Is a Precipice Yawning? John W. O'Malley, S.J., Responds to Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat’s article in the New York Times on Sunday sounded the alarm: Pope Francis through his Synod on the Family has brought the church to the edge of a precipice. If the synod continues on its present trajectory, it will “sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents” and could lead “eventually to real schism.” This is a dire prediction. It is also call to arms.

Change is in the air at the synod. To that extent Mr. Douthat is right. Moreover, change is problematic for an institution whose very reason for existence is to preserve and proclaim unchanged a message received long ago. Yet, given our human condition, change is inevitable. Sometimes change is required precisely in order to remain faithful to the tradition. It has in that way been operative in the church from the beginning.            

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Every council in the history of the church has been an instrument of change, and the synod is in effect a mini-council. Pope Francis convoked it for an examination of conscience about a range of questions directly or indirectly affecting the Sacrament of Matrimony. What will result from this examination? We don’t know. Will it be a declaration, a decree, a simple report? We don’t know. No matter what the form, what will it say? We don’t know.

The synod has completed only part one of a two-part meeting. It has at this juncture issued no decisions, and the “final report” of last week is by no means the last word. The prelates who are participating now have a year to reflect and consult. When they return to Rome they will continue to debate the issues, and then, we presume, will issue an official document in their name and in the name of the Holy Father.

Mr. Douthat cites Vatican II favorably as an example of a council where the debates “while vigorous, were steered toward a (pope-approved) consensus.” This is true. The debates were vigorous, sometimes fierce, a phenomenon of many councils besides Vatican II. Douthat cites the documents on religious liberty and “Judaism” (that is, “Nostra Aetate,” on non-Christian religions) to make his point, They passed, as he correctly states, with “less than a hundred dissenting votes out of 2,300 cast.”

Yes, they finally passed with that degree of unanimity. But before they reached that point they were so hotly contested and seen as such radical changes in Catholic tradition that the Secretariat for Christian Unity, the body at the council responsible for them, seriously considered withdrawing them from the agenda rather than risk a vote.

The pope-approved consensus was achieved at Vatican II only after all parties were heard from and then worked together to see what they could agree upon. The bishops seized the opportunity to speak their mind on issues that until then had been off-limits. Now, at the synod, Pope Francis encouraged the bishops to do the same, to speak their minds “without fear.” They have done so on issues that for at least the past 35 years have been crying for attention.

I am Catholic enough to assume that next year the synod will move to what Douthat calls a “pope-approved consensus.” It is the Catholic way. The synod has in fact already moved in that Catholic way and given every indication that it will continue to do so. After the synod as before the synod, we will face difficult times. But we are not on the edge of a precipice.

What, then, is to be said about Ross Douthat’s arguments? I expected better from him, and he can do better. A case can be made for his concerns. Yet this is not it. Mr. Douthat’s arguments are so loaded with questionable assumptions, historical and theological short-cuts, and parti pris that it is difficult to know where to begin.

A self-professed conservative, Douthat assumes that “conservative” (as he understands it) and “orthodox” are interchangeable. In this logic, “liberal/progressive” and “heterodox” are similarly interchangeable. That is a harsh judgment, difficult to sustain. After all, at Vatican II the so-called progressives turned out to be the orthodox.

But there is a much more disturbing feature in Douthat’s analysis. He, and presumably all “conservatives,” stand unflinchingly against change on “communion for the remarried.” It is specifically this change that would “sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents—encouraging doubt and defections, apocalypticism and paranoia.”

What is being said here? I think we can assume that change, if it comes, would come from the synod, a body of duly ordained bishops at a meeting duly convoked by a duly elected pope. It is a body, moreover, that has at its disposal the full range of Catholic theologians and theological opinion on a world-wide basis. I think we can assume that, influential though the reigning pope always is in such situations, Francis neither wants to nor is able to force his agenda (whatever that might be!) on the members of the synod. I say that in the face of Mr. Douthat’s insinuations to the contrary about Francis.

While the synod is in session as a body of bishops working collegially with the pope to take measures for the good of the church, it is a binding and authoritative teaching organ in the church. Do not all orthodox Catholics believe that that authority is to be accepted over their own personal fears, expectations and hopes?

Do not all orthodox Catholics believe that that authority is most certainly to be accepted over the objections of “a minority—sometimes a small minority,” as Mr. Douthat describes himself and his fellow-travelers? This minority self-identifies as orthodox and, it seems, potentially more orthodox than the synod. But it is a self-identification without credentials to validate the claim.

Finally, what are we to make of this: “Remember there is another pope still living!”? “Another pope still living!” This sounds like a threat. Are Mr. Douthat and the like-minded Catholics for whom he speaks appealing to a pope more to their liking over a pope less to their liking? If so, the statement has a regrettable sinister ring. Or what? Let’s hope that Ross Douthat does not mean his reminder to be as schism-suggesting and radically un-Catholic as it sounds to my conservative ears. 

