionally minded are as worn out with Francis as he is with them. Into this mix, Elliot Milco has offered, at The Paraphasic, a lengthy, deeply personal reflection, “In the Absence of a Shepherd.” Milco observes

In such a Church, where do you look for guidance and support when the wolves are devouring Christ’s lambs? What authority is on your side?  The general absence of legitimate authority, the absence of clerics ready to stand up for the truth, makes it almost impossible to speak in defense of the orthodox faith.  In the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, we have been scattered because there is no shepherd, and when we are scattered we become food for all the wild animals.

It is against this background that I experience the protestations of many Catholics, who are committed to believing that Everything Is Fine in the Church.  Somehow their insular context or good fortune has spared them from seeing the massive damage and scandal being done by our clerics.  These people do not have to stand before hundreds of children who are already mostly committed to the corruption of the present age, and hear the words of the Supreme Pontiff quoted as evidence against the teachings of Christ.  They do not have to hear conversations about how X pastor feels emboldened in his tendencies by Francis’s perceived liberalism, or how Y priest is now secure enough under the present Archbishop that he will officiate at the marriage ceremony of two men.  And not knowing these things, even committed, it sometimes seems, to remaining oblivious of them, these Catholics turn those of us who cannot help but know them them into the enemies of the Church.  We are cranks, unhinged, hysterical, wackos. We are crypto-schismatics.  We are to blame for the present sense of chaos.  How could we dare to lose faith in the Holy Spirit’s protection of the Pope and the Hierarchy!  We must affirm!  Everything is fine! Really!

How easy it must be to stand by “Everything is Fine”, when the life of the Church is an abstraction, and not dozens of real faces one has to see and attempt to guide day after day.  How comforting it must be to say “Things have been this bad before!” when the corruption of the times is thought of generally and not with respect to a particular person’s spiritual development and eternal destiny, which is being visibly impacted for the worse by the scandalous vagueness of those in authority.  With such an easy frame of mind at stake, who can blame these Catholics for defending the comfortable abstraction against the doomsayers and cranks?

(Some formatting omitted.) We have previously commented on the lack of trust in traditional circles for the Holy Father and certain prelates, and we think Milco’s piece expresses these feelings very precisely and movingly. And he is not alone. Dr. John Rao, for example, during a web-exclusive interview for The Remnant, expressed similar feelings regarding “neo-Catholics,” by which he means, apparently, conservative Catholics who take the reigning pope as the definitive expression of the Magisterium. We have noticed a sense among traditionally minded Catholics that they are on their own as the Church navigates its way through the coming months and years. We see them attaching themselves to a handful of prelates, not usually diocesan ordinaries, such as Raymond Cardinal Burke or Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and settling in for a long, hard journey. It is also clear, we think, from Milco and Rao’s eloquent comments, that traditionally minded Catholics see clearly that this debate is only about doctrine. Discipline is a sideline to the real debate.

We note, of course, that this state of affairs would have scarcely been possible before (1) the Internet made instant communications anywhere in the world a fact of daily life and (2) before Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI made the modern papacy very present for Catholics, especially conservatives who found the universal pastor more sympathetic and a better spiritual guide than their local pastors and ordinaries. In 1735, 1835, or 1935, if the pope had made a critical speech—and popes were making critical speeches even then—it is unlikely that the speech would be instantly heard of outside Rome. More likely, word would take months to reach even plugged-in churchmen, and the laity might never hear of the Holy Father’s barn-burning speech. Likewise, the partisan political side of the Church could not disseminate news and form received opinions as quickly in those days. It seems to us that the Church’s response to telecommunications in 2015 is sorely lacking, and a Synod could profitably be called to figure out how best to engage, meaningfully and pastorally, with the faithful in the age of Twitter. And if wishes were horses.

The question, the answer to which does not immediately present itself to us, is how Francis—how the Church —moves forward. And we are not sure Francis can. Even if he does not implement the Kasperite proposal, it is not clear to us that he ever regains warm feelings with the traditionally minded Catholics. The past year or eighteen months have done considerable damage to the Church and caused great scandal to traditionalists. Likewise, it is not even clear to us that he wants to regain warm feelings with the conservatives. The Holy Father pretty clearly views the traditionalists as rule-quoting scolds who are gumming up the works. So, is it a standoff for as long as the Holy Father reigns (and long may he reign)? Maybe. We do not see any openings or angles that would convince us otherwise, at any rate.

But it seems to us that, while certainly withdrawal into safe circles is the only reasonable response to the situation—and by this we mean (1) finding and building relationships with solid bishops and priests, (2) focusing ever more intensely on traditional devotions to Our Lord really present in the Eucharist and Our Lady’s Rosary, and (3) deepening one’s understanding of the doctrine of the Church—so too is hope. Milco notes,

Where does that leave us, fellow Christians, Pastors?  When the Church is divided between those fighting for heresy and those struggling to pretend that nothing is wrong, where can the faithful find refuge?  This is, I believe, the growing crisis of those committed to the ancient faith.  What can we do but put our hope in Christ?

Hope does not require candy-coating the present. Indeed, real hope acknowledges the gravity of the situation. Think of the Psalms, many of which express the anxiety and despair over the situation the Psalmist found himself in, which emotions are often amplified if you put the Psalms on the lips of Our Lord. But the Psalmist trusted that God would not abandon his people.