Tuesday, 10 June 2014


The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be devoted to the pastoral care of families. Some in the liberal press have suggested that they will debate teachings on divorce, birth control and gay unions, claiming that Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for a subtle change in established Church teachings. 
The LA Times has suggested that this will be a  “work-around,” which could extend to contraception and same-sex unions, among other issues and lead to departure from Catholic tradition. Apart from anything else, if the press were to review the havoc that such changes in doctrine and "work arounds" have caused in the liberal Protestant world they would be given pause.  
The free-fall in adherence and attendance in the Anglican Church follows that of the United Church in Canada and similar "progressive" bodies. Indeed promotion for the clergy in these groups seems to be linked to "affirming" a variety of lifestyles never contemplated in Christian life before the 1960s. For example, this week the liberal press reports the pregnancy of a threesome of lesbians who are purportedly "married". Once the absolute sanctity of marriage being the exclusive life-long union of one man and one woman is removed, logically anything goes and society has no grounds to oppose any variation.
However, the liberal press fails to point out that Church teachings are not “policies” which can be changed by a council or a pope. Catholic doctrines are based on the revelation of God. This is something that liberal Protestants have largely given up on. 

The preparatory questionnaire for the Synod of Bishops was not an opinion poll leading to change in Church teachings, but diocesan data to show exactly where the universal teaching need strengthening. 
Stories about revolution in the Catholic Church and catastrophizing are usual fare in the liberal press. Writing in the Week, Michael Brendan Doherty says: “My prediction is that the synod will issue a document strenuously claiming to affirm the indissolubility of marriage, while instituting a practice that contradicts it.” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat believes changes in doctrine might result in a schism
Walter Cardinal Kasper, who has suggested that divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed to receive Communion, after a period of penance and conscientious reflection, is close to Pope Francis. However, the idea that Francis is looking for ways to rationalize and effectively permit sin, either by giving authority to controversial prelates or advocating in favour of mercy, runs counter to his statements.
Francis is certainly a pope who has emphasized mercy, but he has also referred many times to the theology of sin. He understands mercy to involve Catholics facing their sins squarely, not pretending they aren’t obstacles to a faithful Christian life. Yes, he has been critical of the  harsh legalism of certain clergy but has also warned against “loose ministers” of the Gospel who tell penitents “this is not a sin” when it is. We see what this has done to Anglican and other bodies.
Francis did praise Cardinal Kasper's recent address, but did not to endorse all its views. The Pope encourages theological discussion which has resulted in many thoughtful responses.  
Professor Robert Fastiggi recently wrote, “I agree with Pope Francis that there are many beautiful insights about marriage” in Cardinal Kasper’s presentation, but on the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried, Kasper is decidedly wrong, for reasons laid out by Fastiggi and by Francis’s own doctrinal chief, Gerhard Cardinal Muller.
There is a notable series of statements Francis has been made on topics relating to the family i.e. the proper formation of conscience, the prophetic nature of Humanae Vitae, the true meaning of the sensus fidelium, and the need for bishops to preach the truth about the indissolubility of marriage.
After the canonization of John Paul II, Pope Francis met with a group of Polish pilgrims, and spoke to them about faith, hope, charity, and mercy, linking them all to the exemplary witness of Catherine of Siena. He encouraged the pilgrims to “learn from her how to live with the clear conscience of those who do not bend to human compromises,” to be inspired by “her example of strength in the moments of greatest pain,” and to “imitate the solidity of faith of those who trust in God.”
While we wait for the Synod, we pray for Pope Francis that he will strengthen the family with Catholic teaching in faith, hope and love.

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