Reactions to the 1974 Synod & Reform of the church

What is your reaction to the Synod? What do you expect to happen in the future? How do you see reform in the church?

Initial reaction to the Synod: faith and hope

I think Pope Francis has opened the windows of ecclesial reflection and for this I am thankful. He has modeled a different leadership style and in doing so has set the conditions for the possibility of renewal of a catholic experience of Christian discipleship Unfortunately, the discourse at the Synod was, and is, largely a discourse amongst celibate males who have succeeded within the hierarchy of the Church. The inclusion of the voices of ‘others’ as equal partners would have enriched the discourse and, I suggest, would have resulted in an entirely different reflection on the health of the family in our times.

I shall not see the church I imagined and hoped for in my younger day, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. For me, Christ continues to come closer to me than I to him, and so I continue to try to listen to him as I cut the grass, cook the meals, pay the bills, and care for my wife and my extended family all the while reflecting on the Gospel of he, the cross-climber, who turned my life around years ago.
Michael Dallaire
Vancouver, BC. Canada

Seeking the will of God

Much wisdom and discernment is needed in the Church today. I pray that the Bishops, Cardinals and Pope can first and foremost seek the will of God as they grapple with these issues.

One thing to keep in mind is that, historically, when the Church has sought to be more "relevant", it ended up appeasing evil. As an example, look at the churches that sought to accommodate Hitler. Only the Confessing Church, the one that didn't compromise with the Nazis because the majority said, "it was a new day", remained true.

The Catholic Church rightly discerns homosexuality as a disorder, an act that is deviant and closes the sex act to the propagation of life. That said, Christians should not condemn the sinner. "Neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more." As for divorce and remarriage in the Church, as long as there is genuine repentance, I see no reason to disallow remarriage and the Sacrament. It's more than a little hypocritical to deny penitent divorced people and then turn around and serve Communion to millions worldwide who are just going through the motions every Sunday.
When the Church gets harsher on sin - intolerant of it - but remains loving toward sinners, then it will grow. God will bless it because it is genuinely seeking His will. This won't be popular but it will be right and true.
Alan Baker,
Morning Host, UCB Canada

Label not, but try to understand

Jesus said not to judge, but we're very prompt to do so, and to label various "types" of people enables us to express those judgements with respect to great numbers of folks. The conflation of "homosexuality" with "disorder" as well as "deviant act" highlights tremendous categorical confusion and ignorance of the complex dynamics of human genetics and psycho-biology. The assumption that "propagation of life" is the sole purpose of "the sex act" violates even the canonical understanding of the marital sacrament and, taken to its logical conclusion, would preclude Christian marriage for infertile persons (e.g., post-menopausal women). These are not pious sentiments but thinly disguised condemnations.
It's time for the church to address the real world in which we live, not to pretend that a return to some imaginary rigid past will create a "pure" church of the faithful. The Donatists lost that argument. We need to nurture the wheat rather than worrying about the weeds.
Sheila E. McGinn,
John Carroll University

Labeling as control

Last week I read an article written by a married gay man, discussing his take on the synod. In a nutshell, he said, "Thanks for all the allegedly positive news about improved vocabulary regarding same-sex relationships, but with or without your approval, we're good."
Whichever side people are arguing, perhaps more acutely in the synod, there is a strange and unspoken right that people are claiming - the right to make decisions about the (dis)order of other people's lives, with all of the legal and political and social ramifications that go along with that. The rhetoric and practice of inclusion would be a welcome change. but even if the hierarchs were to suddenly tell them that everything is cool, the fact that SOMEONE ELSE still gets to decide for them whether my life is OK or not, is for plenty of people simply a subtler kind of control.
Patrick Cousins,
Saint Louis University

 Dialogue in gridlock and trust-distrust in church leadership

According to press releases of the German bishops, the official church positions on premarital sexual relations, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, and birth control are “virtually never accepted” or are “expressly rejected” in Germany. For the Synod, on the other hand, the discussion centered on the limits of settled doctrines that no human power can alter. The Synod of bishops took place in the context of a gridlock between these two cultures.

