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A Difficult Feat (at the Roman Circus)

Joseph Keppler. “Difficult Feat in the Republican Circus” [American satirical cartoon on the political balancing act performed by the Republican Party on the issue of Prohibition at the 1886 Republican National Convention] Puck Magazine, September 29, 1886
Hilary White —artist, journalist, and keeper of the weblog, Orwell’s Picnic emailed from Norcia to ask if I would contribute thoughts on the Synod to her new project on that topic. I really was not sure I had any thoughts. But her request left me wondering if perhaps I should.

Truth to tell, I have not been keeping track of the fluctuations of the Synod all that closely. For one thing, we are really not following the proceedings; we are following only selective comments made to the media. There is something of a dog-and-pony show about it. Francis has already short-circuited it with his motu proprio—placed grandly under the protection of the Mother of God, we are told. And there is little doubt Francis already knows what he will do.

At the end of the day, Francis is the final arbiter of whatever comes out of this Synod. Participants and procedures have been selected to give the pope the advice he wishes to follow. Disclosure of Francis’s peremptory rejection of a cautionary letter, signed by thirteen cardinals and delivered by Cardinal Pell, has spurred dark speculation on the outcome, already seen as a done deal. (That four of the supposed signatories now deny their John Hancocks lends a bit of drollery to the “hermeneutics of conspiracy” decried by the conspirator-in-chief.)

Reactions to what is revealed in the media will be useful to Francis in crafting his response. However reassuring the conclusion—and I expect it will be—the substance of his intentions will have been given an airing for all the world to see. And to cheer. (He has made the papacy popular with secularists. What subsequent pope will be inclined to reverse that?)

The Synod is not a boxing match. Trying to follow it blow by blow gets us nowhere. This is a chess match being played with generational pawns on a board that extends beyond your lifetime or mine. Leonardo Boff’s love letter to Francis, Francis of Rome, Francis of Assisi, makes a crucial point that applies here. He says that Francis knows he will not be able to achieve all that he wants to achieve in his tenure, but he will have planted seeds.

Precisely so. The Church has time on her side. No need to rush. One Synod is no more than a first, tentative turn of the screw. Traditionalists like Pell and Burke, thorns in the papal side, will die off. Younger men will come from a generation already primed to assent to the ethos of their times. Eventually, those seeds will bear the wanted fruit. This is a waiting game.

Predictions are risky things. They are often wrong. So I should be very brief in hazarding my own thought on how this Synod will end: I do not expect any bombshells. I expect orthodoxy will prevail. But it will be tainted by the perception that it is fungible.

We will breathe our sigh of relief, bask in a sense of victory: There, you see, the Spirit was with us all along! Our prayers were answered! Meanwhile, Laudato Si will worm its way through Catholic pulpits, agencies, and press. Take, as one example, Catherine Woo, head of Catholic Relief Services. She is on the stump to universities with her talk, “I am climate change. I am the cause. I am the solution.” The message goes out to 93 client countries and a near-100 million people. CRS is only one of scores of world-wide Church service organizations evangelizing for a green faith.

However this Synod resolves itself, the world will be the worse for this pope. Ignorance—ideological fixity—and cunning are a dangerous combination. Francis embodies both. He is too sly to trigger schism. All will be resolved to the satisfaction of orthodoxy. And all will stink of sulphur.


A version of this essay appeared first at What’s Up With the Synod.

26 thoughts on “A Difficult Feat (at the Roman Circus)”

    • Amen, that He will. Just remember that His Mystical Body needs to go through her Passion before the victory of the Resurrection.

  1. Read “The Circuli Minori discuss the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris: the importance of divine pedagogy” from VIS this morning. Pay attention especially to what the Spanish, French, and Italian subgroups offer up (WARNING: keep a vomit bag close at hand). It doesn’t take Fr. Brown to figure this one out, to understand that Maureen Mullarkey hits most of the nails square on the head here.

      • Here’s a sample. At least sit down and pour yourself a stiff drink before reading. That may calm your stomach.

