On October 20th, 2015, as the second half of the Synod on the Family was underway, I wrote:
It has long been my concern that Francis will make an end-run around the restrictions of papal infallibility by not making a decision that is binding, but rather by delegating the decision on matters as important as Holy Communion given to the unrepentant to Bishops, who must determine their own “pastoral process.” We know what this would lead to.
The link in that quote was to an essay about the schism in the Church — not the one that was coming, but the one that was already here. And the questions we were tackling then as hypotheticals are the ones we’re wrestling with right now as realities:
This is the reality Catholics around the world are struggling with right now. They don’t know what to think. We’re all papists, we faithful sons of the Church. But when do you say to Peter: “I’m sorry, your holiness, I can’t follow you down this road.”?
I’ve seen people — real, actual, non-hypothetical people — asking what they are to do if, at the conclusion of this year’s portion of the Synod, one of the following scenarios plays out:
Pope Francis blesses some document or language allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion after some prescribed process that does not involve removing themselves from the adulterous relationship, or
Pope Francis does not make such a decision, but rather delegates the discretionary power to do the same to either the regional bishops conferences or the local ordinary.
As it turns out, the answer was both 1 and 2. And with every passing week, we get more confirmation of this fact. From Schönborn to Cupich, Argentina to Germany to Rome, it couldn’t be more clear that our fears have come to pass almost exactly as we expected. The latest example comes from Bishop (soon to be Cardinal) Kevin Farrell, the new head of a new Vatican division for Laity and Family:
Speaking in an NCR interview Thursday, Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell said he has a hard time understanding why some bishops have reacted negatively to Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love.”)
“I honestly don’t see what and why some bishops seem to think that they have to interpret this document,” said Farrell, the head of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and who last Sunday was announced as one of 17 prelates selected by Francis to join the church’s elite College of Cardinals.
“I believe that the pope has spoken,” said the cardinal-designate, referring to news last month that Francis wrote a letter praising a group of Argentine bishops who had drafted concrete guidelines about circumstances in which divorced and civilly remarried couples might eventually be allowed to receive Communion.
“I think that the document Amoris Laetitia is faithful to the doctrine and to the teaching of the church,” said Farrell, referring next to a 1981 exhortation on family life written by one of Francis’ predecessors: “It is carrying on the doctrine of Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II. I believe that passionately.
“Basically this is the Holy Spirit speaking to us,” the cardinal-designate continued.
“Do we believe that the Holy Spirit wasn’t there in the first synod?” he asked. “Do we believe he wasn’t in the second synod? Do we believe that he didn’t inspire our Holy Father Pope Francis in writing this document?”
“We need to be consequential here,” said Farrell. “I firmly believe this is the teaching of the church. This is a pastoral document telling us how we should proceed. I believe we should take it as it is.”
We see this again and again, and we will continue to see it handled this way. This demands serious ecclesiastical resistance. You may recall Cardinal Burke’s disappointing initial response to Amoris Laetitia. Particularly troubling were the accusations he made against those who saw the exhortation as the doctrine-destroyer that it really is:
The secular media and even some Catholic media are describing the recently-issued post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “On Love in the Family,” as a revolution in the Church, as a radical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church, up to now, regarding marriage and the family.
Such a view of the document is both a source of wonder and confusion to the faithful, and potentially a source of scandal not only for the faithful but for others of good will who look to Christ and his Church to teach and reflect in practice the truth regarding marriage and its fruit, family life, the first cell of the life of the Church and of every society.
It is also a disservice to the nature of the document as the fruit of the Synod of Bishops, a meeting of bishops representing the universal Church “to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world” (Canon 342). In other words, it would be a contradiction of the work of the Synod of Bishops to set in motion confusion regarding what the Church teaches, and safeguards and fosters by her discipline.
So now, six months later, when it is crystal clear that those who are creating “wonder and confusion” and “a source of scandal” for the faithful are the pope and his bishops, will Cardinal Burke recall his duty and aim these admonitions where they belong, rather than at the concerned faithful? Will he remember what he said in February of 2015?
Cardinal Burke: I cannot accept that Communion can be given to a person in an irregular union because it is adultery. On the question of people of the same sex, this has nothing to do with marriage. This is an affliction suffered by some people whereby they are attracted against nature sexually to people of the same sex.
Question: If perchance the pope will persist in this direction, what will you do?
Cardinal Burke: I shall resist, I can do nothing else. There is no doubt that it is a difficult time; this is clear, this is clear.
It is past time, your eminences and excellencies. The Galatians 2 moment was here months ago — even before Amoris Laetitia was published. Things are now far, far worse. When will you stand and defend your sheep?