So far Pope Francis has been successful only in getting synod members to dialogue. There has been a slight change of “tone,” but that change will evaporate within a few weeks. The “fundamentals” of the church have not been addressed, namely the rejection of some of the church's positions (“virtually never accepted” or "expressly rejected") by many Catholics; as a consequence about 30% of them have left in Europe, North and South America over the last two generations, and no bottoming out is in sight. Like at the time of the Reformation, the church today needs drastic changes to reverse the current trend. At least with pope Francis, there is dialogue, and maybe a slow unfreeze.

One worrisome recent development is the loss of confidence in church leadership of many Catholics in the West (those who do not attend church): they do not feel bound by obedience anymore: whatever the teaching Synod says or will say seems to have little impact on them.  For the anonymous Catholics the stalemate at the Synod may increase their loss of trust in church leadership. Let us hope that this is not the case because no society can function for long without trust in its leaders.
Pierre Hegy,
Adelphi University

My reaction to the synod?  None.  They didn’t do anything

I’m a Vatican II liberal Catholic theologian with a statement branded into my memory by what a curial official said to me a few weeks after the Council: “They all go home. We are here. Things don’t change.”  I’m also in a diocese (Rochester, NY) where the new bishop just stopped any lay person, especially women, from preaching; set the age of communion in the early grades and confirmation to early teens and ministers of communion, when allowed, must be approved by him.  So, that curial official was correct.

I’m only one old guy ruminating about the good old hopes.  What counts is not my opinion but that of the future generations. Their reaction is probably much like mine. You know the polls summarized  by books such as  Young Catholic America: In, Out of, and Gone from the Church and the recent reports by Pew on young Catholics and homosexuality.  Bishops like to talk, as do professors. But it’s what they do that will get me.  Curial officials are still there making sure things don’t  change.
Nathan Kollar,
St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY

It is dispiriting

            I just don't know what to think about the synod or even how to think about it. I know what to hope for: more compassion, more openness, less insistence on rules.
I am a convert to Christianity and then, a dozen years later, was received into the Catholic Church. I hesitated so long because it seemed to me that the church was too caught up in issues of who was in charge. For me Jesus Christ was and is real, and God is in charge. I finally concluded that the core value of 2000 years of traditions outweighed the nitty gritty of rules. But it is dispiriting to watch some bishops worry about whether or not people should leave their seats during the exchange of peace. Are they not aware of what the world is like? This problem goes beyond the farce of celibates telling couples how to live and love. It is worse.

 I still go to mass regularly because I find the core connection there, but the church often makes it difficult. I knew a woman who asked me: what do you call a book of 200 blank pages? That is the advice your priest gives you about how to get out of an abusive marriage. Born and raised Catholic, that woman left and never returned. If the church is bleeding people –  and she is –  these are the reasons.  Francis is a breath of fresh air. One can only hope

Talk is cheap

G’day, friends in Christ,
Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.
We’ve had the golden rule since the age of Jesus and that hasn’t stopped Church leaders from treating “sinners” appallingly.
Put up or shut up, Bishops. You’ve become irrelevant to young Catholics around the globe. Out of touch and hypocritical.
I live in hope for a better day.
Paul McMahon,
Hawthorn, Australia

I am disappointed in the Synod. I have been hopeful that the Church would give serious consideration to three issues: 1. Contraceptives (a totally absurd policy with no connection to the Scriptures) 2.  Enhancing the role of women in all parts of the Church (including policy making) and 3. Ease up on married Priesthood...
John Segovia

Hope through dialogue

            I come from a Catholic church that has always been described as "progressive" and "non-traditional," and a parish that welcomes ALL.  Just a few months ago, our openly gay choir and liturgy director was fired from his 17 year position at our church for posting on Facebook that he was engaged to his long time partner.  One of our parishioners sent the Facebook post to the Cardinal and the rest is history.  This director had tried to become a priest in his earlier years and was denied because of his homosexuality.  This has caused me to really spend time thinking about the issues that were discussed at the Synod.  

            Not for a moment did I expect anything in Church doctrine to change, but I was so encouraged by the fact that the discussion is taking place.  I truly feel that keeping the conversation going is a huge part of why I am still Catholic.  Our parish, as challenging as it may be at times, is hope for me.  We are allowed to disagree.  We are allowed to talk openly.  While I am I am humble enough to know that I do not have all the answers on issues like this, I do know that we have a lot of faithful Catholics who are hurting.  They are REALLY hurting.  My friend's gay son told her that it was surreal listening to grown men, far away, debating the legitimacy of his love and feelings... Dialogue opens you up to things you may not have thought of before.  It gives you new perspective.  When we close the door on the conversation, there is no more hope.  Action would be better, but I am thankful for the open discussion.  

