Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Synod: where do we go from here?


After the strange 'Relatio' published in the middle of the two-week Synod, we've seen a remarkable turn-around of events. It would seem that participants successfully demanded that the reports responding to this Relatio of the 'circuli minores', the small discussion groups, be published. These revealed the truth of what a number of Synod Fathers had been saying: that the liberal tone of the Relatio completely failed to reflect the views of the participants. Once the reports of the circuli minores were published, it was impossible for the people drawing up the final report to ignore them: the dishonesty would have been too obvious. Furthermore, the very unrepresentative team producing the report was joined by Cardinal Napier in the interests of balance, and the Synod got the opportunity to vote on the final report. The result has been a final report, though not the detailed reaffirmation of the Church's teaching one might have wished, a million miles away from the mid-term Relatio, which offers no comfort to those who want to see the Church's teaching and discipline pulped. Pope Francis wrapped the proceedings up with an elaborately balanced speech.

What we have seen this fortnight is, nevertheless, quite scary. We have witnessed the operation, exposure, and defeat, of a ruthless attempt to manipulate the synod and, through the synod, the whole Church. There is no reason to imagine the threat this represented is going to go away. There is going to be a new, bigger synod on the same subjects this time next year, and there is every reason to suppose that the same people will be in charge. The people who produced a grossly one-sided pre-synod questionnaire, and published the responses from Germany (which had the right answers) and not elsewhere (which may not have); the people who published the ludicrously liberal talk from the lay couple to the synod, because they agreed with it, but refused to publish the cardinals' speeches, because they didn't always; the people who produced the mid-term Relatio pushing things in their favoured direction, in complete disregard for the views it was supposed to reflect. They've been given a bloody nose, but they aren't going to give up. Next time they may win: they may get a final report out along the lines of the mid-term Relatio, or even something worse. We must fact the fact that this is perfectly possible.

Right now we face a threat which Traditional Catholics can fairly claim to have seen coming. The structures of the Church could well be used, perhaps silently, to undermine the Church's teaching on marriage, with some degree of endorsement from the very top. (This is essentially what Cardinal Burke is saying.) The teaching on marriage has already been undermined by priests who give Communion to the divorced and remarried. It has been undermined by bishops who refuse to preach about it - or worse. It has been undermined by marriage tribunals in parts of the world where annulments appear to be handed out like sweets. There is nothing new about the structures of the Church being misused to undermine marriage, in itself. What we are faced with is the possibility that the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the official disciplinary policy of the Church, could fall silent on the problem of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion.

Let me underline that. No Pope is going to teach ex cathedra that marriage is not indissoluble. But it is possible that, with the approval of the Supreme Legislator, Canon Law could cease to say what it says today about the reception of Communion, which gives the teaching on indissolubility some practical implications. It could cease to implement Divine Law in this respect. If this happens, there will have to be a new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church with the corresponding section deleted - or perhaps no new edition at all. This silence, this letting the thing go, will, like the silence of Sir Thomas More about King Henry VIII's divorce, though with the opposite meaning, reverberate around the world. The consequences, for all the good intentions in the world, will be catastrophic.

My old adversary, the neo-con Fr Longenecker, says exactly what the problem is here.

Here is an example: twice in the last week I have had to deal with Catholics in irregular marriages. One woman married outside the church and told me that she thought it was now okay for her to come to communion because, “The pope has changed all those old rules.” Another man has divorced his wife and is living with another woman. He also assured me very confidently that it was now fine for him to come to communion because, “Pope Francis has changed the rules.” I know you mean well Holy Father, and I admire and like you, but this process on which you have led us is not helping.

This is happening before any official changes have taken place. Now imagine what it is going to be like if there is some official change. Hedged about, cautious, applicable only to a few cases with the approval of the bishop - whatever you like. Few people are going to bother going to the bishop for a dispensation (if that is what is needed), any more than they go to the bishop to be instituted as regular Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. (I bet you didn't realise that is supposed to happen: Redemptionis Sacramentum 155.)

