The recent Synod on the Family, part one, created confusion among many people from the moment it was announced. In addition, not everyone knew that “the Extraordinary General Assembly would be followed by an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015, on the same topics.”
The events this past October were nothing more than round one on Catholic doctrine, pastoral leadership, and subjects related to the family. But what also became clear is that some of the topics addressed by the bishops at the synod are more than a little contentious. Among these are the questions of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and how homosexual unions are to be addressed in the context of Catholic teaching.
To make matters worse, Pope Francis appeared to take a back seat, observing the landscape during the debates that occurred in the synod but not standing up and bringing clarity to the questions at hand. Indeed, at the end of the synod, during his closing address, he said, “Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”
The pope clarified nothing, but appears to have left everything apparently up for grabs during another year of “discernment.”
Recall that even before the extraordinary synod took place, the statements made by Pope Francis concerned many. For example, he said that the Church is a “field hospital” for those wounded by sin. Following on that analogy he opined, “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness.”
Was he suggesting that, in this context, divorced and remarried Catholics had to be somehow treated differently in doctrine and in practice? He did not say. In fact, he has never said.
And this is why he appeared to align himself with dissident theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper—a man who has voiced absolute support for giving the sacraments to divorced and remarried Catholics, a man who has claimed that Pope Francis agrees with him on this matter!
The Holy Father has not made it clear that, in fact, he does not agree with Kasper. Why is that?
And while Vatican officials attempted to set things right after the extraordinary synod, saying that the doctrine had not been modified, and in fact could not be, confusion still reigns among Catholics who want clarity for the Church, not pabulum.
Cardinal George Pell, a high ranking member of Pope Francis’ advisory council of cardinals, said shortly after the first synod ended, “We’re not giving in to the secular agenda; we’re not collapsing in a heap. . . . Communion for the divorced and remarried is for some—very few, certainly not the majority of synod fathers—it’s only the tip of the iceberg, it’s a stalking horse. They want wider changes, recognition of civil unions, recognition of homosexual unions.”
But everyday Catholics rarely hear this type of clear talking. Rather, they get their updates from the mainstream media, the very ones who are champing at the bit to recreate Pope Francis’ opinions in THEIR image by suggesting that his remarks are leading to a new set of doctrines that are more to their liking and thus very unlike Christ’s teachings.
This is why confusion reigns.
This is precisely why Steve Wood could write,
Reporting on the defective interim report of the family synod, the secular media was delighted to broadcast worldwide that there is a pro-gay seismic shift in the Catholic Church. While the final report of the synod backtracked on the morally defective statements on homosexuality and Communion for those living in adulterous relationships, make no mistake, the lasting worldwide damage is done. For the man on the street, the Catholic Church is just one more institution caving in to our culture’s gay-friendly transformation.
This is why we must pray. Pray for Pope Francis. Pray for every cardinal and bishop in the Catholic Church. Pray for priests—our teachers and shepherds. For as Cardinal Raymond Burke so eloquently stated, “At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the Church is like a ship without a helm, whatever the reason for this may be; now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader, and give powerful witness to the faith.”
Furthermore, we must never forget these words, written by Doctor Jeff Mirus, who is an expert on papal authority:
When we refer to the possibility of Pope Francis wanting to “change” Catholic teaching, we understand two things: First, that official Catholic Magisterial teaching changes only through legitimate development which adds greater precision and clarity to our understanding of the truths in question. It can neither contain error nor change in a contradictory way.
Second, insofar as Francis may wish to change Church teaching in a way that would ultimately be contradictory (or, indeed, false in any way), we understand this of Francis the man, not Francis the Vicar of Christ as protected by the Holy Spirit.