John W. O'Malley, S.J., is university professor, theology department, at Georgetown University and author of What Happened at Vatican II.

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Annette Magjuka
3 years ago
This sounds a lot like the Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats want to come to consensus, the Republicans will obstruct until they get their way on each and every issue. It is difficult, to say the least. I have waited my entire lifetime for the church to accept the gifts and talents of women (I am 58) and realize I will not see this in my lifetime. Bu the LGBT issue is a crisis, and must be resolved. When LGBT kids are bullied, committing suicide, feeling ostracized, unloved, unaccepted--when beloved teachers and parish workers are being fired after years of service, and when Catholics have to see the Catholic representative standing WITH those who crafted the "death to gays"laws--well, this is serious business. Catholics do not want to be complicit with this evil discrimination. We want it stopped, and stopped immediately. So we are at an impasse. There is no time to waste. We must act to stop the injustice.
Gene Van Son
3 years ago
No, the Dems want consensus only if it is the consensus that they want. They do not want discussion. They do not want to hear opposing opinions. I’m not sure what your comment, ". . . when Catholics have to see the Catholic representative standing WITH those who crafted the "death to gays" laws--well, this is serious business" is all about. I know of no Catholic Leaders espousing "death to gays." On the other hand, abortion is pretty serious yet there are some prominent so-called Catholics who have no problem advocating for abortion. This is serious. Catholic doctrine on abortion, homosexuality, and marriage is very clear. The problem is that it is unacceptable to today’s liberals/progressives and relativistic secularists, and they want it changed. They do not want discussion. They want what they want. And finally, the Church does “accept the gifts and talents of women.” That the Church does not accept them in the way(s) you would like to see them accepted does not make you right. I had 16 years of Catholic education and I hold the wonderful nuns who taught me during those years in as high esteem as any of the priests and bishops I have known, and I would put Mother Theresa and any number of women saints on a higher pedestal than some popes.
Leo Cleary
3 years ago
It's been a long time since I've felt enthusiasm for our Church and I credit that to the Bishop of Rome. Almost anything of Catholic international interest that has happend over the last 19 months has been thru him. Like him or not, "he's the man" as my kids say. Since 1978 when John Paul 2 was elected, thru Benedict's time until Francis' astonishing election, the bishops chosen across the world seemed to fit into a box that only allowed them to talk the party (home office) line and judged any thoughtful ideas not of the home office's cue as unfaithful and dangerous. The Roman Curia under those two popes called different ideas and opinions descent. Now Francis calls it conversation and dialogue. It's not surprising that some of the most strident of those men feel the need to trash him. He is a massive threat to their lifestyle, self-esteem and world view. Maybe even their vocations. It seems the same holds true for Mr. Ross Douthat. It will take some time for those threatened bishops and cardinals to allow themselves to think differently. I pray often that Francis be granted many years so that conversation and dialogue become the Catholic norm of the day. What some consider dangerous and undignified others see as vibrant conversation that does not end all at once with an order to stop talking. Maybe someday those threatened and angry bishops, cardinals and even Mr. Douthat will no longer feel bad for feeling good!
Nancy Walton-House
3 years ago
Well said.
Walter Sandell
3 years ago
The next year should be interesting. Am I a heretic because I believe in and support the ordination of women? I'd be a hypocrite if I did not say that I did.
John Richard
3 years ago
Hypocrite or not Walter you are still a heretic.
David Wendell
3 years ago
You are being a little unfair here. It's possible that he hasn't professed faith in Christ and is therefore NOT a heretic.
John Fitzgerald
3 years ago
The fact is that there are many so-called conservative Catholics who will turn quickly on any priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope who differs from what they believe is official teaching. Somehow they think they know what is immutable Church teaching better than the offending cleric. Douthat is one of these. The teaching Church should ask itself how it has developed such an arrogant cadre of nominally good Catholics.
Kevin Murphy
3 years ago
I believe Douthat's opinion reflects what is in the Cathecism so what he is saying is, indeed, official Church teaching.
ROBERT STEWART
3 years ago
Excellent response to the Ross Douthat article by Fr. John O'Malley! Thought this comment got to the heart of the matter: "This minority self-identifies as orthodox and, it seems, potentially more orthodox than the synod. But it is a self-identification without credentials to validate the claim."
William Carter
3 years ago
What worries me and what I see. I see what many of the Catholic Universities have turned into and I see that Jesuits have been basically responsible. Am I wrong? Christ left us with a never ending pure well. It is only when people, persons bring in their own water that troubles my soul. First draw only from his well and be troubled not from the out cry of popular culture. When people are prepared to listen then they will drink from the well of Christ and they will desire his body and blood.
David Gold
3 years ago
The real schism will occur when the Christ Returns, because he will not give anyone a year to think it over. He will say it like it is and he will be even more radical than Pope Francis. What will people Douthat do then? It will be be very interesting.
Carlton Kelley
3 years ago
Why are people so afraid of change? There is nothing - nothing - that is "heretical" in Francis' thoughts or proposals. He is only, and I say that advisedly, attempting to open up a long closed and hyperlegalistic institution to the clear light of God's day. Perhaps he'll get to the point of admitting that women fully bear the image of God and should, of course, be ordained to all three major orders.
