“Thus I make it known to you that from the end of the 19th century and shortly after the middle of the 20th century…the passions will erupt and there will be a total corruption of morals… As for the Sacrament of Matrimony, which symbolizes the union of Christ with His Church, it will be attacked and deeply profaned. Freemasonry, which will then be in power, will enact iniquitous laws with the aim of doing away with this Sacrament, making it easy for everyone to live in sin and encouraging procreation of illegitimate children born without the blessing of the Church… In this supreme moment of need for the Church, the one who should speak will fall silent.”
That deafening silence which hung over the Synod, a quiet that drowned out even the discordant clamor of some 200 Catholic prelates, was that of absent voice of Peter. Over the past two weeks, as we have observed the arguably prophetic contest of cardinals opposing cardinals. The figure most noticeably removed from the fray has, ironically, been the man sitting at the very center of it all. Indeed, even as we saw the Sacrament of Matrimony attacked and deeply profaned, watched closely as carefully crafted plans unfolded, and listened intently as a modern-day Paul rebuked Peter for his dereliction of duty, even then, in what might rightly have been called a supreme moment of need for the Church, the one who should have spoken remained silent.
But no longer.
As the Synod came to a close, the Holy Father at last stepped forward to offer what Catholics hoped would be the words of clarity so sorely needed by a Church seemingly awash in of confusion. Yet rather than placing a firm hand on the rudder of a barque that had truly begun to reel, the pope instead decided to assure the faithful that the spectacle of watching a ship tossed about by every wind of doctrine, was actually for “the good of the Church, of families, and the supreme law, the good of souls.”
How can we make sense of this? Precisely what good is done to souls by a synod that leads the faithful — invoking the pope as their authority — to hector their priests about permitting the impossible? To believe, as if it were possible, that the Church has changed her immutable teaching?
No good can come of such widely-sewn misconceptions, nor from the notion that fidelity to those same immutable teachings is nothing more than
a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – ‘traditionalists’
What conclusions can we draw from such language, and how does a Roman Pontiff apply the epithet “traditionalist”, not just to those he has allegedly chastised for their addiction to the “fashion” of the Tridentine Mass, but even to those who adhere to the papal teaching of St. John Paul II? How can adhering to the Church’s timeless teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the family be construed as “hostile inflexibility” rather than faithful docility?
Why would the pope do such thing? Perplexing as it may seem, for those who have been following this pontificate closely, the most obvious answer is also the most unsettling: Pope Francis gives every appearance that he wants to change the understanding and practice of Church teaching, and to this end he has already altered the discussion around his stated intentions with respect to the deposit of faith. (Could any of us imagine such a headline being written about any other pope?)
I realize that for some of you, such conclusions may constitute a bridge too far. It’s certainly not something I ever anticipated. But as an exercise in intellectual curiosity, just ask yourself the following: If you wanted to uphold an already established doctrine, would you
(1) Call a synod to readdress that doctrine?
(3) Change the rules in midstream to protect those dissenters from orthodox resistance?
(4) Allow the dissenting views to remain in the final text — even after they failed to garner sufficient support among the Synod Fathers?
Res ipsa loquitor. Simply put, this is not the behavior one would expect from an individual interested in upholding an established teaching. Rather, it befits the conduct of an ideologue intent on achieving a doctrinal coup.
And lest we take comfort in the fact that at least those positions utterly repugnant to Catholic orthodoxy were ultimately rejected, we need to recognize what really happened. While it is certainly correct to say that the proposal for admitting divorced and “remarried” persons to Holy Communion failed to achieve a super-majority, it nevertheless remains clear that a sizeable majority — 112 out of 176 Synod Fathers — did in fact vote in support of this position.
Let that sink in for a moment. 112 out of 176. That’s 64 percent of the Synod Fathers – which means that either a strong majority of the Magisterium now supports Kasper’s error, or the synod gatekeepers were careful not to admit too many prelates of the orthodox persuasion. And while it may be tempting to lay the fault for this debacle at the feet of the Secretary General, Cardinal Baldisseri, this is simply whistling past the graveyard.
Baldisseri is Francis’ hand-picked man, and as we can see from the Holy Father’s concluding remarks, the Secretary succeeded in crafting the rhetorical framework Francis needed to situate himself on the moderate middle ground of a classic Hegelian dialectic.
For those unfamiliar with the work G.W.F. Hegel, scholars at the University of Chicago explain his philosophy of dialectic this way:
Hegel’s dialectic involves the reconciliation of ostensible paradoxes to arrive at absolute truth. The general formulation of Hegel’s dialectic is a three-step process comprising the movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. One begins with a static, clearly delineated concept (or thesis), then moves to its opposite (or antithesis), which represents any contradictions derived from a consideration of the rigidly defined thesis. The thesis and antithesis are yoked and resolved to form the embracing resolution, or synthesis.
Pope Francis’ final address provides us with a textbook example of the Hegelian dialectic at work. First, we have the thesis — namely, that on matters regarding marriage, sexuality, and the family, the Church should simply capitulate to the world and, in the name of mercy, adopt an attitude of pure permissiveness:
The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God… The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
Thus, with the thesis on the table representing one extreme, we move instead to the contrasting anti-thesis: the position that, with respect to marriage, sexuality, and the family, the Church should simply adhere to her time-honored Tradition, both in teaching and pastoral praxis. No changes or updating are necessary. As we have already seen, Francis rejects this position as:
[A] temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists.”
The danger of these formulations is immediately clear. While the thesis actually represents an absurd fringe position — essentially, that the Church should adopt the wisdom of the world — the anti-thesis, rather than representing an equally absurd position (such as stoning adulterers and homosexuals) instead tries to suggest that the status quo in the Church — her immutable teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the family — is somehow the appropriate ideological foil to a call for complete moral compromise. As such, in an effort to achieve a sensible reconciliation between these two ostensibly ridiculous extremes, the Holy Father is now poised to offer a synthesis.
The problem is that he has yet to tell us specifically what that synthesis is. In fact, his reticence to take a clear stance amidst such deep and growing confusion is so glaring that one might appropriately say that, in this supreme moment of need for the Church, “the one who should speak remains silent.” Instead of offering the guidance of a spiritual father, he merely alludes to the fact that the Church needs “to mature” and “to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”
In other words, because men have failed to heed the wisdom of the Church, and in so doing find themselves eating pods among the pigs, it is now incumbent upon the Church not to offer the robe and fatted calf to those who choose to come out of the sty, but rather to give these same goods to those who have no wish to leave it.
We are left wondering about a via media between honoring marriage in the way that Christ himself commanded and living in the persistence of grave sin.
Despite his ambiguity, Francis’ message is clear on one point: “God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.” In other words, the Church must change. It seems unavoidable, however, that any change where orthodoxy is the starting point will lead us into a concession on the faith that cannot be granted.
It is not our place to speculate on the motives of the Holy Father; but even if he is pursuing this course with the most noble of intentions, the end result is still tragic: a movement away from divinely revealed truth, and the continued self-demolition of the Catholic Faith.
It is the duty of any pope to speak plainly on matters of grave importance, particularly in faith and morals. A failure to do so when silence means the growth of discord and confusion among the faithful is a terrifying thing to contemplate.
We cannot speak for Peter. We need him to speak for us. Pray that he finds his voice.
Alongside his career in the insurance industry, Brian Miles is an avocational author of fiction, poetry, and the occasional essay. He received a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Colorado and an MA in Divinity from the University of Chicago. He is a convert to Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism. He lives with his wife Elizabeth in Dallas, Texas.