        From the French: “Fidelity and indissolubility should be referred to as a gift and call, rather than in the legal terms of duty; they should not be perceived as superimposed on commitment, but rather as deeply integrated into the language of love and within its theological dimension. Marriage should be considered as a call to love and communion” AND “divine pedagogy acts in all biblical revelation and must continue to be experienced by the Church, following families in their joys and sorrows” AND “the proclamation of the Gospel of the family today demands a magisterial intervention to simplify and render more coherent the current canonical theological doctrine on marriage”, and that it must support the definition of the family “as a subject of pastoral action” AND “shared pastoral experiences lead us to see that in the Church, speaking about families means speaking about a human reality that is inscribed in time and in space. … Every famliy has its genealogy that entrenches it in a history and a culture. … This complexity is the place and the occasion for the manifestation of the mystery and the mercy of God. We wish to express our hope that the Synod will open up a period of patient seeking by theologians and pastors with the intention of establishing the correct directions for family pastoral ministry, translating the horizon of the family to a horizon of communion. We are less in need of adaptations of universal discipline than a solid basis for reflection and pastoral commitment”.

        The Spanish group: “The Spanish group recommends that emphasis be placed on gradualness and processuality in understanding the process by which God communicates the grace of the Covenant, educating by taking into account each person, progressively, in their community, correcting, accompanying and forgiving” AND “There are expressions that render marriage and the family absolute, while Jesus relativises them in the Kingdom of God” AND “Jesus always opens doors. God’s faithfulness is expressed in the sacrament of marriage, but in a human way: ‘quidquid recipitur, ad modum recipientis recipitur’. The indissoluble fidelity of marriage is a mystery that includes fragility. We have a theology of the family and the marriage, but more closely linked to morality. The Magisterium should present the Gospel of the family in an organic and integrated from. Following the thesis of the ‘semina Verbi’, the many positive values in other types of families cannot be overlooked” AND “The doctrine is known, but the needs of reality and the new emphases of theological reflection must be taken into account in order to truly make a meaningful contribution.”

        The Italian group: “the Christian community should be a family of families, measuring its pastoral action according to the style of the family and transmitting in this way a humanising force to the life of the world, to overcome the tendency towards individualism”.

        And English group C: “the need to explore further the possibility of couples who are civilly married or cohabiting beginning a journey towards sacramental marriage and being encouraged and accompanied on that journey” AND “We need to be realistic about marital problems rather than simply encouraging people to stay together” AND “exemplary families are sometimes difficult for people in painful circumstances to see as positive”

          • Your right, their language is a bit hermetic. These guys could probably have gotten O. J. off even faster than Johnny Cochran. The jury would have given them a quick victory just to shut them up.

  2. “All will be resolved to the satisfaction of orthodoxy. And all will stink of sulphur.”

    I don’t get it. What sort of strange ‘orthodoxy’ would be ‘satisfied’ with something that ‘stinks’? Are these the sycophants that laud Laudato Si despite it’s obvious short comings?

      • I don’t know how the law can be observed and undermined at the same time. The law is either flawed or it is not being adhered to.

        Do you mean like today’s Gospel reading (Luke 11:42-46)?

        “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

      • I can’t wait to read your blog post on the latest Yahoo news headline story, “Pope begs forgiveness for ‘scandals’ hitting Rome, Vatican”

  3. Maureen is a light in the darkness of this hour. PF is a pernicious dissembler. May God have mercy on His beleaguered church. St. Michael, Archangel, protector of the faith, shield us with your sword from the Father of Lies.

  4. Very good Maureen. What seems to be missing from the Synod is religion. It is all about politics and aberrant behavior. There is nothing the least bit holy about any of this. It is a disgusting charade and should be an embarrassment to any decent person in attendance. The Catholic Church instead of being about the attainment of eternal life has devolved in how best to serve the lusts of the flesh. What are they thinking?? And what is God thinking? May He have mercy on us all. St Michael the Archangel defend us…………..

  5. Foxy Francis is very busy going about his self-given task of undermining Catholic teaching and scolding everyone into guilty submission by insisting on his particular brand of mercy. Anyone who disagrees with him is, ipso facto, a merciless s.o.b. All his condescension to the “poor” is countered by his grim authoritarianism with those who don’t need his personal hugs and kisses.
    The charism of this pope,his “charm” that enables him to get so many who should know better to kiss the hem of his papal cassock, is like that of the Pied Piper who led the disobedient and unsuspecting children into the mountain cave that close behind them. Good Catholics, beware of Francis? Question everything. Nothing with this man is as it seems to be.


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