David Wendell
3 years ago
I don't understand how "so called progressive" were the orthodox at Vatican II. There were "so called progressives" who were quite unorthodox in the spirit of Vatican II, and there were "so called conservatives" who were (and are) quite unorthodox in their rejection of Vatican II.
Gerald Schiffhorst
3 years ago
Thank you for this valuable response to Douthat's hysterical outburst.
Tommy O'Donnell
3 years ago
Fr. O'Malley, I think Mr. Douthat's overall suggestion is not that schism would come quickly, but that what could be seen as a radical doctrinal change would eventually undermine Roman claims to primacy within the Church and among other Christians denominations, too. Even if they don't agree with the Catholic teaching on marriage, they respect it. I still haven't read a good theological defense of the Kasper proposal. I'm always open ears for some solid theology.
R. David Foster
3 years ago
Anyone who throws stones to exclude should examine their own marital situation in light of Theology of the Body, to determine how they have contributed to the failing of marriage in their immediate situation. If not Theology of the Body, then Vatican II . . . I am committed to promoting Theology of the Body, to shed light on how, why and where we came to this situation, and how, why and where we will proceed beyond it into a new world and a new church. See ! He is making all things new !! http://vid932008.vhx.tv/
Catherine McKeen
3 years ago
Will those same prelates use their year to actually "consult" the whole church by way of parish/diocesan surveys or questionnaires? Such consultation could be the most interesting and dramatic change of all in the life of the modern church.
Frances Gomez
3 years ago
Gene you are right.
Richard Bourne-Vanneck
3 years ago
Excellent response. A theological defense of Kaspar might begin with a reflection on the fundamental thrust of Our Lord's mission as noted in the Canticle of Zechariah: "to give his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins." Why is forgiveness available for every conceivable sin except for divorce and subsequent remarriage? Granting that there be sin in that, why is it excluded from the sacrament of reconciliation and consequential access to the Eucharist? Absolution for murder can be granted in the confessional, but not remarriage? Is this the sort of legalistic hair splitting that is reflected in the Gospel? The Eucharist is the heart of a Catholic's faith! We believe in the Transubstantiation that takes place in the Mass. Yet the so-called "conservatives" cherish the denial of the sacrament to those who have remarried after divorce. For shame! Shame on those who misappropriate the license of God's mercy. Our Lord shamed and silenced the hypocrites, Pharisees and Sadducees on many, many occasions, notably when they sought to stone the adulteress. Our Lord did not say her adultery was right; it was sinful. But Our Lord taught that the larger message, the Christian message was to be a message of mercy and forgiveness. Where is that message in the Church today? I think those who buttress the walls if exclusion and relish banishing good, sincere Catholics from the Church will have much to answer for at the Last Judgment.
J Cabaniss
3 years ago
The reason the divorced and remarried cannot receive communion is not because of having committed the one time sin of remarriage but because they persist in the ongoing sin of adultery. Every sin can be forgiven, but only if it involves contrition, and contrition includes the intent not to repeat the sin. A person who has remarried and is sexually abstinent may validly receive; a person who has remarried and has sexual relations commits the sin of adultery, which cannot be absolved unless and until the person intends to stop committing the sin. Do you really consider a central concept of the sacrament of reconciliation nothing more than legalistic hair splitting?
Michael Cobbold
3 years ago
I wish it were possible to "like" posts on this weblog, for that deserves a lot of likes. If the Eucharist is "the medicine of immortality" (to quote St Ignatius of Antioch), those most in need of it are of all people those who should have access to it. Including revolting characters like Videla & Mugabe, & suchlike Catholic tyrants & criminals - but not them only: if adultery is wrong, it should be given to adulterers & gay activists, as well as to clerical predators. Precisely because it is is holy, those who need it most - those least "worthy" of it - ought to be encouraged to receive it. In Jesus, God Incarnate becomes a member of a fallen race - He is so fully identified with those He comes to save, as to become gallows-fodder, something accursed, an abomination to God, unclean & defiling. That is Holiness - the Holy God of Christians gets His hands dirty. He does not stay "safely" outside human history, but redeems by entering fully into it. The trouble with "holy things for the holy" is that it reflects a holiness of apartness from men, rather than Christ's holiness shown by getting His hands dirty. And this has effects in sacramental practice. This is a paradoxical holiness - yet it is the definitive revelation of God's Holiness.
J Cabaniss
3 years ago
Reading this article by Fr. O'Malley left me unprepared for the one written by Mr. Douthat. That is, Fr. O'Malley seems to have missed the point regarding the central question of schism and whether the church is "on the edge of a precipice." Was Mr. Douthat correct in asserting that to change the church's position that the divorced and remarried cannot receive communion would be a contradiction and reversal of current doctrine? Yes obviously, but not only that, a reversal of the doctrines involved here would inevitably signal the fact that no doctrine was irreformable. This might be a welcome approach to some, but to those who actually believe the church is protected from such doctrinal errors it would be catastrophic. The fact that such a decision might come from a majority of those involved in the decision would be irrelevant; church doctrines are received, not decided on by an examination of one's conscience and majority rule.
