Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Synod 'relatio': a stepping-stone to a brick wall

St Pius X, the great promoter of frequent Communion, including for children.
Statue at the shrine of Carfin, outside Glasgow.
The Extraordinary Synod on the Family has produced a 'Relatio post disceptationem' - or rather, a small group of participants have done this on the synod's behalf. The document has been seized on by those who want to see changes to the teaching of the Church. The document doesn't deliver this; it couldn't, because it has no teaching authority, and even if it had teaching authority it couldn't change the constant teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium, which is infallible and irreformable.

Just ask yourself: 

Has the grave wrongness of genital sexual acts outside marriage always been taught by the Church? 

Obviously, it has. And then:

Does the Church have the authority to change the teaching of St Paul that Holy Communion received while in a state of grave sin does not confer grace but rather increases the communicant's guilt (1 Cor 11:26-30)?

Obviously, she has not.

These are the fixed features of the theological landscape; there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about them, except ignore them. For the most part preachers have been ignoring them for the last 60 years, and if this had solved the pastoral problems, then this Synod would have been unnecessary.

Remember, for example, that 1 Corinthians chapter 11 is read on Maundy Thursday and on the feast of Corpus Christi in the 1962 Lectionary; in the post-conciliar lectionary, it does not appear anywhere. (Position Paper on the 1962 Lectionary here.) Its complete exclusion from the lectionary, which was promoted chiefly for having more scripture in it than the traditional lectionary, is a big statement.

The Relatio is an aide memoire of the discussions, and in places records more than one view. It is nevertheless written in a distinctive theological style, and supporters of change can be forgiven for seeing positions they like being given prominent and favourable treatment. (Cardinal Burke himself has said its report of the Synod discussion is not even-handed.) What they must be hoping is that the document will act as a stepping-stone to more fully articulated 'pastoral solutions' which will give them what they want. In this regard, there are two key passages. This is the one about divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion.

47. As regards the possibility of partaking of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some argued in favor of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, others were in favor of a greater opening on very precise conditions when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.

This is a baffling passage. I don't think anyone in the debate is in danger of forgetting the distinction between the state of sin, a state of grace, and attenuating circumstances. This is exactly where the problem lies. A state of mortal sin is incompatible with sanctifying grace. Attenuating circumstances make a difference only if they mean that the sin isn't, after all, mortal. The existence of children of the new union, for example, who have a right to their care of their father and mother, and who would lose out in a very obvious way if the new union were to break up (as they frequently do), cannot change the gravity of of the sin. We take it all into account, and where does that get us?

But here is something interesting: the question is framed not just in terms of receiving Communion, but of the Sacrament of Penance. There may be some confusion about the conditions under which one may receive, or be denied, Holy Communion, but I think everyone knows the conditions of receiving valid sacramental absolution. The penitent must make a sincere Act of Contrition.

It bears repeating that the sacrament of Penance, Confession, is never barred to anyone. The confessional door is always open. If you don't repent, of course, you cannot be released from your sins; that's not a barrier to absolution imposed by the Church, it is just the nature of the sacrament as established by Our Lord. We may need to pray for the grace of repentance, but in the last analysis it is an act of will which may be difficult, but is never impossible.

When it happens, then the penitent can receive Holy Communion. This is, in fact, a 'general possibility': not for the few, the chosen people the Bishop takes an interest in, but for everyone.

Fr Marcus Holden distributes Communon at the LMS
Pilgrimage to Aylesford last Saturday.
In sum, this passage puts together a lot of the language which has been bandied about in relation to remarried divorcees and Communion, but it does't present any identifiable way forward. A path of Penance: yes, fine. Difficult circumstances: yes, fine. But if the solution is going to include sacramental absolution in the confessional, it is going to include repentance. That's not a new solution, that's the old one.

Here's what the document says about homosexuality.

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

This is the whole thing, there's nothing else in the document. What does it amount to?

The way this is being read - and perhaps it is natural to read it this way - is as contrasting a bad, unwelcoming pastoral approach with a good, welcoming approach, as if the former were in some sense an official policy of the bad old days, bad old days which, moreover, are not over yet. Now I have heard of priests being unwelcoming to traditional Catholics; I've heard of priests being unwelcoming to families with young children; I have even heard of a priest being unwelcoming to a family with a disabled dependent. I don't want to say no priest has ever been unwelcoming to a person solely because of his sexual orientation: the Church is a big place. But it is not a widespread problem that I have ever heard of. Can anyone point me to a discussion of this problem? Are there any blog posts out there by people who've been the victims of such unwelcoming attitudes? And are they comparable to the problems that ordinary families encounter week in and week out?

The thing about having small children is that you can't hide them. There they are; after a few years they are even going up to Communion and Confession. Persons of homosexual orientation aren't visible in quite the same way. I don't say there aren't embittered old ladies and the less pastorally-minded clergy who'd tut at them if they got the chance, but in reality they concentrate their tutting on the small children they can actually see.

What homosexual activists are concerned about is the Church's teaching on sex outside marriage. If a homosexual makes it publicly clear - by entering a same-sex marriage, for example - that he is living in an immoral relationship, he places himself in a similar situation to a remarried divorcee. But not only is the document not promising any re-think on that teaching, it actually reinforces it.

Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

This is perhaps the most astounding sentence in the entire document. I know it is a mass of different views culled from the discussions, but this is presented as an unambiguous proposition and it is directly contrary to what the homosexual activists want. They want recognition of same-sex unions and they want 'gender ideology', which is simply the theoretical basis for their ideology.

The Sacrament of Penance: Carfin.
Not only can the document not offer the activists even the smallest hope of what they want, but they force those aspirations back down the activists' throats. What does it offer instead? Instead it goes on about 'welcoming' people. It lays such emphasis on this that it actually stops making any sense, when it suggests, for example, 'valuing' the homosexual orientation itself. I would put this down to a desperate attempt to generate warm feelings towards homosexuals in the hope that these will appease the militants.

Well, it won't. This document, while couched in liberal jargon, is not a stepping-stone to a profoundly new orientation for the Church's pastoral policy. It is a stepping stone to a brick wall.

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  1. Anonymous1:53 pm

    The "Relatio" is, quite simply, evil.

  2. In my opinion, the Church is going to foster more and more immorality because she is under the impression that there exists a Catholic teaching that says "though shalt not offend the sinner".

    As long as that belief exists, I fail to see how anyone can curb the spread of sin. When fraternal correction fails, the Church must take action that does indeed qualify as offending the sinner and make their life difficult. That is the whole point. It is suppossed to not only make the sinner rethink his position but also discourage others from acting like that sinner.

    This simple truth regarding human nature was built in to every society as well. That is why those who publicly sin get shunned from society. Even today, those who the world finds disagreeable with them (ironically, that category today are Christians) are shunned. The idea is to force them to change their minds and to curb the spread of those positions.

    But the Church acts as if this truth no longer exists. She believe that soothing the sinner is the way to go. So immorality will spread.

    The document is problematic because it is all about welcoming sinners without calling them to repentance. If one thinks of how this might look in practice with a murderer or a pedophile, I am sure everyone will see the problem with it.

  3. I heard a saying once that if you pay people to be poor do not be surprised that you get more poor people. If you make it easier to commit sin do not be surprised........

  4. Of course the majority of Catholics will just hear the media take on all this. It was foolish in the extreme to produce it halfway through the synod. Thus causing even more confusion in the faithful. Plus ca change, from Rome.

  5. The document is nothing but the widely predicted mixture of established doctrine and vague indications of possible undefined changes designed to keep both sides in this debate quiet. Something for everyone.

    In spite of much talk in support of the family it is consistent with the ongoing attempt to accommodate the ever greater absorption of the Secular obsession with sex in the modern Catholic mind, with Catholic doctrine.

    That is not possible.

    The “law of Gradualness” (13) is carefully introduced and will be exploited in the future. That homosexuals have “gifts” is true, but then so do professional burglars and pick pockets. The use of the phrase “cannot be considered on the same footing “ is typical of wording which while apparently reasonable, is dangerous. It cannot be considered on any footing and has no comparability with the marriage bond.

    What is needed here is clarity. Simple clarity.

    The Marriage Bond is Indissoluble. Sex with a validly married person, regardless of a further civil wedding or of children, is Adultery. It is not possible to have a union between homosexuals which has any spiritual content in Christianity.

    Catholics in either of these two situations should be welcomed into the Catholic community (provided they behave themselves in public) but in no way can they be allowed to receive Holy Communion. If they do it is a Mortal Sin and possibly Sacrilege, as it would be also for the priest or bishop who knowingly and publicly assisted in this.

    ps no one has to be a theologian to work this out. It is all in the CCC.

    1. Jacobi. I agree with most of that. Your paragraph on the "Law of Gradualness" is particularly well written.

      I can be a pain sometimes though over accuracy and wonder whether perhaps your definition of Adultery needs a little tweaking. Written as it is it doesn't exclude the person to whom you are married.

      Priests are already giving Communion to Politicians who vote not only for "gay marriage" but also abortion and various other wrongs. In fact when Bishop Egan said that such people should be refused Communion, he was slapped down by Greg Pope, Spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference. There is little chance that Communion will be refused to individuals "in difficult situations" particularly when, as you say, the Synod has apparently started to bend.

    2. @richardhj,

      Boy, and I thought I was a stickler for definitions and have been accused so. But yes, of course you are right. You cannot commit adultery with your validly wedded wife.

      The Church is coming to a crisis point. A priest who gives Holy Communion to someone whom he knows, or has good reason to believe, is in a continuing adulterous relatationship with a validly wedded person, whether that person be linked or not by some invalid, probably civil arrangement, is complicit in, and is guilty of the same Mortal Sin.

      In the situation you mention, if Greg Pope, whoever he is, was acting on the authority of, and with the understanding of, the bishops conference of wherever that was, then all the bishops of that conference who were party to that decision, or have not withdrawn their consent, are guilty of the same Mortal Sins as the people who then communicated.

      It’s nothing to do with law, canon or otherwise, just simple logic.

  6. This is 1968 all over again!