Priests like Fr Longenecker are aware that the obligation on them not to distribute Holy Communion to public sinners does not derive solely from Canon Law; it derives from Divine Law, and is an act of mercy towards the would-be communicant. If public sinners start turning up for Communion, perhaps with a letter from the bishop, to priests like Fr Longenecker, we are going to have a very serious problem indeed.

I have been talking about the difference between neo-conservatives in the Church and traditional Catholics. The neo-cons often have a very exaggerated view of Papal authority, which goes far beyond the proper magisterial authority of the Pope's teaching office, to the ludicrous idea that we are obliged to adopt the reigning Pope's personal views. The absurdity of this, I hope, is becoming evident to even the most simple-minded of them. They have also, however, and very admirably, made it their special mission to promote and defend the teaching of the Church on life, marriage and sexuality. But let's not say, 'the teachings of the Church'; these are the teachings of Christ. Departure from these is departure from Christ. I hope, and expect, the neo-cons to stick to these teachings regardless of whence the challenge to them comes. The leadership of Cardinals Pell and Napier, who are by no means traditionalists, as well as Burke, shows the way here.

The important distinction over the next few years, among Catholics who oppose the Church's 'autodemolition',as Bl Paul VI called it, may turn out to be not between Trads and Neo-Cons, but between orthodox Catholics with a spine and those without. What kind are you going to be?

IMG_0315And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.
Ait autem Dominus 'Simon Simon, ecce Satanas expetivit vos ut cribraret sicut triticum. Ego autem rogavi pro te, ut non deficiat fides tua, et tu aliquando conversus confirma fratres tuos.'
Luke 22:31f

Notice the plural in the first verse - 'vos', 'you' - and the singular in the second - 'te', 'thee', 'fides tua', 'thy faith'. Satan will sift us all like wheat. It is Simon who will, in the end, confirm his brothers.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You refer, somewhat rudely in my opinion, to "neo-cons " almost as the enemy.

    It may be reasonable that you should mildly criticise some that would have preferred the Traditional Mass but meekly surrendered.

    But for most of us, it has never been an issue. You would have had to have been well over 60 to have been able to have given up on Traditional Liturgy. It was never an option for most of us. Even my mum was only 18 when Vatican 2 started and wasn't even a Catholic at the time.

    Clearly you are not of that age either but you have come to the Traditional Mass by a different route, one that for most people didn't happen.

    I am traditional. In many ways. Not just in religion. I am one of only two at my Church to take Communion in the mouth (there is a third but only when he comes home from Seminary). I believe, and we practised, that wherever possible parents should bring up their own children rather than putting then on baby farms while they both go out to work. As a cricket fan I would go back to the days when a player could only play for the county of his birth, or by years of residential qualification, rather than them moving around from team to team as some do now. As someone who works in an office, I still dress in "office clothes" even though I am usually on my own. Even on Fridays.

    I should be the first to join LMS now that I have found it.

    But I can't.

    You criticise those of us who oppose abortion etc but don't stand up for Traditional Liturgy. In the previous section you seemed to suggest that this was the easy path. Really? Whilst the outside world might treat you as slightly nutty, when is the last time you have been spat at, punched, jeered at in the streets, even arrested for promoting the Latin Mass?

    So, in the final battle to which you refer, which side would you expect me to be on?
    Which side will you be on?
    What about the rest of my neo-con, sorry SPUC group. I can assure you that none will change our views on any of the subjects we are involved in regardless of the views of the current Pope. The same applies to the leadership of the organisation

    What about someone who says the occasional Latin Mass but actively promotes supporters of abortion, "gay marriage " etc? Which side will they be on. Have they got spine?
    If these are on your side, then I can't imagine I will be.

    1. I'm really sorry that through the red mist you seem not to have been able to read my blog post.

      Maybe, when you calm down, you should try again.