Joseph Codsi
3 years ago
I sympathize with this view. “Church doctrines are received, not decided on by an examination of one's conscience and majority rule.” This is exactly how the Church’s doctrine was understood in the past two thousand years. During all that time, the Church kept defining the faith, not against unbelievers but against other Christians who had different views. Now the defining process has reached a dead end. In the next phase, we will have to undo, one by one, all the definitions of the past. Either the Church does that, or it will become irrelevant as far as the modern world is concerned.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Joseph - sounds like you hold relevance with the modern world as the most important criterion for doctrinal definitions. But, you have the Episcopal church for that, at least for a while longer.
Michael Barberi
3 years ago
There are more inconsistencies and contradictions by priests in their pastoral role in their acceptance and practices regarding certain teachings of the magisterium than the Vatican wants to admit. For example, the principle of graduation for habitual sinners is often applied in the sacrament of reconciliation for married couples who use of artificial birth control in the practice of responsible parenthood, but this principle is not applied to other so-called habitual sinners such as the divorced and remarried. Many priests continue to leave the decision of birth control in a marriage to the informed consciences of Catholics as long as they understand NFP or have gone through the obligatory sessions as a preparation for marriage. Just about every priest knows that most of the married people who are standing in line to receive the Eucharist each week practice some form of artificial birth control that has been condemned by the Vatican as intrinsically evil. Poll after poll attest to this fact, especially by reputable institutions such as the Catholic University of America. Yet few, if any priests, withhold Holy Communion or have the courage to remind Catholics at Mass that those married Catholics who are practicing artificial birth control and have not confessed it as a sin and received absolution should not stand in line. This is what USCCB guidelines require. One priest in Brooklyn NY did this and found that a significant percent of his weekly parishioners started to attend the neighboring parish Church where the priests did not impose or mention such a requirement. What the Synod fathers should address in the coming year is the profound non-reception by U.S. priests of many sexual ethical teachings. This has more of a impact, in terms of moral confusion, on the consciences of most Catholics than anything else. Witness the fact in 2002 the percentage of older and younger priests who considered the following actions to be seldom or never a sin: 1. 40% regarding the use of artificial contraception for birth control 2. 43% regarding the use of condoms as protection against HIV/AIDS 3. 42% regarding masturbation Clearly, doctrine is not formulated or developed by vote. However, there are legitimate philosophical and theological reasons to allow Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried under certain circumstances. The final report on the Synod on the Family and Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation may surprise many, God willing.
Steven Krause
3 years ago
Could somebody more theologically literate than myself please help me out? Surely, we are all sinners, and none of "deserve" the Eucharist. The fact that we get to receive it anyway is simply one example of God's innumerable gifts to us. Yet, there's all this debate over whether to allow communion to the divorced/remarried, or to politicians who take public positions opposing church teaching. What are the criteria by which some sins are seen as requiring denial of communion, but others aren't?
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
It's really very straightforward, Steven. As long as one accepts what the Catholic church teaches, and is truly sorry for a particular sin (any sin), and makes an honest commitment (in confession, or elsewhere) not to sin again and prays for the grace not to sin again, one can receive the Eucharist. The problem arises if 1) one does not believe what the Church teaches (i.e. is not a Catholic), or 2) refuses to leave behind the sin (in other words, wants the Eucharist without the Repentance). You are correct that no one "deserves" the Eucharist. None of us. It is a gift that only a repentant heart can even worthily accept. It is not a civil or religious right. Yet, we all need it. Jesus said: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53). He also said "But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:3). And St. Paul said: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Cor 11:27). So, the synod has a very difficult task ahead of it. But, nothing is difficult for the Holy Spirit. He is in charge, not the pope or the bishops. So, we should not worry.
Michael Cobbold
3 years ago
In practice, that leaves the Eucharist available to clerical predators and to dictators & torturers with the blood of thousands on their hands. But that seems not to be a problem. Catholics in good standing like Pavelic & Tiso (the latter a priest), or more recently Franco, Videla & Mugabe, could receive the Eucharist, despite their crimes - whereas nobodies who contract second marriages without the first having ended in due form, cannot. Murders & tyrants & corrupters of minors, are treated as more welcome in the Church than adulterers. Yet again, the Church's phobia of sex, & its unhealthy obsession with it, trip it up. This is ridiculous, unfair, and (most of all) contemptible. To prevent a lesser evil, a greater one is allowed.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Michael - in Catholic teaching, there are several reasons for excommunication other than unrepentant adultery, including the so-called sins that "cry out to heaven for vengeance": murder (Gn 4:10), sodomy (Gn 17:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4). There are also the six sins against the Holy Spirit that are mortal: despair, presumption, envy, obstinacy in sin, final impenitence, and deliberate resistance to the known truth. This list of the severest sins includes only a minority of sexual sins. So, the obsession with sex seems not be be the Church's but some of her opponents. The bigger concern I have with your comment, however, is your judgmental desire to withhold forgiveness for your list of major sinners, irrespective of repentance. Jesus demands repentance from all sinners, the great and the small sinners. It is only those who refuse to repent who close themselves off from forgiveness.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
