Friday, October 24, 2014

Change or pushback?

Embattled Vice President Jejomar Binay may not believe it.  But there are  concerns more  significant  than the  continuing  steep plunge in his  poll ratings  or his three-hour meeting   with President Benigno  Aquino  midweek.

One is how 1.2 billion Catholics, including over 90 million Filipinos, will be affected by decisions the Synod of bishops, which ends Sunday, Oct. 19.

The Synod’s report is “something of a bombshell,” writes the New Yorker’s Alexander Stille. To anchor the 2015 synod, it has provoked arguments for and against.  As read to the synod, it urges greater openness and understanding toward divorced individuals, remarried couples, homosexuals or mixed couples who practice different religions. It suggests making annulment easier.

Traditionalists however refuse to buckle. One may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, says Cardinal George Pell of Australiaone of eight cardinals Francis handpicked to oversee Vatican reform. But he wasnt. And Im sticking with him.

They also   bristle at the notion that you can evade the rules by separating pastoral duty from doctrinal truth. “Every authentic pastoral action must be doctrine ad, lived truth,” Cardinal Walter Brandmüller stressed in an interview with La Republica.

Francis immediate predecessors, from Paul VI to Benedict XVI, seemed to lock the church into a series of positions—on divorce, contraception to homosexuality that  were at radical variance with the beliefs and practices of the majority of Catholics.

This pope   seeks to narrow this gap, emphasizing pastoral care rather than doctrinal purity. The Synod report is “a Franciscan document”. For more than 2000 years, the church adapted to “the world’s changes while insisting that its message has remained the same with theological finesse,

There is a difference between essential doctrine and positions that are well-established traditions. Priestly celibacy, for example, was only clearly established in the Middle Ages—before that, and for centuries afterward, there were many married priests.

The synod has so far had more in common with the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII. The pope puckishly tweaked Cardinal Müller, the Vaticans keeper of doctrinal orthodoxy, by telling the bishops, Speak clearly. Dont be afraid that Cardinal Müller is going to pounce on you!”

One idea that emerged is the concept of graduality.  This refers to “certain behaviors, although contrary to doctrine, can nonetheless lead people on the right path. 

Benedict XVI, for example, acknowledged that it was right for a prostitute with AIDS to use condoms. It was a recognition that taking care not to transmit a deadly disease to others is a moral act that points a person in the right direction.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, of Great Britain, stressed   that graduality” permits people, all of us, to take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives.

“What rang out clearly in the Synod was the necessity for courageous pastoral choices.” And the Church, as the draft report said, had to attend to “her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love.”

Day after the report was presented, there was an evident attempt at pushback, America magazine noted. Many bishops steamed under their Roman collars that “most of the media had presented “a seismic shift in the church’s teaching” when the text is still a provisional document and has not been approved by the synod or by the pope.

South Africa’s Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, O.F.M., for example   felt church teaching is not presented clearly enough in the text. “Media thought the expectations of the Synod were misinterpretation of what people would like to happen”.

There are 18 synod fathers in his group including Ireland’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (its Rapporteur and Cardinal Timothy Dolan who said in a radio interview, “It’s not the final word and we have a lot to say about it.”

Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni, acknowledged that that “expectations are high” because the church is placing the needs of the family at the center of attention.

A number of Central and Eastern European bishops expressed “particular unease, not to say disagreement”. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, who heads the Polish Bishops’ Conference, asserted the interim report departs from the teachings of John Paul II.  The purpose of the synod’s pastoral effort should be to assist good, normal families who are struggling to be faithful amid difficulties or to study “special cases.”

He disputed the report’s use of “the criterion of gradualism,” and questioned whether one can really treat cohabitation as a gradual step on the road to holiness. “The report gives the impression that past church teaching lacked mercy, and implies mercy only begins now.


There are sure to be some changes, but it looks unlikely that the whole tone of the document will change when the final text is approved October 18.

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