    2. Oh, and if I told you how many trads are involved in SPUC, you might have dissociate yourself from that as well.

    3. I likewise must chime in here and support Richard in his point about the disparaging comment you make of "neo-cons". This only reinforces the cruel stereotype that the "trads" are cold, and disparaging and elitist.

      I too have discovered the Latin Mass, but unlike some of the sentiments here on LMS and your brother organizations worldwide, including here in my own backyard in the Archdiocese of Toronto, I reject such language and attitudes and choose not to financially support or contribute my service (save necessity for the Mass) to those Who act like Radical Catholic Reactionaries. Might I also add that the bile spewed by your Latin mass brothers online about the Synod and your rotate Caeli you contribute to, was arrogant and detracting, even Calumnous about the Holy Father and the Church? You didn't produce such garbage during the Synod, Dr. shaw, but I bring this up to point out that it makes those people like ourselves want to hold out support or limit our involvement for the Latin mass more, and not want to bring people to it.

      If you want to attract more of us, particularly the wired in generations (ours and below us) the language of disparagement and "we are better than you" amongst Latin Mass organizations, contemporaries, and even lay folk in the pews must go.

    4. Richard and Julian,

      Dr Shaw says at the end of his post

      "The important distinction over the next few years, among Catholics who oppose the Church's 'autodemolition',as Bl Paul VI called it, may turn out to be not between Trads and Neo-Cons, but between orthodox Catholics with a spine and those without. What kind are you going to be?"

      So I think he is saying something similar to what you want to say.

      As for neocons, my personal issues with them is that their position is not coherent. They would be ok with the demise of the traditional liturgy and other traditional practices but they want to see Catholics have a strong Catholic identity and act like Catholics. They forget that generally, everything is connected. How you pray effects how you live and so forth.

      It is that dissonance that makes neo-cons kind of a weird group for me. Then there is also the ultramontanist attitude toward the Papacy which makes for some problems as well.

      On the synod, I think the bile came from the synod than from those speaking of the synod :)

    5. Anonymous3:02 am

      Thank you, Richard, for your fighting against the evil forces that promote and purport to legalise the killing of our children in utero, our sick, our disabled or infirm. I know how such fighters for God and His Laws are persecuted and maligned. I, myself, was badly beaten on one occasion whilst standing up against the evil of an organisation whose sine qua non is the murder of defenceless innocent babies. God bless and protect you. Your sister in Christ.

  3. No red mist. I have been preparing that reply over days. It was not all in response to this post by any means. I will read this post again and maybe I will find something in it that overturns my view formed from much of what you write. I have no doubt that there are very many members both of LMS and SPUC. In fact when I went to Low Mass a couple of weeks ago, I saw a fellow SPUC member.
    Why would I want to resign from SPUC just because there are some members of both? Perhaps it's you with the red mist and you that should re read my post.

  4. Yes, I do think Joseph Shaw's reply to Richard is unnecessarily aggressive (and I am a traditionalist!) "Neo-con" is an insulting term (as is "Lefebvrist"). Why do good catholics, who, in conscience, take different positions in difficult times have to throw mud at each other? We should focus our efforts on defeating the anti-life/pro-homosexual/modernist infiltration of the Church.

  5. I really have no idea what you object to in what I have written. The point of these posts has been to say that the division between trads and new-cons is based on a reasonable disagreement and we have to out it behind us.

    You find that ibjectionable; I despair.

  6. Having re-read the opening post, I would say that if, perhaps, I have made an error it was in the timing of my reply. Perhaps Dr Shaw was offering an olive branch in the closing paragraph and my earlier views blinded me to that.
    T-C. I have absolutely no problem in what you say, other than the fact that you use the term "neo-con" to refer to many people far too young to have known anything else.
    If you have seen any of my earlier posts, you will know that I have significant issues with those who support Traditional Liturgy but are prepared to bend over issues such as abortion. Your point that it is all one thing very much strikes a cord with me. Up to this very post it has seemed very much as though Dr Shaw had time for those who supported the Traditional liturgy regardless of their views, and indeed actions, on other areas, whilst those who oppose abortion etc are very much second rate unless they too are supporters of the Traditional Liturgy.
    You may be right. Perhaps this is no longer the case. Perhaps it never really was, though I think it was
    I really hope so.