I think Ross Douthat worries too much. I did enjoy his "medieval" gloss on the events at the synod (the Germans vs. the Africans; or more like the 5th century). In fact both sides of the theological spectrum seem to have more in common when it comes to thinking the bishops or the pope are free to decide what to do (hence the political campaigning). The Holy Spirit will protect the Church. The English translation of the final synod document has just been released. It can be found here: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/18/0770/03044.html. While many will be obsessing about 3 paragraphs out of the 62, some of the others are also very interesting. Paragraphs 17-22 reiterate the teaching of the Church on marriage and family and all had near unanimous support. I note the final wording of the bishops on Humanae Vitae (para. 18) garnered more support than most VCII documents (175-5, 97%): “In the wake of Vatican II, the papal Magisterium has further refined the doctrine on marriage and the family. In a special way, Blessed Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, displayed the intimate bond between conjugal love and the generation of life. Pope St. John Paul II devoted special attention to the family in his catechesis on human love, his Letter to Families (Gratissimam Sane) and, especially, his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. In these documents, the Pope called the family the ‘way of the Church,’ gave an overview on the vocation of man and woman to love and proposed the basic guidelines for the pastoral care of the family and the presence of the family in society. In specifically treating ‘conjugal love’ (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 13), he described how the spouses, through their mutual love, receive the gift of the Spirit of Christ and live their call to holiness” (Instrumentum Laboris, 5)"
Richard Bourne-Vanneck
3 years ago
To the point that remarriage negates contrition because the individual is in a continuing state of adultery unless they refrain from sexual relations, is that not the same as with any other sin that is within the scope of Reconciliation. I.e., if one steals, lies, etc. after confessing those sins isn't that person able to confess those sins again? Access to the Eucharist in such a case is not foreclosed. Whether or not a person has the requisite "firm purpose of amendment" is ultimately a matter of the individual's conscience; as it is for every sin confessed. Does the priest ask to check someone's internet searches to see whether they are still looking at pornographic material? It seems that the rule here is based on ease of administration. That is, the marital status of remarried Catholics is readily ascertainable as such; hence, the usefulness of a per se rule. (Subject, of course, to another readily ascertain able exception for annulments.)
Michael Cobbold
3 years ago
Another detail, which is surely not irrelevant, is that access to the Eucharist depends in the end on the conscience of those availing themselves of it. The words of St Paul make clear what is meant, and why, and how. In 1 Corinthians 11, a section on the Eucharist is preceded by remarks on various disorders in the Corinthian church (vv. 2 to 16.). Verses 17 to 22 begin the Apostles rebuke of disorders anent the Eucharist; 23 to 33 is the section including the Institution Narrative given by the Apostle. It is in this last section that he writes: 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. http://biblehub.com/nasb/1_corinthians/11.htm The Corinthians are to judge themselves - their judgement of themselves, and not judgement by others in the Church, is the judgement to be applied. But the Church has long lost this approach, and more or less substituted for it judgement by clergy, and by still others. STM one cause of this change and this externalism is a loss of the sense that the Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit - external obedience has replaced authentic Christian freedom, because the conscience of the Christian judging himself in the way the Apostle describes cannot be relied upon to correspond to the decisions of Church authority. Christian freedom in the Spirit cannot be relied upon to be doctrinally orthodox - people are too imperfect to exercise such a gift, which cannot be guaranteed to favour the decisions of ecclesiastical officialdom. It is far safer to regiment what they do or don't do. The result - a dead Catholicism that has become so dependent on external approval that it has lost the fragrance of the Spirit of Christ: it has become another dead ideology. That may be overdrawn in places, but there is an unmistakable difference between the self-judgement the Corinthian Christians are to undertake, and the knotweed of Church law and discipline that governs Catholics in a Church whose Church personnel are required to be orthodox & Pope-centred, rather than to be the Christian pastors described in the Pastoral Epistles. Modern Roman externalism is not the self-judgement described by St Paul; and the difference shows.
J Cabaniss
3 years ago
It is certainly true that the individual Catholic is to judge his own fitness to receive communion; the guidelines are laid out in Canon 916: A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession.. Since adultery is a rather grave sin it isn't clear how someone in an invalid second marriage could assume he could validly receive. Beyond that, however, it is equally true that the church also has a responsibility in determining whether an individual may receive. This is specified in Canon 915: ...others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion. The key word here is "manifest". The difference between a man committing adultery with his neighbor and man in an invalid second marriage is not the sin but the fact that it is unknown in the first case and (often) quite public in the second. The clergy has no obligation to ferret out sins to judge someone's worthiness to receive, but they do have the obligation to withhold communion from those whose sins are grave and public.