            Those at the Synod are faced with very difficult issues.  I know there won't be any earth shattering changes, but I hope for a few things…I hope that on the issue of homosexuality we are listening to the medical community and what they have learned about homosexuality.  I hope we are paying attention to the suicide rate of gay teens and the research that shows that having a supportive, loving community saves lives.  This is a respect life issue, in my humble opinion.  I hope that even though we won't see a change  in doctrine, that we will be open to treating people with the respect that they deserve as children of God.  I hope we will still be able to welcome ALL, no matter where they are on the journey.

We are all sinners.  None of us is worthy of the Eucharist, really.
Mary Whiteside
Holy Family Parish

From disappointment to hope

My first response was disappointment.  I was hoping for more of the language of the working document.  With a bit of reflection and suggested possibilities, I remain hopeful.

One newspaper reporter, with solid sources, noted that some of the rephrasing came at the urging of Second and Third World bishops.  They contended that many of the issues in the working document were not the real issues they were facing; the document did not address enough of the world issues.  And, some of the First World issues were problematic for Second and Third World churches.  I can appreciate the struggle of being a "World Church."

Second, my reflection brought me to consider that we still have a "working document" meant to encourage further conversation and dialogue over the course of the next year.  Additionally, Pope Francis and the Synod allowed some of the real questions or real people to be "on the table."  The Church and the world now knows that there is an openness on the part of some for "new pastoral practices." I believe this awareness will promote ongoing conversation despite the efforts of even some First World bishops to minimize or end the dialogue.

I appreciate Mary's practical insight of being a welcoming and inclusive church on the parish level - no easy task, but the only way forward.
Frank Berna,
La Salle University, Philadelpha

The lack of a scholarly framework for family issues

            The main problems that I have with this synodal process is that bishops are trying to decide matters that have not been sufficiently studied or clarified by scholars, and the kind of scholarship that is needed is lacking. Moral theology alone is insufficient. There is, for example, no metaphysic of the spirituality of marriage other than the shallowest platonizing kind: the couple as icon of the marriage of Christ and the Church.

            I think Christ was so harsh about divorce because He could see the ravages caused by men leaving their families, which seems not to have changed all that much. I know that the Catholics who are leaving the pews are not necessarily the offending parties but the demoralized spouses and bitter children. I have also seen repentant men return to their wives after years of infidelity because they realized they had been wrong and they yearned for family again. My mom said that if women just wait a couple of years instead of accepting a divorce, they all come home. And they did.
Will the Church now support a metaphysic of relativity that encourages more instability?
Clare McGrath-Merkle,
University of  Augsburg

The problem of applied theology

            My biggest take away from the recent Synod on the Family is the problem of applied theology.  Many comments I have read imply that doctrine begins with theological theory within the Magisterium by bishops or within the university by theologians and then progresses to the application of this theory to matters of faith life.  This understanding of theology and doctrine is problematic and ultimately oppressive. 

            What I think Francis has been trying to do is emphasize that theology begins with the people of God and their experience of lived faith within the particularities of their own global contexts.  His pastoral approach of listening, welcoming, and attending to the lives of the faithful can also be realized in theology through a robust ethnography.  Ecclesiological simply cannot be done without an understanding of the every day of the faithful.  The church is not an abstract idea, but the reality of the people of God, that needs to be understood through descriptive research.
Marc Lavallee,
Barry University

On marriage and scripture

In reference to the the institution of marriage, is Jesus’ “from the beginning” (Matt 19) a commentary on the human origins of marriage or a spiritual understanding captured in the Genesis myth? Perhaps this verse was a criticism of self-serving casuistry of the Pharisees that appropriated Moses’ command for reasons that misused the Mosaic law. and blinded them to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in Jesus. One ought also to notice the apparent exception to the law, or ask why is it the woman who is the adulteress (and not the man) in chapter 5. It would be difficult to suppose that Jesus is offering a theology of marriage here.