  7. I challenge you to provide a link to anything which suggests I have 'time' for people who support the TLM and also abortion. Or do you mean +McMahon? I thought we'd clarified that.

    Have you not noticed my support on this blog for the pro-life movement? Have you not noticed my interest in a range of theological issues?

  8. Neoconservatism is a Jewish intellectual movement. Describing someone as a neo-con is tantamount to calling someone Jewish.

  9. Sorry. I didn't realise that we had resolved the issue over Abp Macmahon. Yes I acknowledged that it is reasonable to thank someone when they do something for you. I also accepted that he is not personally totally responsible for the destruction of Catholic Education. But then few people are ever entirely responsible for anything that big.
    But one thing is for sure. He was the Chairman of the Committee who appointed Greg Pope as Deputy Director of the Catholic Education Service. I ask anyone reading this post to read through the whole of this link.

    And yet Abp Macmahon gets nothing but praise thanks and congratulations on these pages or on the pages of your magazine.
    Anyone opposing abortion but not too concerned about the Traditional Mass gets dismissed as a neo-Con which as Julia quite rightly says is a somewhat pejorative term.

    Of course I have noticed your pro-life etc posts. If I hadn't I wouldn't keep coming back.
    It's your decisions as to who to praise, and (sometimes) who to criticise that I have issue with.

  10. 'Dismissed as a new-con'? What does that mean? I don't regard 'Nero-con' as pejorative. It is merely descriptive.

    You say you understand praising people for the good they do, but it seems you have difficulty applying this in practice. I have been forthright in this blog and elsewhere about the problems of Catholic education - far more than any neo-con I am aware of. I don't engage in pointless personal attacks on bishops.

  11. The attempted “Coup” designed to change the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage by means of the very biased “Relatio” was thwarted on this occasion.

    Having read the Pope’ speech I am not sure I can agree it was balanced, although your use of the word “elaborately” might be significant. In my own reading of the speech I noted three examples of ambiguity, two of contradiction, two of vagueness, and one incorrect description, in so far as I understand. Reminds one of Vat II?

    They , shall I say the Relativist faction, will be back next year and also will be at work in the meantime. Catholics must be equally diligent, on guard, and have a very well worked out position for the second session. The Catechism of the Church may be further deepened in explanation but nothing in it can be validly withdrawn. Such a document would then be invalid, probably heretical.

    If Communion for the divorced and remarried is conceded then the damn will burst and the whole idea of Christian marriage within the Church will collapse and be no different from that of the Secular society and world in which we now live.

    It will be a slap in the face, an insult, to the majority of Catholic who in spite of all the pressures to the contrary, stick to their marriage vows.

    It will mean, almost certainly that the widely foreseen and feared split in the Church will become a reality.

    One thing I agree with in your note however that is it will be ordinary orthodox Catholics with spine who will decide the issue. We must all break these habits of silence, of neutrality, of misjudged pastoralism, of “niceness” and speak out in comment, amongst Catholic friends, to our priests, and in writing to bishops.

    ps. I’m not sure what a “neo- con” is. If I turn out to be one well, there’s nothing wrong with it!

  12. Anonymous10:25 am

    Dear Dr Shaw,

    Thank you for your thoughts on the matter of the Synod, the attempts to undermine the perennial teaching of Christ and the likelihood of further attempts in the future.

    I would like to highlight a little statement that you wrote which I think is very important - "But it is possible that, with the approval of the Supreme Legislator, Canon Law could cease to say what it says today about the reception of Communion, which gives the teaching on indissolubility some practical implications. It could cease to implement Divine Law in this respect."