Michael Barberi
3 years ago
The final report, now translated into English, of the first session of the Synod on the family is a great starting point. It is clear that the Synod fathers will have a difficult time chartering a better pastoral road for families who are trying to make the morally right choices in regard to the many issues they face. The focus of the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family is on pastoral theology, not on debating or changing doctrines or teachings. While many teachings and Scripture will be discussed in the exchanges between the bishops, the objective is how to deal with the moral dilemmas, existential realities and profound burdens that many families and Catholics find themselves in today. The word "obsessing" should not be used to denigrate or characterize disagreement or agreement with either teachings or the possibility of changes in pastoral guidelines on the many issues under consideration. Such a word does not help to move the conversation forward towards a better understanding of truth and love. Pope Francis calls for honest and open exchanges of ideas, opinions and arguments without the fear of retribution or being characterized as less Catholic or less faithful or too liberal and not conservative. The agreement among the approximately 250 invited guests at the 2014 extraordinary Synod on the family and their support for Humanae Vitae (97%) or for certain Vatical II documents (that were voted on by a worldwide council) should not be confused with the opinions and beliefs of the more than 5,000 bishops throughout the world. Most of these bishops will likely participate in the more important final session in 2015. What is most important is that all the bishops listen to the Holy Spirit but also to the worldwide laity inclusive of theologians. Nor should anyone presume to known what actions or positions Pope Francis will ultimately take in his much anticipated Apostolic Exhortation. Finally, it is not a certainty that every issue discussed at the Synod on the Family will result in a pastoral change. Nor should we expect that a newer and more convincing moral theory in support of certain teachings, such as Humanae Vitae, will spring forth from this Synod. The Catholic Church will likely continue to struggle with many teachings and the profound worldwide non-reception as well. Nevertheless, there is much hope and faith in the Holy Spirit who guides the entire Church and faithful Catholics, as the People of God. Let's pray for Pope Francis and the bishops.
Mike Bayer
3 years ago
I was fortunate to be schooled by the Jesuits at Fordham. Mr. Douthat has now been schooled personally by Father O'Malley. Thank you, Father, for taking the time to help this lost sheep, which is in the great tradition of the Church and your order. The Lord continues to speak to us, yet we must have ears to listen.
Anne Danielson
3 years ago
With all due respect, the Line that was drawn in The Sand does not separate liberal from conservative; it separates those who are for Christ from those who are anti Christ. There is no division in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Truth is not a matter of opinion, thus any change we can believe in, would affirm and sustain that which we must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith; from the moment of our conception, every human person has been created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a son or daughter, Willed by God, worthy of Redemption. To change this truth from The Beginning, would be the change that would change everything. Mr. Douthat is correct. We do have two popes. One has stated that man is an end in himself, whereas the other recognizes that man was created for communion with God. Truth cannot contradict truth. Which statement about man is true? Something to think about in the days ahead.
Anne Danielson
3 years ago
No, a precipice is not yawning, nor will one be dawning; we are already in the midst of a Great Falling Away. "IAm The Beginning and The End." Jesus The Christ, The Word of God Made Flesh. 18 "Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." - Jesus The Christ We cannot transform The Law, The Word of God transforms us. Love does not divide, it multiplies, just as the loaves and fishes.
Douglas Fang
3 years ago
Reading some of the comments here reminds me of Father Raymond Edward Brown, hailed by Cardinal Mahony as “the most distinguished and renowned Catholic biblical scholar to emerge in this country ever". He once wrote that if Jesus would come again today, he would be put to death again by some of his own followers. After all, Jesus was put to death by the religious leaders of the Chosen People, those who were supposed to be the Keeper of the Law, those who felled vindicated by their righteousness. Jesus was not killed by the sinners such as the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the thieves, etc. The complaints of Mr. Douthat about “the good Catholics” that feel betrayed by their leaders reminds me of the indignant feeling of the good son as he complained that he did not deserve the father’s treatment, or the upset of the vineyard workers who have labored the whole day that feel shorthanded by the vineyard’s owner… The essence of God’s revelation via Jesus is total mercy and forgiveness. God did not come to this world to seek or vindicate the righteous, but to seek out and embrace the sinners. If God wants, He can turn the stones into the children of Abraham. He never needs us to justify his glory. Human existence on this planet is so utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of this universe with respect to both time and space. If you truly believe that you are a sinner, you will have a very different view about this world – this is my own experience. The Pharisee praying in the temple did so with a very honest mind and sincere intention. He just completely missed the point of praying to God. Someone comments that “We do have two popes. One has stated that man is an end in himself, whereas the other recognizes that man was created for communion with God”. This is completely nonsense and shows a high level of both ignorance and arrogance. Pope Francis is the one who teach us that our faith and hope totally depends on Jesus. Without Jesus, all the beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated doctrines and teachings are just… that - “Though I command languages both human and angelic -- if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing”