In Eph 5 Paul speaks of the status of marriage as a human, societal, and spiritual institution. Expanding Genesis 2 he offers neither a moralistic nor a legalistic interpretation but refers to marriage as a mystery. I take “mystery” to mean both “sign” and “incomprehension”—faithful marriage lived out in committed discipleship reflects what is beyond our understanding: that the possibility of God’s love for creation become concrete in the person of Jesus.

Some bishops sound like scriptural/dogmatic positivists. They take these quotes and use them—in natural law fashion—as absolute, infallible and universal norms from which no one can fall short and still be “good.”  Discipleship is the road that we travel. The ideal of the Gospel exhausts our spirit as it also strengthens it. But none of these “clear teachings of scripture” (as some might put it) should be used as a means of social control—either of Catholics or to lobby for legislation that restricts same sex marriage or divorce. Instead they should be read as portals to understanding and experiencing grace.
Richard Shields,
University of St. Michel's College, Toronto

Synod, theology, and morality: on pluralism and dissent

We have to remember the old axiom that theology is faith seeking understanding.  I believe in order to understand.  However, the question of morality is distinct from the question of doctrine.  Normally our morality or modes of action are based on our fundamental beliefs about Jesus and God.  We do things that we think are right because we believe that Jesus as the interpretative voice of God wants us to do so.

But what is sinful, wrong, bad, or evil?  Your terrorist is my freedom fighter.  Your freedom fighter is my terrorist.  What behavior is unacceptable and beyond the pale?   When is one outside the communio?   As a worldwide Catholic organization, we are faced with cultures and morals that are clearly different in various parts of this world.  What is the difference between polygamy and serial divorce?   My answers to such questions may be different from your answers.  Are we still all Catholics?
Gene Finnegan
Calumet College of St. Joseph

A reply to Gene:

I am a sociologist and I do occasional work in China. I just got through a unit on the Chinese Rites controversy in which I attempted to explain to my students how the matter looked from a number of different perspectives. It is not simply that one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist, and that is all that can be said on the matter. In fact, a lot more can be said. We do not live in hermetically sealed universes. We can challenged the position of those who operate out of another frame, or who even speak another language.

In addition, the Church is not simply a community of people who hold different opinions, and that is all that can be said about it. It is community with a structure, and the opinions of some people in that structure carry greater weight.  However, their authority is not arbitrary. It is accountable to reason and Scripture-and-tradition.
My point is that mere relativism would seem to say when deep disagreement arises, we should pick up our bat and ball and leave the playing field. For this reason, I find the first paragraph of Gene Finnegan’s contribution a bit more helpful.
Michael Agliardo, SJ,
Loyola University Chicago

A reply to both Gene and Michael:

The structure of authority in the RCC, in my view, is largely created by the office holders themselves; it is fundamentally mythological and caste-serving.  The very fact that there is a Synod which pope and bishops believe has the divine power to decide moral questions makes my point: it's good to know that bishops deeply care about the ethics of homosexuality and marriage (I certainly do!) , but they don't know any more about it than you and I do.  Synods like consistories and councils are important and a good idea Just don't tell me that their decisions are the "Will of God" or the deliverance of the Holy Spirit in which I must abide. In spite of them all, the Cloud of Unknowing is till in place.

All Catholics should listen to the bishopos’ teaching but then you must try to figure out for yourself what to do, make your judgment and decision, and try it out, and correct yourself when necessary. That's what we are all equipped and bound to do, synod or no. [So, when is one outside the communio? - This question does not reflect a relativist position.]

A report from Rome

I was not in Rome that weeks and perhaps I missed part of the 'context'. However I was frankly afraid about the attempts and maneuvering previous to the Synod to limit the openings that Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper were pushing on.

The result - so far - is, in my opinion, positive, even if sometimes I find everything out of touch with real society and secular culture. There is fewer and fewer people getting married, most of them live together and not care about Catholic rules. Then Africans will hardly understand the issue of homosexual behavior and mating - as we hardly understand some of their cultural uses. What we need is a really open attitude that points more to the value of marital love and to reestablish some 'order of love', lost in the last decades; and then suggest ways how love can be enhanced and family life might become a real fulfilling way of life.

It's really depressing to pretend to keep rules from a time in which hardly anybody got divorced, in a time where more than 30% of couples fail. This sense of historical change is missed and needs to be recovered in what should be an exercise in "reading the signs of the time".
Lluis Oviedo,
Pontificia Universita Antonianum, 00185 Roma -Italia