Earlier this year, a petition was started. It’s purpose was simple: it asks the Holy Father to calm the fears of Catholics around the world with a simple public assurance that those forces which are seeking to undermine Christ’s teaching on marriage will not prevail at the conclusion of the two-year Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family.
The text of the petition reads, in part:
Your Holiness, in light of information published on the last Synod, we note with anguish that, for millions of faithful Catholics, the beacon seems to have dimmed in face of the onslaught of lifestyles spread by anti-Christian lobbies. In fact we see widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery—by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion—and would virtually accept even homosexual unions when such practices are categorically condemned as being contrary to Divine and natural law.
Paradoxically, our hope stems from this confusion.
Truly, in these circumstances, a word from Your Holiness is the only way to clarify the growing confusion amongst the faithful. It would prevent the very teaching of Jesus Christ from being watered-down and would dispel the darkness looming over our children’s future should that beacon no longer light their way.
Holy Father, we implore You to say this word. We do so with a heart devoted to all that You are and represent. We do so with the certainty that Your word will never disassociate pastoral practice from the teaching bequeathed by Jesus Christ and his vicars—as this would only add to the confusion. Indeed Jesus taught us very clearly that there must be coherence between life and truth (cf. John 14:6-7); and He also warned us that the only way not to fall is to practice His doctrine. (cf. Matt. 7:24-27)
Since the petition was launched, over half a million Catholics around the world have signed it. Not just laymen, but priests and prelates as well. Among the notable ecclesiastical signatories are Archbishop Pagotto of Paraíba, Brazil; Bishop Vasa of Santa Rosa, California; Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan; Cardinal Medina Estévez of Chile; Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; Cardinal Pujats, Archbishop Emeritus of Riga in Latvia, and so on. In fact, the list of notable persons in the Church and in the secular world who have put their name on the document has become quite lengthy.
And yet, there has been not a word from Pope Francis.
The very same Pope Francis who advises his priests to be “shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep’, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men.” The same Pope Francis who speaks always of those people on the “peripheries”; who very publicly meets with the disaffected and marginalized, who holds private audiences with Marxists and the transgendered, who meets with gay and transgendered inmates, who graciously accepts Communist Crucifixes without a word of condemnation, who invites movie stars from the far left of Hollywood to meet with him in the Vatican, and so on.
Fine. The Pope should spread the Gospel to everyone, no matter who they are. He should share the truth and necessity of the Catholic Faith wherever he goes. I agree.
But is it too much to ask that he make time for actual Catholics, too?
Are the faithful — like “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods” — something that requires “a context” in order for him to feel comfortable speaking to them? Does Pope Francis not want to appear “obsessed” with them, since “the teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear” and “it is not necessary to talk” to these people “all the time”?
Does he feel that “the Church has already spoken quite clearly” to faithful Catholics, and thus, “it was unnecessary to return” to them?
When Fr. Raymond De Souza asks, “Does Francis think Cardinal Kasper is right?” – how do we answer him? More to the point, how do we answer all the people in our homeschool groups and parishes and families and circles of friends and Facebook communities who are asking the same thing?
How do we tell people, “Yeah, the pope’s totally going to go save the day on this, don’t worry!” when he won’t even say a word about a petition with half a million signatures – many from his own bishops, who are trying to figure out how to hold the line if he won’t?
I’ll no doubt be characterized as the crazy one for asking the question. How can I doubt him? Do I honestly think he’s OK with the Kasper Agenda? What do I expect? He’s a busy guy. I’ll also be reminded a 4,037 times that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.”
I got it. I know. I’m Catholic. I’m up-to-date on my Catechism.
But if Pope Francis intends to uphold Church teaching on this, why is it so hard to just come right out and say it? He’s not smoking any lurking villains out of the shadows. They’re already basking in the spotlight. A spotlight that he himself has shined on them.
We are entitled to expect this from the Vicar of Christ. He has a duty to the faithful to guard the faith, not leave them wondering if he will falter, and if that means everything they believe in is a lie. Does that sound drastic? Because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’ve seen people speculating about. You can blame them all you want, you can call them unfaithful, poorly catechized, or lacking in trust. You can accuse people of schism because they lose faith with Rome and go seeking moral certitude elsewhere. On some level, you may be right. But they’re like children asking their father for bread, and being handed stones. (Mt. 7:9-11) Why must we beg him for reassurance? Why must we petition the pope to preserve and defend the faith?
There’s no more time for excuses. There’s no more benefit of the doubt in the reservoir. We’re a little over a month away from the Synod.
Please, Holy Father – answer the question.
UPDATE (8/24/2015): Some readers have asked us if we know for certain that Pope Francis is aware of this petition. I reached out to my contact at TFP — the organization that created the petition — to ask the question. This is what I was told:
The petition will be physically presented to the Pope on the 29th of next month [September]. However, the “Preferential Option” book and the petition were sent to over 90% of the bishops around the world. The TFP in Rome has also done a significant amount of campaigning for the Filial Appeal. The likeliness that he’s not aware of it is very low.
For good measure, I tweeted the petition over to @GregBurkeRome (Senior Communications Adviser at the Vatican), the papal Twitter account, and emailed the Vatican Press Office. I’ve reached out to my other Vatican contacts to see if there’s an awareness of this. With over 100 bishops as signatories, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the Holy Father has been briefed.
Of course, he doesn’t need to respond to a petition. Stating clearly that he won’t let the Synod go off the rails is something he should do of his own initiative. It looks like we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
UPDATE 2 (9/29/2015): We have confirmation that the appeal, which reached over 800,000 signatures — including 201 cardinals, archbishops and bishops — was submitted today to Pope Francis.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.