Michael Barberi
3 years ago
Doug, Good comments especially about someone's comments that "We have two popes…one has stated that man is an end in himself, whereas the other recognized that man was created for communion with God". I agree such comments are nonsense and irresponsible. I would add: The Truth never changes, but our understanding of truth is constantly evolving especially with regard to the moral law. It is in dialogue, often about disagreement, that we often find a better understanding of the moral truth. Dialogue and disagreement has served the Church well. Witness the fact that many teachings that have been proclaimed as truth for centuries were eventually changed.
Anne Danielson
3 years ago
Michael, is man an end in himself or is man's destiny communion with The Communion of Perfect Love that Is The Blessed Trinity? http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20121221_auguri-curia_en.html
Michael Barberi
3 years ago
Honestly Anne, such a remark without a proper context and understanding is not worthy of further comment. The manner in which you made these comments implied that Pope Francis said that man is an end in himself. Our ultimate end is in God, pure and simple. I believe Pope Francis said that the Law is not an end in itself and such a statement was in a proper context that can easily be understood. You are entitled to your interpretation of things but they are not mine. God bless.
Anne Danielson
3 years ago
Our Human Dignity comes from our having been created for communion with God. The fact that we recognize that man is not an end in himself, but that man was created to know, Love, and serve God, does not make us ignorant or arrogant. In fact, prior to being elected pope, on page 117 of the book, On Heaven and Earth, Francis condones same -sex sexual unions that he defines as being "private", do not include children, and are not called marriage, and thus, according to Francis, do not affect society. Man is not an end in himself, nor is man a means to an end; from The Beginning, man was created for communion with God, Who Willed us worthy of Redemption.
Douglas Fang
3 years ago
My assumption is that the statement “One has stated that man is an end in himself” is referring to Pope Francis. If this is the case, this statement is completely nonsense, ignorant, arrogant, and truly heretic. If it is not, than you can ignore it.
Douglas Fang
3 years ago
Anne – I’m not sure why you keep on repeating the statement “man is not an end…, man is created to know and love God…” again and again as a mantra in every of your posts. What’s your point? Every Catholic believes in this basic principle if he/she still considers him/herself a Catholic. It seems that you do believe that our beloved Pope Francis is promoting this point of view, I have the following to say: 1. “Man is an end to himself” – Only some hardcore atheists can hold this point of view. The moment that you accept the existence of God, whether you are a Christian or not, you cannot hold this view any more. I grew up in a country where Catholic is a small minority. I can see that most of my non Catholic friends don’t even hold this point of view. 2. Your quote about page 117 of the book “On Heaven and Earth” lack some key points: a. This book is about the collection of conversations between then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka with the goal of promoting a productive interfaith dialogue in helping to repair a broken world. This does not reflect the official teaching of the Church. b. There is a clear distinction between same sex civil union and the same sex marriage. Pope Francis have repeatedly stated that marriage is only between a man and a woman. However, Pope Francis challenges the Church to come up with some compassionate pastoral care for the people living in these kinds of irregular unions, i.e. cohabitation, same sex unions, divorced and remarried, etc. After all, they are also the children of God and are invited to receive the same salvation that God promises to all mankind. A deeper context for this debate can be found here: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1400916.htm http://ncronline.org/news/politics/cardinal-dolan-pope-francis-opened-door-gay-civil-unions-debate http://www.catholicvote.org/pope-francis-supports-civil-unions/ c. There is NOTHING in this debate that can be used to claim that Pope Francis is promoting the viewpoint that “man is an end to himself”. It seems that you are making a fallacious deductive reasoning here. 3. After all, Pope Francis was elected by the Cardinals in the Conclave under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the prayer of the whole Catholic Church. Do you imply that the Holy Spirit made the wrong choice in guiding the Cardinals to elect Pope Francis? Does it make you wiser than the Holy Spirit or God Himself? Is it an ultimate act of arrogance? This is my last response to this topic. To be honest, I love and respect every modern Pope even though sometimes I don’t completely agree with all of their teachings. I truly believe that they are the successors of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ in this world. I do so because I believe in the promise of Jesus. God bless.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