    You then go on to hypothesise how that could manifest, but I would like to add one for your consideration. The introduction of a "theory of a just communion for divorced and remarried couples". This method already exists in both canon law and the catechism, to get around perhaps the most difficult subject that Christ taught authoritatively - violence.

    The future synod could produce a theory. In doing so, the Theory, while being just a Theory, would in effect override the original perennial and immutable teaching of Christ.

    And I agree, doing this has horrendous effects on the Church and her efficacy in the world.


    1. Can you give an example of how this method has been used in the past?

    2. Anonymous12:12 pm

      Dear Dr Shaw,
      Thank you for asking.
      I am aware of only one example of the introduction of a theory as a means to mitigate the teaching of the Divine Lawgiver.
      The theories found in Cicero's work De Officiis were imported by Saint Ambrose in his work De Officiis Ministorum, to mitigate the teaching of Christ (in particular His teaching during the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5, Lk 6), the questioning of the Pharisees regarding the greatest Commandment (Mt 22, Mk 12, Lk 10), and most importantly the New Commandment given to the Disciples at the Last Supper (Jn 13)).
      The theory put forward in De Officiis Ministorum, was developed further under Saint Augustine in his work De Civitate Dei. The theory continued to grow and develop. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes about it in the Summa Theologica (Secunda Secundae Partis, Q.40).
      That theory now finds it's place in all the Catechisms (usually referencing De Officiis Ministorum). For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2307-2317).
      It is unique because it is the only theory (that I am aware of), that appears alongside dogmatic declarations.

      I find it interesting that these two issues are found within the same chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The issue of violence and emnity is dealt with by the Divine Redeemer as born testimony in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 5:21). The issue of the Indissolubility of Marriage is dealt with almost immediately after (Mt 5:31).

      There are quite a few interesting coincidences between the introduction of Just War Theory, and the latest attempt to undermine the Indissolubility of Marriage.
      In the first case of the introduction of a Theory to undermine Divine Teaching;
      There was an outside pressure (Roman Society), and a corresponding interior "lobby" (of which we only have Saints Ambrose and Augustine recorded).
      The "loophole" was introduced covertly, not by a Papal exhortation, but rather by an Archbishop (ref: De Officiis Ministorum.

      I hope that helps.


    3. Just War Theory: I don't think that is a great example. The theorists were responding not only to the political realities of their own day but to the Old Testament, and Our Lord's advice to soldiers. Scripture has to be read as a whole.

    4. Anonymous1:10 pm

      Without detracting further from your excellent post, I disagree with you. There is no better example.

      Theorists today are responding to the Old Testament. "It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce."
      Christ responds to this:
      "But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery."

      It is wrong to leap out of the New Testament, and go back to the Old Testament. That is precisely why Just War Theory is an important example of how this has been done in the past.

      You are right in saying that Scripture has to be read as a whole, but from the perspective of Christ, in keeping with the Church (since she alone can interpret Scripture).


      P.s. If you are referring to Luke 3:14 "And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay." - that was John the Baptist. Not Jesus.

  13. I think the "divisions" have only ever between orthodox and non-orthodox Catholics, and in my opinion that is the divergence in approach which has been laid bare during the Synod.

  14. Anonymous2:46 am

    Insofar as Canon Law might purport to oppose Divine Law or Natural Law it is necessarily void and invalid ab initio.

  15. Anonymous2:49 am

    Just as priests have a duty to protect Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament from sacrilege, we all have a duty to fight the enemies of God insofar as we are able.

  16. I might quibble with the use of "neo-con" a term with some specific and heavy political baggage (entailing use of force for nation-building, etc., which might embrace George Weigel, but not Fr. Longenecker) in favor of the merely broader "conservative," which takes in more Catholics; but otherwise, this essay is dead on, and something we should contemplate soberly. The battle is just beginning, not ending.