The idea of schism is complete hyperbole. The output of the synod (final document, but even the interim, with its messy language) is totally orthodox. A question asked is just that. It is not answered in a particular way. The traditionalists need to have more faith in the Holy Spirit - the progressives more understanding in the mercy that already exists in the doctrine, which the Holy Spirit has already given us. Fr. O'Malley probably goes too far when he speaks of calling the synod a mini-council, since it is purely advisory to the Holy Father, just as the commission was advisory to Blessed Paul VI before he composed HV. While I have no vested position in how the Holy Spirit will determine how to influence Pope Francis as he thinks about how to best evangelize those who have abandoned their spouses, my guess is that the only procedural change will be a more efficient annulment process (not weaker process, but more efficient process). I do think that many Catholics have been going into marriages with little intention of actually having a marriage that is faithful to Catholic teaching, and hence might not be real Catholic marriages. For example, if one or both spouses marry with the intention from the beginning of using artificial contraception, or if one spouse does not believe in God or in the Catholic understanding of fidelity, or in the proscription against in abortion, and then they split up, I think they should have a good case for an annulment. This might provide an opening to many modern marriages. More merciful too.
Michael Barberi
3 years ago
If young married couples decide to use artificial birth control in the practice of responsible parenthood after attending pre-marital NFP sessions and discussing this decision of conscience with their parish priest, artificial birth control never was, and will likely never be, grounds for a future annulment. The grounds for an annulment are complex. The annulment process may be changed by the Synod on the Family and Pope Francis, but at this point, it is not certain what changes, if any, may spring forth.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Here is a well-reasoned Canon law article discussing when the contraceptive choice can currently be grounds for an annulment. http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2013/11/21/contraception-and-marriage-validity/. The timing of the decision and the resolve are very important. I do not know if the bishops would extend this thinking of Pope St. John Paul, but, if they did, many remarried couples would have a way to get reconciled with the Church and receive communion, which I think is a great concern of some at the Synod. It would be particularly merciful for couples who relied on faulty (unorthodox) advice from a local priest.
Michael Barberi
3 years ago
Tim, It is one thing if a couple hates children, is against having children for selfish reasons, and uses artificial birth control to ensure this end. It is quite another (as the article maintains) of using artificial birth control for the spacing of children or for not having more children. There are many examples of couples who have had a miscarriage or miscarriages and suffered severely because of it, both physically, emotionally and psychologically and decided not to have children. There are others where a pregnancy may be life-threatening. Under such circumstances, the use of artificial birth control would not be grounds for an annulment. Only in rare cases, such as an blatant anti-life attitude and other serious issues, would such an attitude be considered grounds for an annulment. Only the rare few of Catholics would fall in this category. Keep in mind that a marriage is not founded upon the requirement of having children. For example, many couples are infertile and others may have good reasons not to have children. Nor is there any rule about the number of children a couple is required to have. The Church leaves the decision about children up to the couple. In this regard, they should leave the choice of birth control up to the couple as well provided they have knowledge of Church teachings, have studied the issues of birth control, sought the advice of their parish priest, prayed and frequently receive the sacraments, and want and love children or do not want children for good reasons. If they have good reasons, and it is a decision of their informed conscience, and they want and love children, the choice of using artificial birth control should not be immoral. I do agree that many young couples do not understand the responsibilities and obligations of a Catholic marriage. Depending on circumstances, some of these marriages may be able to be annulled. However, it is a theological stretch to think that if couples do not adhere and believe in every teaching of the Church, in particular the teaching on birth control, their marriages are not valid and can be legitimate grounds for annulment.
Tim O'Leary
3 years ago
Michael - I completely agree that it is the legitimate freedom of the parents to decide when to have children, and even to marry if children seem impossible (such as because of infertility, etc.). But, the key for a valid Catholic marriage is that it not be closed off to children, while at the same time wanting to have sex. The Catholic understanding from earliest time (the sensus fidelium of all past centuries) has been that sexual abstinence, for good reasons, is morally acceptable. Acts that prevent procreation (separate, interfere, etc) while engaging in sexual intercourse has always been taught by the Church as immoral. To quote John Noonan, Jr. "the teachers of the Church have taught without hesitation or variation that certain acts preventing procreation are gravely sinful." Of course, the choice of artificial contraception by a married couple, made AFTER they are legitimately married, would not be grounds for annulment, since the grounds for any annulment have to be present at the time of the marriage. However, it is a very different situation for couples who, at the marriage, fully intend to use contraception for much of their marriage, even on the honeymoon, and who might even have been using it before the marriage. most couples in this situation have not even considered NFP, nor have they made any serious conscientious evaluation of the Church's teaching. It is these couples who may have a case for annulment, should their marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, there is some correlation with the use of contraception and divorce, so the number of people who end up in this situation is not insignificant. See this: http://www.canonlaw.info/a_contraceptionanddivorce.htm

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